An aurora borealis at this time of day, in this part of the country, located entirely within a Leicester Square hotel suite? Well, no… not exactly, although you could be forgiven for thinking it so much.
I spent the night in the brand new “Gaming Suite” of the W Hotel London, a room in the city center designed especially for the needs of video game players.
For those who succeed, gaming is big business, with some gamers earning megabucks by competing in esports tournaments or streaming their virtual successes to legions of adoring fans online. No doubt W Hotel hopes to cash in by providing luxury accommodations for the new class of millionaire Fortnite fighters, Twitch streamers, PUBG players.
Upon entering my sleeping arrangements, I was confronted with the “rig”: a massive metal desk, a giant 55-inch curved television screen, webcams, microphones, a gleaming keyboard, and a brand new Xbox Series X console. Aurora-generating CyberPower PC, a custom computer the size of a small filing cabinet decked out in glowing lights and glass, sits just off to the side.
I had preordered The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to experience the brand new graphically updated “Enhanced Edition” on the big screen and found it pre-downloaded and ready to play when I arrived, along with other popular titles such as the most recent call of Duty And FIFA titles. The Xbox in the room comes with Game Pass, so any title included in Microsoft’s “Netflix for video games” service is available at the right time.
I don’t actually have a Twitch account so most of the whizzbang gadgets on the gaming platform were slightly lost on me, although I did a Zoom call to test the camera – to make sure it was as good as claimed – no complaints here .
While the “Gaming Suite” is currently advertised as such, sans the technology and setup, it’s actually just a standard suite in the hotel. All of this to say it’s a very luxurious room with a bath the size of a standard double bed, no fewer than four televisions and overlooking Leicester Square. Don’t expect gaming paraphernalia to festoon every surface. In fact, beyond a couple of pillowcases and the rig itself, you might not consider this a “gaming suite” at all.
An exclusive element of the suite is a specialized room service menu that will, presumably, take my gaming prowess to the next level. Featured are a couple of smoothies created with “functional mushroom extract.” The maker of this stuff makes all kinds of wild claims from the ability to boost concentration to stimulate brain cell growth – all things I can see why a professional Fortnite player would want. It might not surprise you to know that I haven’t noticed any particular improvement, although I confess that it could be due to the fact that I’m not in the habit of playing battle arena type online multiplayer games.
Still, spurious science aside, I had a lot of fun exploring The sorcerer‘s Continent back on the big screen from the comfort of a big gaming chair.
It’s experiences like this that remind you how addictive gaming can be as a hobby. With my attention entirely turned to video games, I didn’t stop playing until long after the roar of the crowds in Leicester Square had died down (about two in the morning).
But therein lies the problem: is the very concept of a “game suite” an oxymoron? After all, video games, like books or movies, invite their players into a different reality. Your surroundings, luxurious or otherwise, are beyond the point – the focus is on the game world, not yours.
Some of my best gaming memories took place in the back of my parents’ car on long road trips, segregated in a junk-filled room on the oldest television in the house, or in my tiny student bedroom with my friends. Sure, I could spend £1,500 a night transposing those memories into a luxury hotel room, but would the setting make those memories any better? I do not believe.
Indeed, for that money you could buy top-of-the-line Xboxes, PlayStations and Nintendo Switches and still have a good chunk of the rest to spend on games. Or a 65-inch television to have in the house. Or four top-of-the-line gaming chairs.
I found myself reflecting, several times during my stay, “who is this for?” World-class gamers and Twitch streamers tend to have their own highly customized setups at home – would they really need all these gadgets and gizmos in a hotel room? You’d wish they could take the night off, especially if they were shelling out for such a nice hotel room, or maybe they need gambling addiction screening.
The only answer I could think of, I’m afraid, was this: The room was intended for children of parents who had long since given up on exposing them to the outside world. “We have taken you on the trip of a lifetime to London, Timmy, but we know you will make our lives a misery if we try to take you to museums or a show in the West End, so stay here and play your games while we are out living the city,” I imagined an exhausted mother saying.
At reception on my way out I asked if the suite had been a hit so far. “Oh absolutely,” the doorman told me. “It’s been full for weeks.”
A few nights later I continued playing The sorcerer in my small apartment. Despite the lack of mushroom smoothies, aurora-projected PCs, and fancy gaming chairs, I was no less engrossed in what was happening in front of me on the screen. Then, as my mind drifted back to the lavish surroundings of the card room, I realized I’d made a mistake. Maybe the same mistake I’ve been making for some time, maybe I was missing the forest for virtual trees. I can enjoy playing at home, I should have spent less time on Xbox and more time lounging in that giant bathtub…
The Gaming Suite from W Hotels London is available to book until April 2022, priced at £1,500 per night.