I am notoriously early for flights. I consistently get to the airport more than two hours before a domestic trip, even during off-peak times. Because of my arrival anxiety, I have a lot of downtime at airports which I can (and often do) spend boozing at an overpriced “Irish pub” or relaxing in a lounge. But on my latest trip through the liminal space that is Los Angeles International Airport, I was not drinking (dry January) and there was no lounge (bullshit). But there was a Gameway.
Gameways are “the world’s first premium video game lounge located in airports” according to the company website, and there are two at LAX. Their slogan is “why wait when you can game?” and honestly, it’s a good one. On my last trip I chatted with an employee at the Terminal 3 location, but this time around I’m at Terminal 6, and I decide I’m going to game, god dammit. I have Priority Pass, a card with an annual membership that affords you access to airport lounges, so I can enjoy 30 minutes of Gameway gaming for free. Normally, it’ll cost you $16 for 30 minutes of game time (not even enough to squeeze in a round of Overwatch comp), $26 for up to an hour, and $46 for the entire day.
What’s it like playing video games in an airport lounge? Well, let me tell you.
Gaming in an airport
As I wait in line to show my Priority Pass, a father and his three primary-school-age children are arguing over prices. A hulking Master Chief looms over me. “Do you have FIFA?” the youngest son asks as the other two argue, his eyes barely clearing the crotch-high counter. A few people crane their necks into the futuristic space, curious about the source of the cool-toned lighting and schoolyard din. Perturbed or confused by whatever a Gameway is, they quickly wheel their suitcases out of the doorway.
The father and family settle on a session (half an hour, but with three kids and the necessary snacks, his total comes out to somewhere around $150) and are directed to their gaming stations. Then, it’s my turn. “You get a free drink and snack, but the energy drinks cost more,” the Gameway employee tells me. There’s a glowing fridge in the front filled with sugary concoctions, flanked by bags of chips and candy on either side. I snag a Topo Chico sparkling water (there’s no alcohol like there is at the other location, but I’m not partaking anyway) and a two-pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups.
“Can I sign into my own account?” I ask as I unwrap a peanut butter cup, determined to feed my Overwatch 2 competitive mode addiction. “Yup,” the employee responds, turning quickly to explain how Gameway’s charges break down to a smartly dressed businessman. A child climbs over my suitcase to get to a station their mother is refusing to pay for. “Honey, it’s too much. Our flight leaves soon.”
I settle into a gamer chair as the kid is reluctantly led out, log into my Xbox Live account, slide on the green-and-black Razer headphones, and am instantly transported to a place outside of LAX. It’s not my living room, per se, but I certainly don’t feel like I’m sitting in an airport terminal waiting to board my JetBlue flight back home. Even with the occasional childish squeals and shouts that push through my noise-canceling headphones, I enter a state of zen that only gaming can give me. That is, until I actually start playing Overwatch 2, of course.
Overwatch gaming in an airport
I’ve written extensively about how much of a nightmare Overwatch 2 competitive mode is, and with the recent layoffs at ActiBlizz, I’m unsure if or when the mode will be fixed. Right now, there’s little transparency regarding when and why you level up or down, and matchmaking itself feels uneven, resulting in matches that are either too easy or too hard. Despite this, I can’t stop partaking in the Sisyphean task of trying to climb out of gold and into a rank deserving of my support stats. The desire to prove my Overwatch worth is so strong that I’m playing comp in a fucking airport, for Christ’s sake.
Gameway feels like a gamer’s safe space in a bustling, aggressively lit airport, so I quickly settle into playing and behaving the same way that I do at home. I queue up for a comp match in the tank role, refusing to play support because my best role is, naturally, the one with a rank that’s the least reflective of my abilities—how am I a gold-ranked support player when I was once a globally ranked Moira? I don’t need the toxic energy I bring to support matches in this all-ages space.
But just a few minutes into the match, I’m chastising my Moira for playing DPS rather than healing me and barking orders at Mercy to keep on me to ensure I stay in my D.Va mech long enough to make a difference. I’m rolling my eyes, sinking back into my chair in frustration, slapping my hand on my leg whenever I’m killed—I don’t realize I’m being loud until I notice people staring in my peripheral vision.
I pull my headset off, smile sheepishly, and explain that “it’s comp,” but the girl who wants a turn on FIFA doesn’t know what that even means, and the young man working is trying to make sure a six-year-old doesn’t upend his Dr. Pepper onto the crisp, white counter. Embarrassed, I sink into my seat a little, and start whispering orders instead of yelling them. Thankfully, I haven’t called anyone a “cunt” yet, so I remind myself to keep curse words off my lips.
I lose three matches in a row—the last loss, I forget where I am once again and loudly groan at the ceiling. It’s clear that I am disrupting the children and harshing Gameway’s (surprising) mellow. I still have nearly an hour before my flight boards, but I decide to slink away with my tail between my legs.
“You’re all done? You still have time,” the Gameway employee points out as I gather my things.
“Oh yeah, my flight’s boarding,” I lie, shoving a second peanut butter cup in my mouth as I put on my jacket. I think I’ve had enough heated gamer moments before a cross-country flight than is recommended.