One week after much-hyped eSports gaming arena Battleground Zero was set to open its doors in the White Plains Galleria, the company is resigned to seeking out a new host city. Living up to its name, the internationally affiliated gaming center was site of a contentious battle over permits, zoning, and allegations of cronyism.
Battleground Zero (BGZ) was scheduled to hold a grand opening at noon on Saturday, April 7. The space had been closed on with the Galleria at White Plains several weeks before, and building permits had all been squared away. Then, the week of the opening, an assistant engineer from the City of White Plains Building Department who had originally signed off on the building’s floor plan informed BGZ Store Manager Marco Monge that there was an issue with their submitted business plan. Four days before opening their building permit had been suspended.
According to a PR spokeperson for Battleground Zero, reasons for this suspension range from being misclassified as an arcade, asserting that “selling chairs, computers, t-shirts, and renting computers by time is illegal in White Plains and in a shopping mall,” or the company’s refusal to pay inflated material costs during construction. Battleground Zero Steven Christopher issued several press releases which have since been removed from the company’s website, encouraging gamers to call the engineer and mayor’s offices directly as part of their “Let Us Game Initiative.” The company also began selling $50 t-shirts featuring cavemen and text such as “Engineers” and “City of White Plains… Let Us Game!” in their online shop.
â€‹Monge gave a detailed description of strange goings on at all hours by Building Department staff, arriving to fine the company for already having permits, then for not having permits that were already approved and filed with the department. Still, construction finished on time. Hoping to come to a resolution by the grand opening, Monge arrived at The Galleria early and managed to snap a few photos of the computer and spectator setup, and well as the projector screens. What happened next is less clear.
According to Monge, Galleria General Manager Tom Miles cut power to the shop, and then security arrived to escort him from the premises, telling him he would not be allowed into his shop or the mall without management approval.
Reached for comment, Miles said, “Mario [Marco] ran into some trouble with the city and is trying to sort it out. We have tried to assist as best we can, but it falls upon him to get his permits. I hope he can. it’s a fantastic use and would open up an entire new dimension of Family Entertainment in White Plains.” Asked about the shutting off of power and forcible removal of a mall proprietor, Miles added, “I was not there on Saturday but was told that since he didn’t get permit from the city to open and operate, he left. I assume to plan a new tact with the city and overcome their objections. I’ve not spoken to him this week.”
As to the actual issue with Battleground’s business plans or permits, we reached out to the engineer familiar with the situation repeatedly, but they did not return our requests for comment. Interestingly, the idea that it is illegal to sell time on computers in the City of White Plains is not far-fetched. A zoning amendment from 1989, last renewed in 1999 — in part to bar arcade Transworld Entertainment Corp. from opening in the Galleria — prohibits businesses from operating more than three electronic games in their space.
Currently, video games fall under “permitted accessory use” by the municipal charter, but the original and resurgent prohibitions were designed to combat arcades and the perceived violence of video games. While this ostensibly does not affect places like the Apple Store, Best Buy, or other electronics retailers which regularly sell video games and demo dozens of devices already loaded with apps, the question of whether it applies to a company like Battleground Zero is a bit murkier.
The London-based company originally submitted business plans and floor plans that classified the space as an Internet café — they rent computers pre-loaded with software and even desk space for gamers who would rather bring their own custom rigs. If the distinction seems marked enough, remember that the Microsoft Store in The Galleria has regularly hosted video game tournaments in the past, and White Plains’ Crowne Plaza Hotel is the annual host of pay-to-play eSports tournament Defend the North.
Battleground Zero attempted to find a solution at City Hall last Thursday, but ultimately a workable solution was not reached. Four employees had to be let go when the venue failed to open, and the company’s merchandise and equipment remain locked inside the darkened shop. Public Relations representative Laurence Williams emailed from London to say the company will be pulling out of White Plains entirely, though they are currently eyeing other metro area cities “such as Queens, New Rochelle, and another location in Long Island.”
At least for the time being, local gamers will have to look elsewhere if they want to try out some professional-grade hardware setups.