Henry Cen Talks The Future of Arcades – Next Level

[Editor’s note: Our very first exclusive interview!] When Chinatown Fair closed its doors for good at the beginning of March, New York City’s last real arcade was lost. It was the proverbial end of an era, not just for New York gamers, but for the arcade industry in the U.S.

Though the future seems bleak for the arcade crowd in New York City, former Chinatown Fair employee and one of Pro-gaming’s brightest stars, Henry Cen shares what’s in store for New Yorkers and the industry as a whole.

The Noisecast (NC): Thanks for taking the time out to chat with me.

Henry Cen (HC): No Problem.

NC: First off, the closing of Chinatown Fair is like the end of an era for me. I spent many a dollars and played hooky many a day at that place it hurts to see it go.

HC: Really and I didn’t kick you out?

NC: Well I’m 28 now, so it’s been a while since I’ve played hooky. I call them vacation days now. How long had you been working with Chinatown Fair and how long have you been in the pro circuit?

HC: I’ve been working [with Chinatown Fair] since 1996, [been pro] since 1998.

NC: How would you describe the pro-circuit then vs. the pro-circuit now? Is it hard to get folks interested in the arcade scene now that every home console has online multiplayer?

HC: The arcade scene is being engulfed by the console scene and now the competition is more professional and hardcore than before, online play has taken competition to a different level as to where if there wasn’t, I think progression within the scene would move slower than how rapidly it is now.

NC: Do you think online competition will ever replace shit talking a guy standing next to you? (Of course the shit talking is usually all in fun)

HC: Online play will never replace live play as people are intimidated by other peoples demeanor and stature.

NC: Whenever I check out what’s happening in the (pro)gaming world it always seems like there’s no love for the East Coast; as an insider do you feel like there’s an absence of talent from the East?

HC: There are too many rivalries on the East Coast.

NC: Think the West has a more unified front?

HC: It actually is.

NC: You’ve been doing this for over decade, in that time I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of epic match ups. If you had to pick your favorite of any past tournament which would it be?

HC: Probably the Daigo [Umehara] parry video.

NC: Once I found you via Facebook, I had to go back and check out some of the YouTube videos out there that feature you and one sticks out: There’s a video out there where you mentioned that arcades in NYC weren’t profitable (see video above), think Next Level can break the mold?

HC: Well, Next Level isn’t 100% arcade; so of course it’s going to be a different business model. (Editors Note: For now you can still bring your quarters, invite only)

NC: From your March 11th interview with the New York Times it seems that Next Level will offer more to the guys and gals looking to pick up where Chinatown Fair left off; what will make Next Level stand out and provide a new experience to the gaming public?

HC: It’s more of a mixture of console, PC and arcade. We’re planning on having all the popular titles for all formats if it be arcade, console, or PC.

NC: So it’s definitely embracing some of the things that critics (aka old people) feel are taking over?

HC: You have to integrate all aspects of video gaming, rather than one concept of the past, gaming has evolved to new heights already.

NC: Some fun stuff; what’s your favorite game of all time?

HC: Super [Street Fighter II] Turbo.

NC: Now that brings back some memories. Good times. Are you currently playing Marvel vs. Capcom 3? What’s your team?

HC: Arthur, Sentinel, Doom.

NC: Arthur? What am I doing wrong? Arthur on my team pretty much means I’m done in a few seconds.

2011 will be a busy year for Henry Cen, Next Level is due to open later this month and Cen will be making a run at Evo 2011. We hope to be in attendance for the grand opening and we wish Cen the best of luck in this year’s tournament.

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