Triangle man opens esports bar in Durham in unorthodox career path

DURHAM, N.C. — All-night gaming sessions have paid off for Glen Swan.

Swan is the owner of Bad Machines, one of North Carolina’s first esports bars that recently opened in an upstairs space in downtown Durham.

It’s a fitting arc for Swan, who grew up in Knightdale and was kicked out of school in 11th grade after spending too much time playing games.

Instead of academics, Swan, now 40 with children, was more engrossed in MUDs or multi-user dungeons. MUDs are text-based and a subset of gaming most people aren’t familiar with. He preferred multi-player, PC-driven titles over console games that satisfied most casual gamers.

A career laced in gaming, tech and advertising gave Swan to flexibility to open Bad Machines, as he hopes to capture on the increasing space that gaming plays in the public sphere.

“My parents thought it was almost a waste of time,” he said. “A lot of my teachers didn’t have any belief that this would amount to anything. But it did. I made a career out of it.”

Swan never graduated, but worked his way up in the gaming circuit while developing instincts for the engineering and software development aspects of the industry.

“Some of the games I’ve worked on take three to five years just to make and hundreds of millions of dollars just to produce,” Swan said. “They’re essentially like movies.”

Clearly, gaming is taken more seriously in 2023 and Swan is giving the dedicated gamers somewhere to congregate. Swan hopes Bad Machines will eventually be able to host exhibitions between the top players in the Triangle and beyond. The bar intends to host tournaments to bring players together to play Super Smash Bros., Rocket League and Fortnite, which is produced by Cary-headquartered Epic Games. There’s also a few arcade machines or board games if you prefer your games to be unplugged.

The Triangle has lured groups of serious gamers to the region in recent months. In 2022, an Apex Legends championship at PNC Arena drew players to the Triangle for a four-day competition where the top finishers split more than $2 million in prize money. In December, a Call of Duty tournament at the Raleigh Convention center sold out of tickets.

Swan wants the venue to eventually host high-stakes shows and bring in professional gamers so fans can see them up close. Bad Machines also serves local craft beers and game-inspired drinks.

“There really hasn’t been a sports bar-type concept for esports, so it just kind of seemed like the thing to do,” Swan said. “A lot of the concept came to be from my dream which was to create a venue for esports to run exhibition matches, dream fights or ‘bar fights,’ between well-known pros,” Swan said.

“What if we had Michael Jordan and Larry Bird play one-on-one, would people want to see it, even if it meant nothing? The answer is yes.”

Bad Machines is open Wednesday through Sunday at 108 East Main Street.

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