Hong Kong’s net bars in decline after glory days of the early 2000’s
Editor: Esther Chan
Reporters: Howard Yang, Lynette Cheung, Minnie Wong
Michael Choi Siu-yan used to spend up to 18 hours a day in net bars. They were an important part of his life during his formative years. He is still a regular even now, albeit one who has itnessed the “ups and downs” of net bars.
Like Choi, Stanley Yip Chun-kit also spent many hours in net bars as a teenager, but unlike Choi he sees no reason to visit them anymore.
Yip says that with instant messaging software such as Skype, he can sit alone at home and play games with his friends as easily as if he were sitting next to them in a net bar. Still. Given the choice, he would prefer to play in a net bar because of the stronger interpersonal connections. “You can shout in a net bar, and you have the desire to perform well,” he says.
Net bars cemented friendships not just among customers but also between customers and the staff. Lily Chu Lai-man used to work in a net bar and says she found the relationship between the regulars and the staff to be like the ties between family members.
But none of these memories and sentiments can save an industry that faces declining patronage. With the prevalence of personal computers, tablets and smartphones, the need for net bars is diminishing.
The net bars that are still operating – be they independent or chains – are seeking ways to survive. Alan Law, the owner of an independent net bar, says slow progress in moves to license net bars has stifled investment. While Alex Yeung, who heads a chain, Msystem, says his net bars will become E-sports centres to attract people to watch competitions.