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Level up! Famed Sunset Park arcade upgrades to bigger digs

Dungeon master: Owner Henry Cen is literally taking Next Level to the next level — his new store has a basement and backyard where he plans to host tournaments.
Brooklyn Paper
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They hit the “reset” button.

After a brush with death, Sunset Park arcade Next Level is back at full power in a new Fourth Avenue storefront. The gaming hub — an internationally known proving ground for fight-game aficionados — used to be on Eighth Avenue, but it was game over earlier this year after store owners met a match that no measure of joystick jiggling and button mashing could defeat — their landlord.

The old lease expired in February, but Next Level’s owner Henry Cen cashed in an extra life and opened a new home in a bigger storefront in July, and now Cen is hoping to take his business to the next level, he said.

“It’s a lot easier for people to get to us now, and we have much more room to grow,” said Cen, who lives in Bensonhurst. “We were pushed out of our old place because the landlord was trying to raise the rent like crazy, but it worked out, because there are more options here to diversify.”

Patrons can pay by the hour to play a library of games on old-school arcade cabinets and brand-new consoles. Visitors can also pick from board and card games such as Magic: The Gathering, Settlers of Catan, and Monopoly.

The store is a popular spot for some of the world’s top-ranked players, such as Chinese gamer Xiao Hai, the United Kingdom’s Ryan Hart, and New York City’s Sandford Kelly.

But Next Level is best known for creating community — players travel from across the city to prove their mettle in brawler games such as “Street Fighter” and “The King of Fighters” during weekly tournaments, and the digital dojo hosts “training sessions” where players can hone their skills.

“It’s a great way to meet others,” said Sunset Parker Justin Suarez, who followed the arcade from it’s former location. “Instead of people complaining that I’m playing for hours in a dimly lit basement I’m hangout out with real people. I’ve met some good friends here.”

Chen aims to use the extra space to host larger events, put up a screen for viewing parties of gaming events such as the Capcom Cup, and for backyard barbecue gaming sessions in the warm months.

The move could score Cen bonus points with regulars, one controller jockey said.

“The owner turned a bad situation into something where there’s a lot of possibilit­ies,” said Andy Kan of Bay Ridge.

Next Level [874 Fourth Ave. between 31st and 32nd streets in Sunset Park, (347) 618–8813, nycnextlevel.com].

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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