While Esports continues to grow at an explosive rate, an issue that has hindered the industry in its early stages has been the difficulty in connecting local communities to Esports events. With much of the larger Esports happenings clustered around specific regions (For NA, it’s clearly Los Angeles), many fans are often left out of reach of a live Esports experience.
In tandem with this, Esports can often lack the ability for players to physically interact with their teammates or competition, something that separates the industry from traditional sports. With a lack of infrastructure currently in place to allow this, companies are beginning to see the opportunities in being the first to the table in providing a place for Esports.
This can easily be seen in a recent surge of investment into Belong, the Esports brand for GAME. After purchasing a significant portion of GAME last year, Sports Direct has gained a 50% share in both GAME and Belong. Coupled with additional investment into the Belong brand from Newcastle FC owner Mike Ashley, GAME hopes to significantly expand their Esports offerings and entrench themselves as a go-to brand in the space.
With hundreds of stores across the United Kingdom, GAME and Belong are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the growing appetite for a local Esports presence. Using their established infrastructure and expansive customer base, Sports Direct and investors such as Mike Ashley are taking a bet on Esports that could pay huge dividends if managed correctly.
Belong has also taken advantage of local pride by creating local identities for each of their arenas. By rallying behind a common brand such as the Manchester Swarm or the York Vikings, players further connect with other players in their communities and the community itself.
The investment into Belong is not the first large-scale attempt to bring Esports to local communities in the past year. In an attempt to engage the massive League of Legends community, Microsoft announced a partnership with HyperX and ASUS which brought League of Legends tournaments to players through their local Microsoft store.
Although many locations were plagued with technical issues or unprepared for the high response, it was a promising sign of the desire for players to have space where they can gather and compete face to face.
While events such as Magic the Gathering’s Friday Night Magic can be seen as a blueprint for these type of grassroots events, the opportunity for companies extends beyond just a place for players to play into a space where fans of Esports can gather together to watch the events as well.
With a massive player base and the lack of current options, there is still a huge opportunity for companies to create a space that draws in both players and fans of Esports. Belong is just one piece of what will surely become a large network.
Written by Christopher Bilski.