Belong Gaming Arenas, a subsidiary of esports and tech company Vindex, has announced it will roll out ‘hundreds’ of ‘experiential’ gaming centres across the U.S.
In addition, Belong will collaborate with PlayStation, OMEN by HP, ViewSonic, and Mavix to equip these gaming centres.
According to the release, the first Belong gaming centre in the U.S will arrive this summer in Houston, Texas. Additional venues in Dallas, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; and Nashville, Tennessee, among others, are expected to follow in the coming months.
All the venues will be accessible to the public and will provide gamers with the opportunity to watch, play, and compete across a range of titles. Each location will look to offer competitive programming, fan engagement opportunities, and practice space for local esports teams.
In autumn 2021, members will also have the opportunity to represent their local Belong teams in inter-arena competitions. Local amateur teams will also be able to use the facility to compete in tournaments, leagues, and scrimmages against other teams in Belong’s network.
In addition, the announcement revealed that tiered competitions, ranging from three to 10 weeks, will also be implemented alongside recreational play. Esports Engine, Vindex’s esports technology and solutions company, is expected to design and operate Belong’s daily competitive programming across its gaming centres.
As well as collaborating with PlayStation, OMEN, ViewSonic, and Mavix, Belong has revealed plans to secure partnerships with local brands, high schools, universities, and professional esports teams, in order to tailor the centres ‘to each city’s identity’.
In addition to the U.S expansion, Belong will also launch a new digital platform that provides its community with news, leaderboards, and ‘recreational and competitive opportunities’. Customers will also be able to manage bookings through the platform.
To learn more about Belong’s expansion, Esports Insider sat down with Vindex’s CEO and Co-founder, Mike Sepso. Below is an edited transcript of our interview.
Esports Insider: How important was picking the correct locations when expanding into the US?
Mike Sepso: While we’re eager to bring Belong to communities nationwide, there were a few motivations for opening initial locations in these markets.
We want to bring Belong to cities where the hunger and demand for local gaming opportunities is high. This is especially evident in areas with existing esports teams. A large part of our strategy is to partner with these professional esports organisations and work together to continue fostering fandom and increasing awareness of esports at the local level.
ESI: Could you tell us a little more about how the likes of PlayStation, OMEN by HP, ViewSonic, and Mavix got involved in the expansion?
MS: As the traditional brick-and-mortar approach to gaming retail falls victim to digital distribution, publishers and manufacturers increasingly rely on experiential opportunities to reach consumers. Belong plays a unique role in connecting these key industry stakeholders directly to gamers, allowing them to play new games and test out equipment in an interactive, hands-on environment.
The discoverability and deep engagement that Belong provides through daily competitive programming and community activations is a key piece of the puzzle for brands, publishers, and more looking to unlock the massive opportunity at the local and amateur level.
ESI: It seems that Belong’s plans in the US were originally meant to go ahead earlier, however, given the pandemic that had to change. Do you think the delay has helped or hindered Belong’s expansion?
MS: We have a long and ambitious vision for how we plan to expand the Belong brand and bring esports to hundreds of cities across the U.S. over the next several years. While the pandemic had initially impacted our ability to carry out the physical establishment of gaming centres, we were afforded more time to prepare and lay the groundwork for this massive undertaking. We’ve been able to recruit and train the best talent, develop the infrastructure needed for the digital platform, and establish the roadmap for how we open the arenas.
As restrictions begin to ease, we believe the market is ripe for Belong to begin arriving in cities across the U.S.
ESI: Finally, how do you feel these gaming centres will bolster the esports ecosystem?
MS: Every major traditional sport has a clear talent development system that provides a pathway to professional play and a framework for fandom to grow. Until now, esports has never had this at scale.
Belong plays a crucial role in fulfilling Vindex’s vision to connect games and gamers across the globe. Our value proposition with Belong is a new model – connected locations dedicated to casual, amateur, and professional competition that create and foster gaming communities so they can continue to grow. Collectively we recognise that these efforts are significant steps towards supporting the global esports and gaming industry at a truly holistic level.
While the top echelon of esports is growing rapidly, the enjoyment at the local and amateur level is what builds the volume of players, talent development pipeline, and communities to support the industry at large.