You may have noticed one in your local GAME store; a small dark corner with a few rows of Gaming PC’s set up. There might even be a couple of customers playing PUBG or DotA2, and for an hourly fee, you can set up next to them and play too.
This is a Belong ‘Gaming Arena’. First opened in December 2016, they are now becoming increasingly common across the UK.
With currently 18 different UK locations (and potentially more on the way) it seems that Belong ‘Gaming Arenas’ are aiming to become a staple of both the UK High Street and gaming scene.
But what are they?
WHAT IS ‘BELONG’
GAME themselves call them ‘Gaming Arenas’. In most stores they are a line of up to 24 monitors each hooked up to a Gaming PC, Xbox ONE S and/or PS4Pro, all with a number of different games pre-loaded and ready for you to play.
It’s a modern day LAN party, where you don’t have to bring (or even own) your own equipment, you just pay for the privilege. Prices start at £5 for an hours gaming, however they do offer discounts for those who choose to play for a longer time. If you so choose, you can even put your money down at the beginning of the day, and not leave until closing time.
Hungry? Thirsty? Each Belong has fridges full of energy drinks and snacks to help fuel your session (however the author does recommend not using these as a substitute for a good hot meal.)
Gaming cafe’s have become increasingly popular in the West over the past few years. Once deemed a South Korean phenomenon (and still very popular in that country) places for gamers to get together and team up on PUBG, are now looking to be brought over to the UK with increasing regularity.
HIGH STREET PRESENCE
GAME have been a staple of the UK high street for over a decade now, however as a business it has been increasingly down on revenue due to the increase in digital game sales. Not only that, but other outlets, such as CEX or Grainger Games, have often been seen as a place to buy pre-owned games cheaper than GAME sell them.
Belong then looks like GAME’s attempt to diversify it’s business and decrease it’s reliance on new game and console sales. And so far it seems that this is helping GAME’s bottom line. Now what were once struggling video-game retail spaces are looking to be rebranded into a place for videogame enthusiasts to get together, pay to spend a few hours playing Destiny 2 together, and forge IRL relationships through online multiplayer.
With the fall of local multiplayer AAA experiences, and the overwhelming focus on Online multiplayer, Belong looks like it’s attempting to offer a place where gamers can feel they, quite literally, belong.
GAME aren’t the only company offering a place for people to get together and play games however, and many independent entrepreneurs are offering very similar experiences.
Most notably, the [ALT] Gaming Lounge in Nottingham is the largest of it’s kind in the UK. Offering not just top-of-the-line PC set ups, but also more social spaces; tables with a single TV, a Gamecube, and Mario Kart Double Dash offer a perfect place for 4 people to get together for a few pints and throw some Blue Shells at each other.
Even more recently, in my local town of Leeds, eDen E-Sports Bar has opened up to offer a gaming cafe for those in West Yorkshire.
e-Den offers an even more competitive pricing structure than Belong, of only £3 per hour, or £7 for three hours of gaming. It even includes a downstairs bar, with gaming specific cocktails, plenty of Red Bull, and food made to order.
e-Den goes one step further with it’s focus on e-sports too, offering multiple TV’s set up with Twitch streams of e-Sport tournaments, just in case you wanted a place to chill and watch some LoL with your friends.
THE FUTURE IS E-SPORTS
GAME’s venture into the social side of gaming doesn’t seem to end at merely offering a place for people to come and play those games. They are also venturing into developing it’s own self-contained e-sports scene amongst it’s various locations.
Notably, each location has it’s own team branding (with the Plymouth Armada team being the author’s personal favourite). With this, Belong is looking to build and continue a UK-based league, with each store competing against one another on Overwatch, League of Legends and Tekken 7 amongst others. Called the ‘Arena Clash’, this is a seasonal event that takes place on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at each location. Last seasons winners of the #ArenaClash Summer 2017, Manchester Swarm and the Portsmouth Pirates, took home winnings from a prize pool of £7,500 in cash and GAME vouchers.
It remains to be seen as to the longevity of places such as Belong, as well as [ALT] and eDen. Currently there do seem to be plans for expansion of Belong by GAME, including rumours of a larger Gaming Arena within Leeds city centre itself. This, coupled with multiple new and established smaller independent gaming bars and cafe’s that are popping up around the country*, seems to point towards a new paradigm in social gaming services.
*Random Encounter in York; ARCAdium in Newcastle; Akedo in Lincoln; Engaged Gaming in Edinburgh for just a few examples. Any more that I may have missed?