The first Belong Arena within a Sports Direct store is opening its doors to the public.
The Arena will open in Sports Direct's Lakeside store tomorrow (Thursday October 11th).
This new store features more than 100,000sq ft of space and around 150 staff, with the Belong Arena sitting within it.
Sports Direct said it wants it to go 'beyond sport' to offer lifestyle and experiential areas in the flagship shop. These will include the Belong Arena, an Everlast fitness gym, recharge areas, a kids zone, video technology, a USC fashion store and a luxury Flannels store, as reported by Your Thurrock.
The Lakeside Sports Direct store was designed by agency The One Off in conjunction with Nike, and is located at West Thurrock Way.
Michael Murray, head of elevation at Sports Direct, previously said: "We are working to create the ultimate shopping destination for the lifestyle consumer, spanning football boots all the way to luxury fashion. The premium space we have developed at Thurrock enables us to give customers a compelling and diverse opportunity to shop."
The partnership between retailers GAME and Sports Direct first came about last year when Sports Direct bought a 26% share in GAME.
"The premium space we have developed at Thurrock enables us to give customers a compelling and diverse opportunity to shop."
Michael Murray, Sports Direct
Then, earlier this year, Sports Direct acquired a 50% interest in the rights of the Belong intellectual property for £3.2 million.
As part of this deal, Sports Direct will take 50% of profits generated by Belong going forwards.
The Belong brand was first launched by GAME back in December 2016. It's a chain of store areas focused on competitive gaming, allowing customers to rent the spaces for parties, or on a pay-as-you-go basis, or take part in tournaments held by GAME including the national Arena Clash.
Each store has a 'tribe' - or esports team - that represents the local area. For example there's the London Lionhearts, Manchester Swarm, Portsmouth Pirates and more. GAME most recently opened a new Belong store in Stratford.
GAME is also set to release its second magazine in October, which is looking to be 'the world's biggest gaming mag' with 1.1 million copies and a 24-page pullout going out to consumers across the UK.
Currys PC World also ups esports activity
The Sports Direct news follows Currys PC World's increased involvement in this space. The retailer opened a competitive gaming space in its Fulham store a few weeks ago (pictured above), in conjunction with ESL, and has partnered with Esports Scotland in a separate deal.
Scotland gaming festival Resonate Total Gaming has also partnered with epic.LAN and Currys PC World to provide a weekend of competitive gaming across two arenas for visitors at SEC Glasgow from October 19th to 21st.
Visitors can compete on esports titles CSGO and Rocket League to win prizes. Currys PC world will have a separately branded arena where players can compete on titles like Fortnite and Black Ops 4.
epic.LAN MD Jon Winkle said "Esports in the UK has been growing at a phenomenal rate with more and more events taking place across the country. For the first time, the UK has seen multiple international level events, and we're providing an opportunity at Resonate for players to have their first esports stage experience to begin their path to becoming a professional gamer."
Lyndsey McElwee, Resonate's event manager said: "We want our visitors to have access to a full gaming experience and our esports arena is a major attraction for grassroots players and first timers to test and show their skills in a competitive environment at Scotland's largest gaming event."
The ASUS Republic of Gamers Bus will also be there, allowing visitors to play Overwatch.
'Retail rivalry good for UK esports'
Sports Direct and Currys PC World's involvement can help raise awareness of our beautiful games, says Esports News UK editor Dom Sacco
It's great to see big retailers like Sports Direct and Currys PC World embracing competitive gaming.
Sports Direct's move with GAME in particular is exciting because it will help bring esports to sporty types - and vice versa. This is something I'm passionate about at the moment because there is still a stigma around gaming that it's not positive or healthy.
When, actually, there is crossover between esports and physical sport, and that's key to inspiring the next generation and showing everyone that both can be done in moderation. There are lots of benefits including promoting general wellbeing, mental health and a healthy lifestyle, and Sports Direct's move can help show this.
It's also brilliant that Currys PC World is doing more in this space too, having opened a cool competitive gaming space at its Fulham store.
We need greater competition between big brands like GAME and PC World, the rivalry is good as both retailers will be wanting a greater share of the market, working hard to promote their services and hopefully esports at the same time.
In this age of Amazon and cheap online shopping, it's also refreshing to see some physical retail innovation and developments.
So let's support these retailers, reward their involvement in this sector and help grow esports in the UK together.