New esports gaming arena opens in Columbus
The brand-new Belong Esports Arena near Polaris Fashion Place wants to become a prime destination for local video game players.
Driving the news: The arena held its grand opening Friday and offered free play to customers over the weekend.
Why it matters: Esports, or competitive video gaming, is a rapidly-expanding industry especially popular among younger gamers.
How it works: Belong offers a chance to play in a pro environment, featuring 72 high-speed gaming stations with high-tech peripherals.
- Gamers can compete against each other or via online play.
State of play: The company operates 27 esports arenas in the United Kingdom. Columbus marks its third location in the U.S., with hundreds more planned in the coming years.
- Each has its own unique squad name and original branding — we're the Polaris Pilots, a reference to Ohio's aviation history.
- Teams representing each arena will eventually compete in Belong-organized leagues and other major tournaments.
What they're saying: Belong hopes to attract players for the sense of community as much as for the games, says Bob Morris, the company's arenas opening manager.
- Casual players seeking a cooler gaming environment than they have at home can pay by the hour, with monthly memberships available for more serious players.
The intrigue: There will be a "path to pro" system for Pilots to gain experience and someday compete as a top-level player, Morris says.
- Gaming can be a lucrative career for elite players with major social media followings who compete for major prize pools.
Meanwhile, the site includes a retail section with Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft games and consoles, along with Pilots merch for sale.
- Belong touts its private party rooms and unique retail experience of trying out games in the arena before purchasing them.
The big picture: Columbus is an esports "hot spot," Morris says, noting championship events held at Nationwide Arena and the Convention Center in years past.
- The city is home to Esports Engine, a gaming tournament organizer that shares a parent company with the Belong arenas chain.
- Ohio State University has its own esports program and a number of area high schools compete in a statewide league.
Go deeper: After learning about the arena and taking a tour, the only thing left for Axios to do was to try out a gaming station.
👋 Tyler here. I'm a bit more old-school in my video game tastes, but I had to take advantage of being one of the first-ever Polaris Pilots.
- Jose Gloria, arena manager for Belong's Dallas location, was on site for the grand opening and showed me the offerings.
How it works: Each PC station comes with an array of popular games, including Call of Duty, Fortnite, Magic the Gathering, Minecraft and World of Warcraft.
- An impressive slate, but I don't know how to play any of them. (Think Jim from The Office trying to play Call of Duty at work.)
What I played: Fall Guys, a lighter title compared to some of the other shooter games.
- You compete as one of 60 fat, little characters racing to the end of a sequence of obstacle courses.
- The goal is to be the last player standing.
How I did: I made it through the easy stages and later found myself in the finals with 10 other players from around the world.
- Would I clutch out an Axios victory in front of Jose and kick off the Pilots' worldwide domination?
- I came close with a second-place finish. Not bad!
Quick take: The fancy gaming chair and ergonomic mouse … I can see why people would love this place. I'll be back soon.
If you go: Belong Esports Arena is open seven days a week at 8735 Lyra Drive, Columbus.
- Game station rentals start at $2.50; all-day passes start at $17.50.
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