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Redeye: Location-based esports teams could work if done right

London Lions versus the Manchester Mavericks. Birmingham Blast versus Newcastle Noobs.

Not the best team names, perhaps, but imagine a world where these teams would face off against each other in esports titles in physical home and away venues in these cities: A premier league in which location-based esports teams competed across a number of titles.

This is all pie in the sky, of course, because these teams don’t exist — at least not yet. They might never exist, but I have to admit there is a draw for me to this style of esports team, especially if the location actually matters. By that, I mean, local players can go along and compete for a place in the team so that when Manchester plays Liverpool, there really is more on the line than just the win, but local pride too — much in the same way as the English Football League used to be.

There would also need to be some form of physical location in each of these cities to allow home and away matches and for the local people to have somewhere to make their gaming pilgrimage — again, much like they do for Old Trafford or Anfield. I’m not saying they need 50,000-seat arenas to do that, either; a simple, local and affordable internet café would probably be fine to kick things off. They can always move later when fans get really interested and want to attend in thousands.

It seems Blizzard has also thought of this with the announcement that they are offering location-based access to their new Overwatch League. Not much is known yet, but location-based or at least location-named franchises are up for grabs. Presumably, some of the established sports teams — particularly in the USA — will bag some of these and brand accordingly, but what about the rest? Will we see a Washington Warriors or a Miami Memes team? Will they be truly location based or just named that way?

I’ve actually promoted the idea of location-based esports teams for a few years here in the U.K. and tried (and failed) to get something up and running with various partners in the past. They or I aren’t the first to come up with this concept. Back in 2007, DirecTV launched the Championship Gaming Series (CGS) with six franchised esports teams named after cities across America and then moved to create even more worldwide with 16 teams competing in regional and world leagues. They didn’t have a physical location, mainly playing matches in Los Angeles, and while most of the team didn’t come from Birmingham while representing the Birmingham Salvo, they did at least come from the UK.

Some might argue the city naming of teams was to blame for the downfall of the CGS, but while it might have played a very small part, there were far more serious issues. It can’t be argued that the city named teams attracted very little support from local newspapers, residents or sponsors. But how could they? They were just a name. They didn’t live or compete in the respective cities.

There have been a few smaller examples of location-based esports teams. Renegades branded its League of Legends team to Los Angeles, calling themselves the LA Renegades last spring (before being banned). When the organization was purchased by NBA player Jonas Jerebko in August, it was re-branded to the Detroit Renegades, though neither iteration has been strongly promoted as such. There was also the now-disbanded London Conspiracy Dota 2 team and the Oslo Lions in Norway.

I’m a big fan of location-based sports like where local passion drives fans to attend the matches, root for the teams and despise anyone from the closest city (at least for 90 minutes) just based on who they support. Rivalries are a hard thing to generate based on location in esports, not least because we have no borders or boundaries stopping us from playing (or supporting) for a team half way across our continent — or in some cases on another continent. Likewise, esports teams don’t have venues (other than cool practice houses of course) so there isn’t a need to adopt a city or town name.

So I was intrigued to read that Multiplay and Game had embarked on something that may well come to change the face of U.K. gaming, at least at the grassroots level. Game have decided to add a new feature to some of its shops and build brand new areas they call “Belong.” In essence, it’s an area not too different to our old style internet cafes where people can come along and meet up with like-minded gamers, play new releases on top-end machines, attend launch nights or watch big shows from E3 and (perhaps tellingly) compete in local tournaments. All of this will be based inside a shop that already sells games, hardware and peripherals, and you can eat and drink there.

They already have these facilities in London, Bristol, Manchester, Milton Keynes and Portsmouth with other shops like Ipswich also holding LAN tournaments.

Martyn Gibbs, CEO of Game told MCV about the new London store: “We have a name for the community we are building, which is London Lionhearts. Each one of our arenas and Belong areas will have their own identity. That’s very important for us.”

It’s interesting that they already have a name, even more interesting that Gibbs uses the term “arenas,” the obvious link to competitiveness. While they haven’t announced anything, it’s not a stretch to imagine Multiplay starting up its own location based league in the future based on these store locations.

It makes a lot of sense. Local gamers compete for local teams and have a sense of belonging, not just to the game they play but the people they play with and the location in which they play, much how many original sports teams came about. It also means Multiplay could end up owning its own league and gaming team franchises that have grown out of the Game retail outlets — though I’m not sure I’m sold on London Lionhearts as a name.

Whatever happens, it’s certainly another shot in the arm for esports in the UK, particularly the grassroots side of things and even more so if Game and Multiplay can continue to make a success of them financially, which they appear to be doing, with Gibbs telling MCV they “already have the proof points, in the three arenas we have already opened, of why this makes sense. There is no vanity play for us at all.”

I’m still on the fence when it comes to naming esports teams after cities, but if they actually have a presence in the city, use local players and build something from the grass roots, then it just might work.

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