#1177 – Competing for The Fun! Part 1

It is important to take stock of the incredible influx of new “Competitive Socializing” (abbreviated down to CompSoc) venues and trends that have been emerging over the last few months. This two-part feature hopes to offer a snapshot of the developments, with more in-depth site visits and reviews planned.

Start Your Engines!

One trend that has seen a mixing of the RaceSim and CompSoc landscape is with Competitive Socializing and the racing experience. This was recently demonstrated by the opening of ‘VRROOM Brighton’ – a themed virtual race room, which comprises 12, Restech motion sims, supported by the venue, and includes a motorsports themed bar. The bar is used for a new aspect of the social entertainment mix of holding “Watch Parties” – linked to the motorsports races.

This represents the continued development of the CompSoc style racing environment, which has also seen more professional RaceSim and eSports sim centers, including a dedicated hospitality and after-dark element. The ability to offer a package of experiences, and not just focus on one approach, is a vital element of the “versatility” needed in this emerging sector, allowing the audience to define the utilization of the space, and fighting to keep the experience fresh, rather than fixated on one approach.  

The UK’s south-east seaside holiday location of Brighton sees a massive influx of tourist and locals to their local entertainment. The area has an Immotion VR LBE site, and one of the largest seaside pier entertainment locations, including several attraction and VR systems. The ‘Brighton Pier’ was in the news, with the owners of the entertainment site reporting a cut in its half-year sales forecast by 7-percent to £16.2m. This was blamed on bad weather, but also a major fire that destroyed an adjacent hotel and so disrupted access to the pier.

One of the poster-boys for the CompSoc has been the new F1 Arcade chain. The end of August saw the buildup to open the second site at Birmingham’s Two Chamberlain Square. This new F1 Arcade, outside the capital, features 53 Vesaro Racing Simulators, within the 11,000-sq.ft. unit. There is a focus on the food and fun approach, with cocktails and F1 branding. The venue continues the implementation of its in-venue currency (“Arcadians”) and includes some in-venue action-games, along with the sims. The concept follows on from the first venue opened last November (2022). 

Continuing the investment and expansion plans, F1 Arcade announced their first US venue will be Boston, in the iconic Seaport District, in a 16,000-sq.ft. location which will comprise 69 race sims, scheduled to open in early 2024. This will be the first of 20-30 permanent locations scheduled for opening from the brand, all over the next five years. Investment is underway towards game development with “All-Venue Racing” (network play) – coming soon. The company announced the raising of some £30m in investment, part of plans for the international rollout, with a statement of plans to open 30 locations globally by the end of 2027. This round of investment is led by Liberty Media and Formula 1, with participation from investment firm Imbiba.

A success element seen across the RaceSim scene, as stated previously, is the “Watch Parties” element – seeing motorsports’ live coverage being screened at the venues, gathering crowds to watch and enjoy the hospitality. These events can also act as promotional tools, showcasing the venue, while also at the same time feeding off the dedicated Social Media database that all CompSoc venues amass. This concept is being seen from other Social Entertainment venues, beyond just sport, such as ‘War of the Worlds’, from Layered Reality, with the company also announcing a Eurovision 2023 watch party in support of the final, offering a one-of-its-kind experience, with a special reservation. Layered Reality is also working on a brand-new attraction for London which we hope to report on soon.

Continuing in London and the RaceSim scene, a pop-up marketing promotion was placed for a short time in the capital. The Williams Racing team ran, in an empty retail unit, what was called the ‘Piccadilly Fan Zone’. This coincided with the UK F1 racing event and offered a Watch Party opportunity – as well as RaceSim eSports competition. The deployment of temporary eSports spaces in existing entertainment properties was revealed with the news of a partnership between Coca-Cola and Six Flags. Eight of the Six Flags resorts have opened ‘Gaming House’ locations, with eSport lounges comprising multiple PC gaming stations to play the popular titles such as Fortnite, FIFA 23, and League of Legends. This is all part of a ‘Gaming Fest’ that sees prizes and a sweepstake being run.

This was matched a few weeks later by the ‘Goodwood Festival of Speed’ – the UK-based event which celebrates classic and modern motorsports. The gathering included several booths run by sponsors, and these saw one of the largest collections of race car simulators on display for the massed audiences. Companies such as Pro Racing Simulator and Motorsports Games ran their systems at booths for Kwik-Fit and Hyundai. The racing rigs offered competitive simulation, in a new attraction alongside the live racing and vehicle exhibits of the festival. 

The deployment of high-quality RaceSims, dedicated for LBE deployment, has seen several professional and prosumer simulator manufacturers apply their arts. In Las Vegas, it was revealed that Base Performance will be working with the AREA15 operators to install a setup of their ‘Phoenix’ RaceSims within the venue in time for the Las Vegas F1 Grand Prix in November. The simulator installation – called the ‘Grand Prix Racing Sim’ – will comprise several of the RaceSims, with networked racing content that includes a mapped course of the planned Las Vegas F1 circuit. The advanced configuration is being developed to offer both head-to-head competition and the ability for racers to compete with AI-controlled NPC competitors. 

The Base Performance RaceSims have been especially configured for LBE application, as well as the work they do in professional and prosumer sales, and we have reported on the first US FEC installation of the platform at the Andrette’s Orlando facility. For the sake of transparency, Stinger Report owner Spider Entertainment works directly with Base Performance, as well as other leading technology providers.

Race Competition in eSports

The strength of the eSports aspect of the RaceSim scene could be seen in London at the ‘Red Bull Gaming Sphere London’, located in Shoreditch. The Gaming Sphere is one of several eSports arenas operated by Red Bull and, along with high-end PC terminals, the venue can roll out racing rigs for head-to-head competition. The Gaming Sphere also includes a partnership with VR headset developer PICO – the Tencent owned operation has installed in the venue a Mixed Reality booth, where a blue screen chroma key setup allows VR players to be superimposed into the VR game, with their action able to be streamed. This is a working implementation of the idea Meta had attempted with its failed Meta Store VR showroom.

The changing landscape of eSports operation was reflected in the news with UK-based Belong Gaming Arenas announcing they had closed the operation of their US subsidiary. Belong Gaming Arenas US operated some six venues in locations such as Chicago and Dallas, it was reported exclusively by Esports Advocate news site. However, parent company Vindex was acquired by ESL FACEIT Group in March this year and has been carrying out a restructure of the operation.  Before this news, it was revealed that another US eSports operation was making strategic cuts – organization Gamers First (G1) had made several staff cuts, including senior executives from the company. The ‘Belong Gaming Arenas UK’ operation confirmed that this US news will not have an impact on their 27 venue UK business, and these will continue to trade as normal. Belong Arena UK is owned by the Frasier Group, as the first of the company’s eSports venues, as part of GAME store in 2016 (at the time run by Insomnia).

One of the largest eSports tournament competitions took place in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, with the Gamers8 2023 Season event. This was a unique gathering of some 1,050 professional eSports teams, and a large public audience of 1,355 players, and spectators – along with an estimated 1.08b social media views generated. The event saw a record high in prizes, with $45m up for grabs. The event was operated in support of the Saudi Esports Association. On the event floor, the Aramco SimRacing platform was deployed, along with a number of PC and console terminals, with over 40 state-of-the-art simulators available, offering “Immersive Esports” and, alongside the Sim Arena were eKarting courses – the whole event culminating in a music festival that saw some 91k tickets sold. All this competition and entertainment was part of the Riyadh Seasons, an important festival in the area, spanning eight weeks from July to September each year.

Following on from the exclusive feature in MIXED, covering the eSports revolution sweeping VR and AR (see full coverage here), more


news of new prize tournaments was revealed. Zero Latency announced the holding of their “Champions of the Undead” – that will be a championship to win a $15,000 cash prize, with runners up getting HTC hardware. Competitors will play the LBE VR free-roaming game, ‘Undead Arena’, with players divided into three sections: America, Europe and Middle East, and Asia Pacific. The final will take place in October. 

In the MIXED coverage, the heritage of tournament and competition play is charted back to the success of an aspect of the amusement sector – looking at the “Golden Tee World Championship” ($150,000 prize pot) and “Big Buck World Championship XVI” ($100,000 prize pot) events as landmark gatherings in the competition landscape. This is a success story with roots in the traditional amusement trade that seems loathe to learn from the success. However, hopes that we would see an association(s)-supported strategy to promote tournament competition between FEC venues are yet to materialize.

Tournament competition continues to grow in popularity, and the FEC and social entertainment space seems perfectly placed to offer a stage for the growth. The latest immersive amusement platforms have embraced tournament play – as seen with the ‘Omni Arena’ (Virtuix), ‘VR Esports Areana’ (Phenomena), ‘Tower Tag Battlezone’, and the ‘VAR BOX’ (VAR Live). Regarding the VAR Live platform, it was announced that the “Global VAR BOX League of Colleagues” competition had seen US players break into the top three places for the first time, winning their slice of the international prize pot. The US players took on stiff competition from the international players from Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the UK. The League of Colleagues is a unique industry-first competition between game operators, to help grow the eSports competition element of the platform.  

As a growing number of platforms are released being those which defy the previous aversion to support connected hardware and competition features, this aspect of the business will grow in the vital marketing role it plays. We expect, in our coming IAAPA show coverage (EU and Orland), to include further eSports-based investment into the Out-of-Home Entertainment space.

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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