Sports Direct shoppers will be invited to take a break from browsing for leisurewear to play video games, with the chain owned by founder Mike Ashley unveiling a partnership that will see Game Digital open concessions in its stores.
Under the terms of the agreement, Sports Direct will try to cash in on the growing popularity of eSports by clearing space in stores for arenas hosting live matches between players battling it out in a variety of competitive video games.
Sports Direct, which bought a 25.8% stake in Game Digital in 2017, will also pay £3.2m for 50% of the intellectual property of Belong, the computer game firm’s eSports offshoot, and will be entitled to half its profits.
The retailer will also provide a £55m loan to Game’s Spanish division to help fund development of more eSports venues.
Game Digital said it hopes to capitalise on the overlap between traditional sports and eSports, a genre that has attracted sponsorship from major brands and captured the attention of celebrity backers such as singer Jennifer Lopez and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso.
Game Digital said its Belong division aims to create “tribes” of gamers clustered around venues, some of which will be concessions in Sports Direct stores.
“The arenas provide dedicated space for both PC and console gamers to play with friends, compete in tournaments, enjoy gaming nights, celebrate new games and technology launches and share game themed events and experiences,” it said.
Chief executive Martyn Gibbs said the partnership and £55m loan from Sports Direct, which owns more than a quarter of the business, would help the company “move from a seller of physical products to providing gaming experiences”.
Game Digital has struggled in recent years as supermarkets and online retailers such as Amazon have muscled into the video game specialist’s market.
It has opened 19 Belong venues as part of plans to make money from offering experiences rather than selling games over the counter.
“We look forward to collaborating with Sports Direct to increase the availability and scale of Belong and to capitalise on the increasing overlap between sports and eSports fans by bringing this unique experience to a wider consumer base,” said Gibbs.