THRILLIST / LOS ANGELES • LIFESTYLE • SPORTS
Liveball Is the Edgy Version of Tennis Taking Over Courts This Summer
By Ben Mesirow
Published on 7/8/2023 at 1:57 PM
All six of the Echo Park Tennis Courts are full most weeknights, and each main tennis player type is well represented. There are serious singles players and casual groups of doubles, leathery old dudes still out there a!er a full day of hitting, and friends who barely know the rules hacking away for laughs a!er work. But on Monday nights, one group stands out: About a dozen stylish and young-ish players flow in tight circles around the court, playing quick-moving points and shouting encouragement as music thumps from a little boombox. This is no ordinary tennis clinic—it’s an LVBL.Club session, the game that’s giving tennis culture its cool, artsy edge back.
A standard LVBL session starts with a warm-up and proceeds quickly into the game itself, a King of the Court style mini-match in which a team of randomly paired challengers on one side are fed a series of balls as they attempt to take down the champions across the net. Points are sharp with little downtime in between, designed to encourage friendly chatter and gentle competition and to give you a good workout all at once. It is also the rare group tennis class that moves fast enough to get you into a flow state, where the rest of the world melts away and time seems to stop, a meditative and calming sort of focus coveted by athletes across all sports.
Sometimes one pair of champions dominates an entire session, and sometimes no one does. Sometimes competition is fierce and intense, and other times the vibe is chill, like a pleasant exercise class. But the one thing that always seems to happen over a couple of hours of group tennis is that people make friends. The mid-game chatter is supportive, and a!er the session wraps, people hang out in little clusters, talking tennis and setting up future games but also just chatting.
And that’s the essence of it for LVBL founder Guy Logan. LVBL was born out of Logan’s love for tennis, but it was also the result of a love of the game's social side. Logan is a longtime player who used to host an informal meetup called the Los Feliz Tennis Club, a casual weekly doubles game with music and a beer cooler in Griffith Park. He has always found the easy camaraderie that forms over sports refreshing, a different way of socializing beyond the standard-issue small talk. “I’ve played with people for over a year, and I don’t even know what they do,” he says.
He fell away from tennis as life things happened, kids and work and all the usual suspects, but he found his way back during the pandemic, as so many did. That’s when he learned about liveball and fell in love with the game he calls a “competitive tennis party.”
Logan has worked in entertainment, and he ran a creative agency, and he’s been an entrepreneur, but it wasn’t until he started playing liveball and had a little free time that it hit him. “You know how you do that Venn Diagram of life, like with ‘What do you love?’ and ‘What are you good at?’” he says, “for me they intersected in tennis.”
He teamed up with several friends, including the folks at legendary tennis shop The Racket Doctor, CBD company Dad Grass, the sporting goods company Wilson, Spencer Nikosey of KILLSPENCER and tennis coach and visual artist Gunner Fox, and put on a liveball tournament with scoring and prizes and the whole shebang. It filled up and sold out, and they were off to the races, expanding to multiple liveball sessions per week at a variety of locations around town. They play at the public courts in Echo Park and at Mar Vista Rec Center, but there are also games at the Luxe Hotel in Brentwood and on a private court in South Pasadena; tournaments have been held at La Cañada Country Club and the Ojai Valley Tennis Club. LVBL is also a fun way to get into some otherwise inaccessible places.
Logan’s passion for the game shows through in every session he attends, whether he’s hanging out and chatting or jumping into a game himself. And his background on the creative side of the business world shows through too. LVBL is fun, engaging, and social, and it is also thoroughly cool. Their aesthetic choices, from the logo and the on-court energy to their merch and social media presence, are immaculate and appealingly stylish without being intimidating. Together it paints a portrait of precisely the kind of thing you want to do on a warm summer evening.
Those pristine vibes aren’t just in service of the business, though. They also bring out a different sort of tennis player than you might find in an average group class. LVBL players are drawn in by the idea of community, a casually competitive game for people who want a workout and to find a flow as much as they want to refine the minutiae of their groundstrokes or think about how to best construct a point. There are no gender divisions and no overall scorekeeping. That means the crowd trends mellow, sporty but not intense, with tennis strokes refined by YouTube and Instagram videos instead of in private lessons at country clubs or on high school varsity teams. There are advanced classes, too, with players who can really rip it, but the overall ethos remains intact even there. That is to say, it is a welcoming game, inclusive and encouraging to newcomers and people who might otherwise be intimidated by what is, frankly, a hard-ass sport to learn.
“Tennis at its core is really cool, it’s powerful and it’s edgy,” Logan says. It may be tempting to connect tennis with the hush of Wimbledon, champagne and strawberries and finely manicured grass, but Logan points to Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and Serena Williams, trendsetters and rebels, icons in the sport but also in fashion, outsiders unbothered by institutional expectations. That is the ethos Logan wants to convey.
People in LA have responded, and Logan and the crew are consistently adding more time slots and locations. And they’ve got big plans for the future—they’re setting up more local events, like a Wimbledon watch party and clinic day on July 16, a co-production with Racquet Club LA. And they’re exploring other parts of the country too; there will be LVBL events in partnership with Wilson in Chicago around Lollapalooza, in Miami for Art Basel, and in New York for the US Open, and they’ve partnered with Swimply to help connect people to private courts.
The big goal is to launch their own app by the end of this year, a tennis lifestyle hub for players to connect to all aspects of the game, from setting up matches to style and culture. That could be huge, and it’s something that’s been sorely lacking in recreational tennis games. For now, though, you can find Logan out on the court most evenings, trying to find a flow and making some friends in the process.
ART & LEISURE:
LVBL partnered with the nonprofit Artadia to be the opening event for frieze art week at the iconic Los Angeles tennis club.