When Louis Vuitton partnered with Riot Games this year to create a bespoke trunk for the Summoner’s Cup, it sent a signal to the world that the fashion industry is embracing esports.
The luxury retailer has previously made unique luggage to house the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, and the America’s Cup. Now it was the turn of the trophy fought for in Riot Games’s annual League of Legends World Championship.
The deal represents “a monumental collision of esports and fashion”, says Antonio Papa, senior recruiter at Epic Games. “The bespoke trunk will bring together the savoir-faire details associated with LV’s malletier roots and high-tech elements drawn from the League of Legends universe.”
No less symbolic was this year’s partnership between Adidas and gamer Tyler Blevins, aka Ninja, one of the stars of Epic Games’s Fortnite. Soon after, the sportswear giant unveiled the Ninja x adidas sneaker, blending the familiar three stripes branding with the gamer’s signature yellow and blue colour scheme. The deal will be transformational for Ninja, says Papa. “It turns him from a “gamer” to a bonified sports personality. He is now on the same roster as NBA stars who have huge influence on the youth fashion industry.”
Puma has announced sponsorship of the Los Angeles-based esports group Cloud 9, which participates in numerous leagues. The kit deal is comparable to Puma’s sponsorship of Manchester City. Champion, K-Swiss and Nike (which produces jerseys for the League of Legends Pro league in China) are among other major sportswear brands making esports products. They are targeting an esports audience that Morgan Stanley predicts will reach 194 million by the end of 2019, with 79 per cent under the age of 35.
But marketing apparel to esports fans is not straight-forward, industry experts have told SRI.
Papa concedes that gaming is not the outdoors pastime traditionally associated with sportswear. “Gaming itself can be viewed as totally sedentary as a “sport” so may not promote the healthy living that the sports brands promote daily,” he says. But then again Fortnite is now so big that Netflix cited it as a major competitor, he points out. “This is another indication of just how big Fortnite and gaming in general has become.”
Bart Verdoorn, executive and brand director at K-Swiss, says that the esports apparel market is still “really untapped” and brands need to be more sophisticated than simply targeting esports fans with streetwear. “You need to climb into the mind of these young kids who do not always think like the regular streetwear kid.”
Unlike some fashion consumers, gamers are “not being seen as people going out for their wardrobe essentials”, Verdoorn says, arguing that “customisation” will be critically important with this market. “They want to be part of this community however they still want to be seen as an individual.” Influencers can be a “main driver” in this sector, he believes.
The Canadian rapper Drake simultaneously endorsed esports apparel and moved to take a slice of the sector a year ago when he took co-ownership of 100 Thieves, an esports and apparel company created by former Call of Duty star player Matt “Nadeshot” Haag.
The Swedish gaming superstar PewDiePie (real name Felix Kjellberg) is reported to earn $6.8 million a month from selling merchandise via his own site and the Represent apparel platform to his audience of 98 million YouTube subscribers and 17.7 million Instagram followers, according to a report by Purple Moon.
Earlier this year the specialist esports apparel company We Are Nations partnered with Walmart to sell jerseys for the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS).
The fusion of fashion and esports is also happening organically, says Chris Park, CEO of the Gen.G esports group, owner of the Seoul Dynasty esports team, which competes in the Overwatch League. Park points to a recent music video from Korean-American rap group Year of the Ox, in which one rapper appeared throughout wearing a Dynasty jersey. “We had nothing to do with it,” Park tells SRI. “This is a sport that truly is a lifestyle, it’s not just an intentional collaboration between or among big brands.”
Park is a former senior executive of Major League Baseball and says the market in high-quality esports apparel is evolving far more rapidly than was the case in traditional sports. “When I was young, sports fan apparel was really about just going and buying your favourite player’s jersey maybe once every few years,” he says. “Today it’s much faster and there’s much more to play with. We are already starting from a base where the best apparel manufacturers, developers and designers in esports come directly from the best fashion brands and fashion houses. Gen.G’s U.S marketing team is a direct example of that.
About the Authors
Based in London, Chris Jordan is Head of Esports & Gaming and a Partner at SRI.
An insightful insider with a deep pool of understanding, Chris has developed a strong network of senior stakeholder relationships across the esports industry and advises publishers, teams, event organisers and media including Riot Games, G2 Esports, GinxTV, RFRSH Entertainment and others.
The leading executive search expert in esports with a thoughtful and methodical approach, Chris harnesses the power of his sector expertise and best-in-class network to assist the rapid growth of esports properties across the industry.
Based in London, Beverley Le-May is Head of Sporting Goods & Fashion and a Partner at SRI.
Beverley sources talent for C-suite roles across all functional areas including commercial, retail, marketing and digital right through to design and sourcing.
A diligent and caring professional, Beverley delivers top quality searches for clients across Europe.