In 2019, Louis Vuitton made a smart and original move by working with one of the most played and viewed video games online “League of Legends” (LoL), by creating high prestige “skins” (virtual outfits made for characters) and using a Vuitton case to carry the League of Legends World Championship cup, viewed by a 100 million people worldwide. In fact the fashion industry and especially the sportswear and luxury category are trying to enter in that new industry where the consumer mass and advertising opportunities are getting too big to be ignored!
1 – A quick view on esports exploding growth
Between 1980 and 2010 esports (short name for electronic sport) was a small niche where elite video games players used to compete in small tournaments on games such as Quaker, Starcraft or Counter Strike. But the evolution of the video game community in addition to the improvement of the gaming and streaming technologies, brought more light to the esports world. The rising of strategic and high-skills games such as League of Legends, DOTA or Call of Duty attracted more players trying to compete or to watch elite players doing incredible things on their screens. But the epitome of that rising industry might be the 2017 League of Legends World Cup where 60 million viewers saw the tournament held in Beijing National Stadium, using 3D animation to enhance user experience behind a screen, and where the winning cash price was $4.5 million. From there, video game competition wasn’t a hobby no more, but a sport.
Eclipsia, 3D animation at the 2017 LoL World Cup
Indeed, this decade, the esports industry has known an unprecedented growth on many aspects. The most important strength of esports might be the proximity between professional players and their fans. Amateurs can recognise themselves through their favourite players more easily than a 5’7 NBA fan ! Moreover, pro players communicate more easily via live streaming platforms like Twitch, YouTube or Panopto, creating a stronger proximity than other disciplines. Consequently, according to a Statista study made on the esports market, revenues between 2018 and 2023 will double, viewers will grow from 395 million people to 646 million, and annual cash pools from top tier competitions will grow from $159 million to $543 million in that same period.
Statista: Esports market report 2020
And 2020 may be a pivotal year with an increased digitalization of the world. On one hand, people in Western regions have the opportunity to spend more time and money on video game content (by playing, watching livestream or replay videos) due to remote working and social distancing. On the other hand, developing countries have a population that is getting increasingly familiar with digital content. For instance, India is having an exploding mass of gamers with 628 million gamers in 2020 that might represent the future of esports players in a few years.
And that increasing industry is obviously attracting more sponsors. Esports is not only about watching people playing a game ! There are, tournaments in gigantic arenas, gaming equipment from computers to energy drinks and snacks, live streaming platforms in order to broadcast competitions worldwide, goodies for fans etc… That’s why today the highest revenue makers in the industry are sponsors with $822.4 million in revenues in 2020, or three-quarters of the total market revenues.
Statista study on Twitch from 2018 to 2020 Q3
Statista: Digital Media study
2 – Esports is the new place for sportswear advertising
Now that we’ve seen how esports is booming, we have to understand who are the fans, and how that target would perfectly match with sportswear brand strategies. In 2019, 62% of Twitch watchers were between 16 and 34 years old. That means that two thirds of esports consumers are represented by Millennial and Gen Z who, we all know, are a specific type of target in terms of advertising messages to delivers in order to reach them.
Moreover, in 2020, the cliché that video game fans are male hermit geeks is totally wrong ! The democratization of gaming and esports brought new and different young consumers. For example, the football video game FIFA has its own esports cup and same for the basketball game NBA 2K, where we can often see famous “real life” professional players gaming on Twitch like Antoine Griezmann or Kevin Durant ! Or also in China for example, video games are attracting more women. According to the Game Publishers Association Publications Committee there where 290 million Chinese female gamers playing on PUGB, Counter Strike, Clash Royal and more !
So what does it mean for the sportswear industry?
First, the fact that Millennials and the Gen Z are dominating the consumer market means that sportswear brands have a target that they already know and that they already try to reach on social media and real life advertising.
Secondly, the esports fan-to-pro relation fits perfectly with the influencer sponsoring strategy that brands are already using, with even more power due to the close relation between fans and gamers on streaming platforms and competitions.
Thirdly, that also means that sportswear brands have to be careful with their targeting strategy. By betting on the relation between fans and pro gamers, brands should adapt their message to the personality and the way players interact with their community, or fans will feel that the partnership isn’t authentic.
Twich global user share 2019, by age
American rapper Travis Scoot in 3D animation on Fortnite targeting young gamers – Fortnite
Killer Angel LoL all women Chinese team – China Daily
The most famous Fortnite player “Ninja” wrote history by being the first gamer to sign a deal with a leading sportswear supplier and create its own clothing line. Working Adidas in 2019, the group has released a shoe collection called “Ninja nite jogger” to feel comfy outside or while gaming.
With more gaming adaptability and identity, the American brand is one of the first brands that has created on a gaming line, named “Champion Esports“. The collection offers gaming performance jerseys, hoodies with large hoods to be able to wear headphones, and a long range of gaming adapted garments that are as useful for professional and amateur gamers.
Nike saw in 2019 how big esports was and bet on the Chinese League of Legend Pro League by sponsoring all the teams with their own Nike clothing equipments. With a clever communication strategy, Nike used the famous 23 year old Chinese LoL player “Uzi” that retired for health issues due to his gaming lifestyle. The brand used his story to bring more health awareness to the esports world. Nike has created a “NEXT LEVEL” bootcamp ad where we can see Uzi physically training gamers to make them the greatests of all time. With Nike sponsorship for the Chinese LoL league, the team jerseys have nothing to envy to other sports, with breathable dry-fit textiles and fresh designs adapted to the teams identity. Nike has proven that classic sport norms can be adapted to the esports world and give great results.
As the main competitor to Nike in Asia, Li-ning is trying to be the number one esports clothing supplier in the continent. The Chinese brand bought the LoL team “Snake Esports” now called “Li-ning Gaming” team to be their official sponsor. They also collaborated with the Chinese sport organisation Edwards Gaming with a special Fall Winter collection in 2018 with high fashion and sportswear inspirations. The Chinese brand is now a reference in terms of “esportswear”.
The British leading League of Legend Team Fnatic worked with Gucci to create a watch in effigy to the team. The $1620 watch is inspired by their black and orange colours and the Fnatic logo that appears on the dial at the 6 o’clock marker.. Gucci proved that it is possible to connect the esports world and luxury !
3 – Streetwear collaborations
As we all know, collaborations between streetwear brands and other industries are booming in 2020. And esports hasn’t been spared ! We have seen the famous brand Billionaire Boys Club made by Pharell Williams, create a capsule with the Call of Duty League developed with military gliching designs. In addition, the Houston rapper Travis Scott collabed with Sony and Nike to make a Playstation Nike SB dunk low shoe in honour to the arrival of the new Playstation 5. This hype between video games and streetwear is another signal showing that sportswear brands can also offer athleisure and comfort clothes to esports, that are more focused on design than performance.
Billionaire Boys Club
The esports industry is now mature enough to prove that there are multiple opportunities for sponsors to invest into advertising strategies. The number of viewers is growing fast with different types of targets that are mainly young. Nevertheless that industry has a demanding consumer mass that is close to their idols than in other sports and that are sensitive to authenticity in gamer’s messages and ways to promote a sponsor. We’ve seen that the sportswear sector has a great advantage for its knowledge on young consumers but also for their ability to provide all necessary clothing options in the industry, from comfort to performance, without forgetting crazy designs ! Esports isn’t a trend but a growing market that could grow heavy revenues for sportswear brands if they are able to understand consumer’s needs.