Esports Apparel: The Direction Gaming Fashion is Headed
What’s the future of esports apparel?
In the past, professional players and teams weren’t too focused on merchandise sales. Most rejected the idea wearing designer outfits covered in logos and sponsors. Being a gamer meant wearing your favorite pair of jeans and a throwback Battlestar Galactica t-shirt. Anything more was just flashy.
Back in the day, esports apparel celebrated gaming culture and had little to do with self-promotion. Players wore whatever they wanted and it was a beautiful thing.
Yet the sport was evolving and in 2006 many witnessed the first glimpse of change. That year at the Cyberathlete Professional league Counter-Strike tournament, team Fnatic won the title while wearing black t-shirts with orange lines along the shoulders resembling racing stripes.
A year later at the Championship Gaming Series, North America’s first ever televised esports tournament series, teams were required to wear jerseys, many of them with racing strips similar to those worn by team Fnatic. This was the first time an esports event followed the traditional sports model, which unknowingly set the precedent for the future.
Esports ignored the idea for a long time, but apparel provides a lot of opportunities for a growing industry. Today, teams are matching outfits, creating logos, and branding themselves as modern-day sports teams. However, they aren’t doing it alone.
Team and players are partnering with clothing companies to help revolutionize their brands. These partnerships are helping to pave new path for Esports apparel. But more importantly, a path better aligned with the industries potential.
New Partners, New Direction
It caught many by surprise when recently it was announced that rap superstar Drake signed on as a Co-Owner of the esports team and company 100 Thieves. 100 Thieves brands itself as a “lifestyle brand” and has brought in Drake, who already owns his own clothing company called October’s Very Own, as a strategic advisor to help expand its apparel business. Some may doubt the significance of this partnership, but there’s starting to be a trend.
Earlier this month, Champion Athleticwear became the biggest apparel company to enter esports when they agreed to a deal with Team Dignitas to provide a complete rebrand of their men’s and women’s clothing.
In January of 2017, Adidas France partnered with Team Vitality in a 1-year deal to produce the team’s gear. The sample size is small, but it speaks volumes.
Esports apparel is the move to become more athletic and corporate. There has been a shift away from more simplistic designs in support of designs containing bright colors, logos, team mottos, and snazzy stripes and patterns. A microcosm of this shift is the newest industry-wide effort to produce professional grade jerseys.
Jerseys are like the flags of sports culture and are an ingenious way to promote a team and its fanbase. It didn’t take long for esports to collectively adopted jerseys and teams are experimenting with many kinds.
Some teams, like for example SK Gaming, have slick synthetic jerseys like those worn in soccer or cycling. Others, like Gambit Esports, wear dapper polos similar to tennis players. Because each team produces their apparel independently, esports has the potential to offer more of a variety than the traditional sports. And this variety doesn’t just stop at jerseys.
Many teams sell shirts, hoodies, windbreakers, joggers, etc., with a wide array of fabrics and designs. What they share is a common theme of shifting away from from a lazy gamer style to a more athletic style of clothing. It’s a smart market to tap into because it’s a market beaming with potential.
KontrolFreek, is a gaming gear and accessory company that is sure to inspire others. KontrolFreek produces performance apparel that contains absorbent fabric, ventilation, and padding around the elbows and forearms. It won’t be long until gamers are wearing adaptations of performance gear that originated from companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. Sportwear is currently is currently the most promising element of esports apparel but not the only element.
Because Esports isn’t a traditional sport, it doesn’t have to be confined to the limits of a normal sports company. Drake isn’t working with 100 Thieves to help design jerseys; He’s creating apparel that’s trendy with pop culture influence. Although I haven’t seen many high-end gaming clothing brands, but presence of influencers like Drake make it an intriguing possibility.
The Future of Esports Apparel
Gaming was once very niche market, but has since become one of the biggest and most diverse markets in the world. To maximize profits in large markets, specialized products normally fall to the wayside in support of products that appeal to the widest range of consumers. In other words, esports companies aren’t copying other sports leagues because they lack imagination — it’s simply the most proven way to make money.
The success of athletic clothing worldwide is astounding. A report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. projects the global market for Sports and Fitness clothing to reach US$231.7 Billion by 2024. Sportswear is especially booming in Asia, which coincidentally is the largest market for esports.
And it’s not like the industry is going against the grain. Many of the largest investors in esports are in the sports industry. Investors like Mark Cuban and Magic Johnson surely have some connections in the sports apparel world. Some would consider this the path of least resistance.
Athleticwear benefits the growth of the sport as well. Jerseys and other sponsored clothing increase the recognition of teams and players. Just like in the NFL and the NBA, creating apparel that increases the connection between fans and their teams is an effective strategy to retain them as customers for the long haul.
I’d be lying if I said I knew the exact direction esports apparel is headed. Gaming is unique industry that will likely produce original gaming apparel that my not fit neatly into one particular category of clothing. Remember, we haven’t even reached a consensus on whether or not it’s an actual sport! Partnerships like the one with Drake with 100 Thieves makes me believe gaming apparel could cross over into many different kinds of fashion. That being said, it is as business and many signs point to esports following the traditional sports model. It would be fair to say the future of esports apparel looks sporty — which is fitting seeing how that’s been the goal the whole time.