Fake Esports Merch Is Running Rampant on Amazon
One good thing we can say about the COVID-19 pandemic (or at least, one glint of light in a very dark time) is that esports and gaming content in general saw a huge upswing in popularity during 2020. That trend is likely to continue. Our lives have been changed in a likely permanent way. I will be much more cautious to shake hands upon meeting someone, to name just one example. Staying inside and playing or watching games has become something of a civic duty – if you’re alone at home, you’re not infecting anyone. Watching skilled players duke it out with high production values and higher stakes is quite an appealing use of time when we’re stuck inside, especially with other forms of entertainment suffering, and so we’ve seen a rise in esports viewership and fandom over the past year.
So, with an influx of new fans comes an influx of merchandise sales. Though esports orgs have many different ways to generate revenue, from sponsorships to video views, merchandising is a part of every team’s bottom line. It’s a great way to show support, both monetarily and in style, to your favorite org. But with the total sales of all counterfeit goods having already exceeded $1 trillion in 2017, it was all but inevitable to see some knockoffs knock off a few legit sales of esports merch.
A Growing Problem
It’s all too easy to accidentally buy one of these fake esports merch from a site like Amazon, to think that your favorite org would receive a portion of the sales from such a powerful vendor… and all too tempting for some fans to buy one intentionally, looking to save a few bucks. Whatever the motive for buying one of these fakes, all that any customer would usually get for their counterfeit purchase is a low-quality item that doesn’t actually support the team whose logo is on it. Chances are that the logo on that itchy tee shirt or baggy hoodie is outdated, as well.
Esports orgs are still small fries compared to professional sports teams, of course. There’s a much bigger fake merch industry for football and other traditional sports. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that each of those pieces of fake sports merch bought harms the team whose likeness is being counterfeited less than the equivalent does in the world of esports. Pro sports teams can wipe their counterfeit-induced tears with their piles of money while esports orgs are over here reusing soggy tissues. The only way that situation changes is with ever-expanding support for the latter industry, and buying legit merch is the best way for an individual to show that support.
Any given random person on the street is a lot less likely to “get it” if you’re wearing an NRG jersey versus wearing a Sacramento Kings jersey. The latter is usually done to visually identify other fans, to count a stranger as part of your ingroup (or outgroup, if you’re wearing, say, a Baltimore Ravens jersey in Pittsburgh), and to show pride in your city, team, and favorite sport. Esports org branded merchandise is a more intimate transaction between you and the team whose logo is on the shirt or bag or what have you. In other words, a piece of esports merch is less likely to be recognized than a piece of merch of your favorite football or hockey team, but much more likely to make a positive impact on your favorite esports team, especially if that team is part of a smaller org.
Going back to NRG and the Sacramento Kings, Andy Miller (who co-owns both organizations) recently put out a tweet drawing attention to the issue of fake esports merch on Amazon. These low-effort knockoffs will still undoubtedly draw at least a few well-meaning fans in. The knockoffs usually affect the bigger orgs more – in the same way that playoff sports teams see more knockoffs of their merch than of the tanking crews at the bottom of the power rankings – but as esports continues to grow, the problem will only grow with it. Eventually, orgs of all sizes may be affected negatively by these counterfeiters.
So, the responsibility to quell the fake merch problem falls to vendors like Amazon. Goodness knows they have enough money as-is without selling fake esports merch. But the listings linked to in Andy Miller’s Twitter thread are still up, even after being reported many times over. And they’re just the tip of the fake esports merch iceberg on Amazon. There are many more fakes on the site, which is understandably unforgivable for many members of the esports ecosystem, from players to team owners to coaches to fans. It’s absurd that it’s this easy to sell counterfeit merchandise on Amazon.
More Than an Issue With Amazon
And it’s not just Amazon. These fakes can be found on knockoff-heavy website Wish, famous for its cheap counterfeit goods with garbled titles that are usually a string of adjectives with little to no meaning behind them. The fake esports merch on this site often comes in the form of tee shirts with team logos pasted onto them. I found a “Team Liquid” tee on there for $14, when higher-quality official items like this one can be found on the team store. It’s more expensive, but obviously worth it, in my opinion. The price and quality disparities only get higher when we start talking about hoodies and other, more expensive merch items.
I wasn’t sure what kind of person would buy these fakes until I thought it through. If money is tight, you’re probably not buying esports merch from Amazon or anywhere else, so I can’t imagine these counterfeiters make much money on them. Surely, there aren’t many people I mentioned above who are looking to save a few bucks in their esports merch budget. Who has $14 to burn but not $25? But outsiders looking for gift ideas for their friends or family members could easily gobble up a fake. Every sale of these counterfeits, no matter how few there are, hurts the orgs whose merch is being faked.
How to Avoid Buying a Fake
So, what can a fan do? Well, the easiest thing to do is to only buy esports merch from the official org website. Simple. If someone else is buying it for you, make sure they get the same lowdown on the counterfeit situation that you’re getting by reading this article.
The last point I want to bring up is that the players themselves who have made us fans of esports are often directly impacted by fake merch sales on sites like Amazon or Wish. Many top-level players have clauses in their contracts guaranteeing them royalties from their official merch sales – money they obviously miss out on when a fake jersey with their gamertag on it gets bought from one of these websites.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of esports or just got into the scene during Nightmare Year, buying merch from the official org website is the best way to show support for your favorite team. Don’t fall for fake esports merch on Amazon or elsewhere.