When luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton announced in September it would be partnering with Riot Games’ League of Legends World Championship to design in-game outfits and a trophy carrying case, many people were left scratching their heads. On the surface, high fashion and video games seem an unlikely pairing. But as esports continues to shift from subculture to mainstream, I predict this is only the beginning of fashion-focused sponsorship deals in the esports world.
As marketers better understand the esports audience and their lifestyle, more brand collaborations not directly tied to the playing or production of esports are sure to follow suit. In fact, The Esports Observer reported that in the first quarter of 2019, there were 76 non-endemic sponsorship deals in esports (an increase of 145% from the previous quarter), including fashion brands like Champion, Puma, and New Era.
While the Louis Vuitton partnership may be the most lux foray of fashion into esports, it will not be the only fashion brand to make waves. Champion’s special release baseball style jerseys curated by NTWRK feature the logos of five esports teams, and were available for purchase via NTWRK or at Foot Locker stores. Andbox, in partnership with Mother Design and Public School, released a clothing line designed specifically for gamers to make them feel more like traditional sports fans..
As esports continues to gain traction and attract non-traditional brands into the fold, it will become increasingly important for marketers to understand how their industry can intersect with esports. For fashion brands, in particular, these are three key reasons why the integration of fashion and esports really does make sense:
1. Esports fans and games are diverse
There are a variety of misconceptions about the esports audience, with many people envisioning them as solely as gamers, usually young and male. Research from Mindshare NA shows that while over half of esports fans are millennials, 60 percent are between the ages of 25 and 39; many are parents; and 38 percent are women. And many of these fans are quite fashion conscious. While esports fans may have different passion points, they are the same kind of people fashion and other mainstream brands have been targeting for years. Once marketers understand this, a much broader world opens up to non-endemic brands looking to connect.
It’s important to point out that esports is not a “one size fits all” industry so digging deeper into the demographics and nuances associated with each game and league is necessary. For example, Fortnite reaches far and wide among ages and, increasingly, gender, while a game like Dota 2 has a smaller, more male audience. But with Newzoo forecasting that the global esports business will grow beyond $1.4 billion in 2020, more marketers should be willing to attempt the learning curve to determine which titles offer the most value for their brand.
2. Fashion works best when the integration is subtle
When taking a closer look at non-endemic brand partnerships, especially among fashion brands, they are more authentic when the branding is not as overt. When the branding is gently part of the activation, esports fans are more likely to buy into their relevance.
H&M is a great example of this. The brand launched a successful, challenge- based campaign featuring popular gamers that were dressed in H&M clothes from their new fall line. Louis Vuitton took a similar approach by blending its products into the gaming experience. Given the company’s rich history of creating trophy gear for sporting events, like the FIFA World Cup, the custom case they designed for League of Legends was believable to esports fans. In addition, the customized character skins added an element of luxury to League of Legends, which generates more viewers than most professional sports championships.
3. Esports influencers offer opportunity for fashion brands
The widespread influence of esport players cannot be underestimated. They are spending significant amounts of time engaging with their fans well beyond gameplay. In 2017, Twitch, the leading esports platform, saw influencer streamer accounts drive more Internet traffic than anyone except Google, Netflix, and Apple. Twitch users watch an average of 421 minutes per month, about 44 percent more than those who watch YouTube.
Through this and other platforms, esport competitors are able to build long-lasting fan relationships and credible content, which opens up a variety of opportunities for brands to create stronger connections in a community they would ordinarily not be able to access. Compare this to a traditional athlete that partners with a fashion brand — the only time fans interact with that athlete outside of a game day (when they’re not in the brands clothing) is when they decide to interact with their fans on social, resulting in a one-way conversation. Compare that to Twitch streamers and/or esports pros who can spend 8-12 hours per day with a camera on, in front of their fans interacting with them in real time. For a fashion brand it’s incredibly high value product placement set inside very engaging situations.
Fashion, in particular, offers influencers an authentic way to further enhance relationships with fans. As we see with H&M and Louis Vuitton, showcasing wares and accessories organically is a much more attractive approach than plastering logos all over the game. In addition, more and more athletic brands are creating apparel geared towards esports players or using players as ambassadors to extend reach to fans, following in the footsteps of traditional athletes creating their own lines. At the same time, it’s crucial to understand that there’s a wide range of esports influencers from professional players and streamers to media personalities and presenters. That’s why it’s so important for brands to do their homework to identify which influencer will be the best fit.
What does the future look like?
The Louis Vuitton partnership may have been surprising, but it’s a powerful example of the potential that esports provides for many companies. And fashion may be the common thread that connects more and more nonendemic brands with the esport community in the most credible way. If integrated thoughtfully and authentically, there is an enormous potential for fashion, especially for those that have entered as early adopters.
Mike Murphy O’Reilly oversees Minute Media’s esports and gaming platform — DBLTAP. He handles everything from rights holder partnerships including leagues and teams to client engagement and execution.