This was the year of apparel companies entering esports. The brands that have long been synonymous with top athletes are moving into the next generation of competition. The Nike swoosh felt natural on the chests of the League of Legends world champions, Adidas signed a deal with Fortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, and Puma are working with Cloud9, a leading esports organization.
While each of these companies took a different approach to the space, they all clearly saw an opportunity in the rapidly emerging esports market. Now, we are beginning to see the first products come out of these new partnerships.
Adidas dropped the Time In joggers featuring the Ninja logo, while Puma has released a new shoe called Active Gamer Footwear. The former is a streetwear product, while the latter is focused on performance.
Don’t laugh. OK, you can laugh a little—the gaming community certainly is. Connecting with gamers will be a challenge for many of these companies, and this ad proves it. Showing off a more advanced PC or controller lands well with this audience, but building out the performance aspects of clothing has never seemed to resonate with esports enthusiasts.
“As apparel companies come to better understand the esports space, we will see more products that align with what gamers are looking for,” said Brad Sive, chief revenue officer for Blitz, a coaching app, and Team SoloMid, a leading esports organization. “It’s going to take some trial and error. Models that work in the traditional sports space can’t always be directly translated to gaming, but there is plenty of opportunity in this market for apparel products. It will just take time and research.”
One of the critical differences between gaming and esports is that the average gamer won’t be in situations similar to esports pros. A basketball shoe has the same utility, whether the game is being played in a 24-Hour Fitness or the Staples Center.
Puma’s Active Gamer Footwear, however, was designed with the unique needs of the esports pro in mind.
“One of the most surprising things we learned in talking with esports athletes is that many of them take off their shoes when they’re competing,” explained Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing. “Some players like to sit cross-legged in their seats, some players find their feet get too hot onstage, and some players practice in their socks and simply prefer to compete that way, too. In developing Active Gaming Footwear, we realized that it was important to develop a product that provided sock-like comfort and flexibility, while also providing just enough structure to be worn in those moments in between matches.”
So while the average gaming community may not necessarily see the utility of this product, it is the result of research done with esports pros.
Another community that seemed happy with this product was people who play virtual/augmented reality titles. These games are becoming increasingly common, and a product that helps grip a hardwood floor while immersed in a separate world is something they will happily purchase. Given the cost of a virtual reality setup, $100 for an improvement to the experience of using it seems like a bargain.
While the average gamer might not buy a performance sock, some niche players will keep this product afloat. As apparel companies get more and more experience in esports, we could see products that gamers are happy to start paying for.