Esports is tapping into streetwear.
The gaming league has teamed with Undefeated, a sneaker and streetwear retailer based in Los Angeles, to create a jersey for the New York Excelsior, which is New York City’s first professional eSports franchise. It is one of the 12 founding franchises of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, which is owned by Sterling.VC, a venture capital fund supported by Sterling Equities.
“Excelsior wanted to create a unique approach to team apparel,” said Collette Gangemi, the head of merchandise and consumer products for the New York Excelsior. “Most eSports apparel is semi-juvenile. I was brought on to take more of a streetwear collaboration approach. When you are starting a league in New York and trying to build a community, having apparel that people can buy into helps that.”
Undefeated has worked with EA Sports on an NBA Live 18 event, but this is its first time partnering with eSports. James Bond, the cofounder of Undefeated, sees overlap in the streetwear and gaming communities.
“Most of today’s sneakerheads have grown up computer-savvy and for a lot of the kids, playing games is second nature to them. Even my son, who is 11, is starting to get into video games. This isn’t just a trend. It’s a viable market,” said Bond. “Over the past couple of years, we started hearing about people putting teams together and we felt like this is something we have to pay attention to.”
New York Excelsior’s team is all Korean and, according to Gangemi, already wears sneakers. She’s hoping to build on this collaboration with more apparel. At one point, the Overwatch League Teams had strict restrictions on uniforms and merchandise distribution, but that has since changed, which Gangemi believes will bring more attention to the sport.
Undefeated, which is independently owned, operates six stores in the U.S. on the West Coast and six stores in Japan. There are plans to expand its footprint in Asia with a flagship in Hong Kong and Beijing set to open later this year.
“The sneaker business is always evolving,” said Bond. “The biggest challenge right now is the volume of shoes coming out and how much the consumer can digest. But there are more consumers and they are as young as 8, 9, 10. So it’s about trying to balance the growth without crashing and burning.”