E-sports merchandise is on a roll, and it may end the year hotter than traditional sports apparel.
It would take a lot to achieve that, given the quantities companies produce for traditional sports franchises such as replica jerseys, uniforms and branded fan gear, but with traditional sports still threatened by COVID-19, e-sports has fewer obstacles to overcome to become the most-watched sport this year.
And that spells opportunity for merchandise sales.
This year saw the opening of 100 Thieves’ first store, located at its Culver City, Calif., facility where players can train and stream. Accessories brand GLD launched its latest collaboration with FaZe Clan through member FaZe Banks, and Champion released a collection for NBA 2K.
Andbox offered up collections for New York Subliners players Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto and Dillon “Attach” Price, the SBB collection for New York Excelsior member Saebyeolbe, as well the 1st Collection by 1st, whose real name is Brian Alcazar, and creative director Maxwell Osborne, and recently a collection with CdnThe3rd, better known as Ceez, that sold out in eight minutes.
FaZe Clan dropped a merchandise collection for player FaZe Swagg and crossed with the pop-culture world by partnering with the late Juice Wrld’s camp on a collection as well as the NFL on a line for the NFL Draft; Manchester City on a collaboration to mark their two-year partnership, and Anti Social Social Club at the end of August.
E-sports franchise Tempo Storm expanded its merch line with designs by popular Reddit artist Andre Rojas, also known as SrGrafo, with all profits from the collection going to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund; Team Liquid did so as well in June.
The fashion industry has been making greater strides into e-sports and gaming as well, with Marc Jacobs, Valentino, GCDS, Anna Sui, Sandy Liang and others adding outfits to the Nintendo Switch social simulation game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Givenchy debuted makeup in the game as well and Gillette Venus did “skin-clusive” designs.
But outside of the digital world, former FaZe Clan executives stepped away from the organization to create the inclusive gaming organization Xset, and Gen.G signed Heron Preston as creative adviser. He will design products for the organization, including two that will launch during the League of Legends tournament this year. Riot Games also partnered with Jordan on an Air Jordan 1 High Zoom sneaker inspired by the League of Legends tournament and with Aape by A Bathing Ape on a limited-edition apparel collection and special skins — gamer-speak for a character’s outfit and look — for League of Legends character True Damage Yasuo.
While League of Legends is one of the more recognized e-sports leagues thanks to past partners with the likes of Louis Vuitton, the Overwatch and Call of Duty leagues are also gaining attention from non-gaming companies. United Airlines, for instance, is partnering with the New York Excelsior.
Though major professional sports have resumed this summer, the traditional sports leagues are still dependent on fans in the stands, and some argue that the competition is less exciting without a real audience. E-sports leagues benefit from live audiences, too, but thrive on the Internet. While athletes are visible only during competition, gamers also stream their play online for viewers and fans in between tournaments and during the off-season, resulting in more air time.
More traditional athletes also stream gameplay between games and during their off-seasons, and some players competed in tournaments on ESPN when the NBA season was postponed this year. NBA, NFL and pro sports bring visibility to gaming as they partner with e-sports organizations to stream gameplay, which in turn introduces organizations to new viewers and fans. Philadelphia 76ers all-star Ben Simmons recently joined FaZe Clan as an investor and an official member named “FaZe Simmo,” while Bronny James, LeBron James’ son, was announced days later as FaZe Bronny. Though Simmons has been gaming with FaZe Clan since 2018, the move means he is now officially a member — an affiliation that is telling for the future of pro sports and e-sports.