One of the undisputed strengths of esports as a market is that its reach is enormous and its fans dedicated. This has proved to one of the most compelling benefits of esports in the eyes of investors, brands and sports teams looking to enter the esports arena.
But so far, the esports industry has been slow to fully capitalise on its soaring popularity. The industry is going through an explosion of growth, but brands and teams are failing to see the full potential of that growth. The industry is still learning how to best make revenue, and most revenue at the moment comes from sponsorships.
But there is significant potential for more capital-raising within esports, and one of the ways that this can be done is through merchandising – and esports apparel, in particular. Sports stars have long collaborated with the fashion world and become style icons, and practical clothing has been merged with and inspired by fashion houses to become a coveted mass market commodity.
While there are perhaps no esports stars that could really be called style icons in their own right yet, there are some players starting to bring the esports and fashion industries together, such as Fortnite streamer Nate Hill, for example. But plenty of players have loyal fanbases who pay close attention to the habits and opinions of their esports heroes.
Professionally competitive gamers have quickly risen in popularity among spectators, and with the industry's global audience for competitions projected to be around 380 million people this year, who spent 17.9 million hours watching it in just the first quarter of 2018 alone, the customer base is ripe.
If esports is to capitalise on the potential of apparel, it could do worse than look to skateboarding as an example. Two decades ago, skate brands were small and could only be found in independent retailers. But now, many professional skateboarders have signed multimillion-dollar contracts, including to make signature shoes with Nike. Skate brands including Supreme and Palace are hugely successful, with collaborations with fashion houses around the world and celebrated on runways. And the only way to get esports heading in a similar direction is to build a momentum behind it.
There are some movements beginning to happen. For example, designer Collette Gangemi is working making athletic influencers and style icons out of professional esports players, and to bring esports and fashion closer together.
James Bond, designer of streetwear brand Undefeated, and streetwear jewellery designer Melody Ehsani, have both collaborated with New York Excelsior (NYXL), one of the biggest professional teams for the multiplayer video game Overwatch, to sell jewellery and apparel at a weekly pop-up in New York.
Ehsani's designs are specifically targeted to a female audience, which apparently makes up 30% of NYXL’s fanbase. And there's more in store: NYXL will be also dropping a team-themed colourway of Nike's Air Force 1 sneaker.
As esports grows, new opportunities will be opened up – whether through sponsorships, or merchandising and apparel collaborations. For Rewired GG’s own backer Tej Kohli, investments in esports have the potential to unlock these different avenues for the industry to pursue. Together with financial backing and expertise in sports and entertainment, this could prove to be a crucial factor in the growth and professionalisation of esports as a field.