Esportswear is evolving. The rise of livestreaming and franchised endeavors like the Overwatch League have pushed esports into the mainstream, and it only follows that merchandise would move away from simple jerseys and t-shirts into more trendy looks. In a nutshell, esports merchandise has transitioned from a niche into lifestyle wear. And part of that shift into the mainstream is due, in part, to the ease of access. Companies everyone knows are starting to stock up on their offerings, while less widely associated brands are making inroads into the space.
It starts with distribution. Esports jerseys—from the likes of CLG, OpTic, Dignitas, and others—will line the walls of your local Foot Locker alongside NBA and NFL teams hats and shirts. The footwear retailer announced this week that it’s bringing Champion’s esports line to both its online and in-store shelves, with jerseys going on sale as early as today. Elsewhere, fans of the Overwatch League can buy jerseys and gear on Walmart.com, thanks to a major partnership with merchandisers Fanatics.
— Foot Locker (@footlocker) April 30, 2019
On the design front, shoe brand K-Swiss is just one of the more mainstream brands jumping into esports merchandise via a partnership with with esports organization Immortals. The deal calls for two shoes: the K-Swiss Icon Knit, which is already available, and a forthcoming performance shoe that’s designed specifically for gamers. K-Swiss global marketing director Patrick Buchanan told Front Office Sports that the performance shoe will be released this year.
“The options are growing, which is exciting for esports fans,” Buchanan said. “Many brands are creating apparel geared towards esports players or using players as ambassadors. This is opening doors and helping players develop and define their style.”
As pointed out last week by the New York Times, player interest in personal style is spreading outward to fans, too. And that’s where esports fashion becomes lifestyle wear, and not just gamer lifestyle wear.
Fans now want more than just a logo slapped on a hoodie, according to Team Liquid creative director Damian Estrada. “Teams that could get by in the past with little to no effort behind their merchandise are now facing the same scrutiny from fans that we see in not only traditional fashion markets, but other places such as tech and entertainment,” he said.
Quality merchandise is changing the way fans choose to support players, too.
“Merch is something fans really take stock of when choosing who to support,” Estrada continued. “Initially, it was all about winning. Then we saw the rise of certain personalities driving fandom. But now people are really looking for the complete package, and merchandise is a huge part of that.”
Estrada said that Team Liquid is still in the infancy of its time as a lifestyle brand. For now, the focus is on being experimental and testing things out. That’s what LQD is—a place for Estrada and his creative team to play with Team Liquid’s merchandise. He described it as a “conceptual vision” of a Team Liquid lifestyle brand. Items in the LQD line are techwear-inspired pieces that come and go, like the LQD19_v1_Hoodie hoodie from January. The exclusivity part of the hoodie plays into its appeal. Not everyone can get it.
“The Basics products would be the best comparison point,” Estrada said. “For Basics, the aim is to have simple and clean Team Liquid products available for anyone anytime. For LQD, we’re taking aim at a certain style or look and firing away. We know not all of our fans will love it, but those who do can expect to see more of unique pieces hitting the store soon.”
Outside of teamwear, Ateyo, founded by Breanne Harrison Pollock and Rachel Feinberg, is looking to become what Forbes called the “Nike of esports.” The company has created a small line of core products: pants designed for sitting and another pair of joggers, a hoodie and pullover, bomber jacket, and a classic, everyday T-shirt. The clothing looks like classic, simple athleisure, but it’s tailored to the needs of gamers.
“A lot of it has to do with temperature control, poster, and comfort,” Pollock said. “But you want to build products for peoples’ lifestyles. They’re going to work. They’re wearing the same sweatshirt they wore to work out to drinks or dinner. Maybe then they’re gaming in it, and again on the weekend they’re going to a tournament or convention. We make clothing that lasts through all of those aspects of people’s lives.”
— ATEYO (@ateyo_) May 1, 2019
Like Nike, Ateyo sometimes works with brands, like Team Liquid, for specific lines, like a streetwear-inspired hoodie with Team Liquid’s Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. They’re creating the solid basics for esportswear to evolve from, which will be important in merchandising to come. They’re also focused on inclusivity and will launch a new women’s line next week Whereas other brands may re-size a “men’s” garment, Ateyo is thinking about it all: fabric, cut, and design.
“Women have been overlooked and under-served in the gaming market,” Pollock said. “Women are a much bigger part of the ecosystem than we give them credit for.”
The strategies and cuts may vary. But, at the end of the day, Team Liquid’s Estrada said it all boils down to one ethos: “The days of being able to grab a shitty white hoodie and slap a logo on the front are over.”