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When ESL partnered with streetwear brand SNIPES in July 2018 for a collaborative apparel line, it was a big shift away from the kind of clothing that ESL had previously produced itself. SNIPES was given flexibility to play with the ESL branding and color scheme to produce something that matched its own brand aesthetic, with a 1990s-esque retro influence. By contrast, ESL’s own approach to apparel rarely went beyond putting the logo on a shirt or hat.
“It was a special move last year because our own stuff was really more merchandise-orientated,” Kristina Müller, ESL’s head of strategic partnerships, told The Esports Observer at gamescom 2019. “Many people loved that we did something fresh and fashion-driventhat hadn’t been there before.”
This time around, ESL is in a much different place. The company launched its brand refresh early this year, which pairs in bright yellow and green colors alongside a broader array of merchandise designs. “We already knew that the brand would refresh at some point, but we had the idea to do something bold before we go out with the ESL brand refresh,” Müller said of the original SNIPES collaboration.
ESL and SNIPES used gamescom 2019 to roll out the second wave of the joint line, which was prominently featured in a walk-in shop at Cologne, Germany’s Koelnmesse convention center. The new limited-edition line keeps some of the forms that sold well the last time around, such as a track jacket, but now weaves in more of the distinctive style that ESL introduced with its brand refresh.
“This year, ESL already came out with a really fresh and bright design with a new brand ID with a pattern in yellow and green, and SNIPES loved that a lot and said it really fit to their own brand as well. So we have been aiming for something that is really close to the new brand refresh, but also shows how SNIPES sees their own collection,” said Müller. “We combined some of the basics from SNIPES with some of our own core elements, and brought it together in one brand.”
Gamescom might not be known as ground zero for fashion, but Müller said that the sheer number of attendees—given that it is the world’s largest gaming expo—makes it an ideal place to reach a broad swathe of people. Moreover, in her mind, the fact that gamescom doesn’t have a big fashion presence makes the ESL and SNIPES collection stand out even more.
“We still kind of have this advantage because there are no other brands trying to enter into the market in such a fashionable way,” she said. “You can really see the differences at gamescom by comparing the other merchandising areas with our area, and especially our booth in collaboration with SNIPES. It really stands out, and it gives us an opportunity to target the fans in a premium and appealing way.”
SNIPES and Beyond
Müller said that sales data naturally plays a role in evaluating the success of the SNIPES collaboration, but it doesn’t come down to just hard numbers. For SNIPES, this joint offering is a way to explore the crossover between gaming and esports fans and other markets that the company already targets and serves—what Müller called tapping into “the adjacent fan bases of whom they’re already targeting within their communities.”
“It’s definitely the number of sales, for sure, but it’s also important to see how the community reacts, what you create on social media, and how you bond with them—more qualitative KPIs, as well,” she said. Müller also pointed to how SNIPES has gone beyond the apparel itself in its venture with ESL, including sponsoring the players’ lounge at ESL events and jointly operating an afterparty.
SNIPES recently began opening stores in the United States, and Müller said that ESL is in conversations about expanding the collaboration geographically. She also sees potential for joint pop-up stores, or perhaps even ESL-themed pop-ups within SNIPES stores; she mentioned that SNIPES has given mousesports a dedicated corner of its stores as part of its sponsorship of the team. However, she’s not sure whether the ESL x SNIPES collection has a place at events without a gaming component, at least for now.
“I think you still need the connection, to some extent,” she said. “We still want to place it in a gaming and esports environment to establish the connection, and to make it as authentic as possible. At some point, when we reach a bigger and more mainstream market, we are really open to think about a lot more ways to position the collection.”
ESL’s joint offering with SNIPES is its first alliance with a non-endemic fashion brand, but the company is also open to additional collaborations as it explores the possibilities in esports apparel. “ESL is really looking into a lot of things with how to expand fashion and apparel in esports,” said Müller. “We are really proud of working together [with SNIPES], and we really want to continue this partnership, and are open to exploring the market with strong partners.”
“If you only have a look at the ESL collection—and really solely the ESL collection, not with any other partner brand—we’ve seen such strong growth within the last two-to-three years that proves the market potential,” she continued. “ESL is the most-sold brand in our shop, which also currently offers merchandise of all top international teams.”
Editor’s note: Interview conducted by Graham Ashton.
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