The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider.
You’d have to have been hiding under a rock not to know that gaming and esports have crossed over from subculture to mainstream entertainment. In a community multiverse that’s no longer classified by the redundant audience stereotype of spotty cis white male teenagers playing in their bedrooms, brands are falling over themselves to partner with gaming programs.
Is this real -- or just brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Moschino wearing a virtual game face during the pandemic?
Luxury brands are enticed by the numbers. Esports and gaming platforms are legion in scope and global audience. Pro gamers, teams and influencers are making serious coin, screen viewing time is massive, and it’s lucrative in that holy grail: lifestyle marketing.
But the average gamer can’t afford a $2,000 Louis Vuitton Qiyana waxed jacket or a $1,600 Fnatic x Gucci watch. It’s a bit obvious for eyeball-centric marketers moving into esports to be influenced by traditional sports marketers. Hence the league sponsorships, sneaker collabs and virtual products that are all about media rights and slapping a logo ON something that’s culturally relevant.
What’s more exciting is the idea of world-building and identity. In gaming, as in fashion and social media, personas are meticulously built to project a fantasy, attitude, story -- an experience. Where gaming takes imaginative identity further is the total escape from a physical/digital world into one that has its own rules, language, behavior, superpowers and idiosyncrasies.
When you’re in-game, you are totally immersed. And that’s where the opportunity lies for brands, because most gamers block ads, delete cookies or use VPNs. So you literally have to be IN IT to win it.
XBox is already in this space, creating a virtual capsule for Gears 5 with Tokyo brand A Bathing Ape that allows players to dress characters in designs adapted from the apparel line. Gaming collective FaZeClan is focused on luxury collabs. Even Animal Crossing has had in-game moments from Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui and Valentino.
So as the fashion x gaming movement trickles down from luxury to mass, how do fashion brands get ON TOP OF gaming culture?
-- Understand that fashion and gaming are more alike than they appear. Both communities are notoriously skeptical, if not downright blocking of wannabes, or Noobs.
-- Understand that gaming is a multiverse, not a media buy, so giving back to the community is as important as with diverse audiences.
-- Immerse yourself in the gaming lifestyle. Actively listen on platforms like Twitch, Reddit and Discord. Participate in viewing parties, and go to esports tournaments to observe behaviors, rituals, and lingo.
-- Understand the diversity and who within gaming you want to connect with. Gaymers are thriving and Gens Y and X are in the mix, so don’t just approach gaming from the standpoint of an aspirational lifestyle.
-- Think about how you can enhance an individual’s gaming identity. Skins, avatars, custom graphics, memorable character names, personalization: all generate bragging rights, so be bold in innovating how you can enhance player personas.
-- Lean into the similarities between fashion and gaming. It’s no longer centered around a tentpole moment from October through December. Games are released seasonally. Fortnite is in its 17th season.
Just as streetwear and athleisure became dominant codes in fashion and culture, so follow gamewear, e-fashion, or whatever term you chose. Isn’t it long past time that the geeks inherited the earth?