Nike, who is the official apparel provider of some NBA Teams and BF Barcelona, announced that it would be the first sports apparel brand that will partner with a significant e-sport league after it sealed a deal with League of Legends Pro League (LPL), Feb 28.
LOL Pro League is China’s most prominent professional export company and is set to compete in this year’s world championships. The deal, which makes Nike the league’s official apparel provider, includes clothing, sneakers, and eventually, team jerseys.
League of Legends Pro League announced that the first Nike-designed team jersey would be unveiled and launched in the 2019 League of Legends World Championship to be held in Paris, late this year.
After it’s 2013 debut, LPL grew to 16 current teams playing under the league, with bigtime sponsors like Mercedes-Benz. The league has become famous after one of its organization, Invictus Gaming, becomes the first Chinese team to win a world championship. The league is also considering a pioneer of some sort, as it has teams that are based on specific cities with their own home arenas.
The deal is set to be a landmark in the e-sports industry. While sports brand like Champion and K-Swiss have signed deals with individual teams and players, the Nike deal with LPL is the first league-wide sponsorship that is signed in e-sport history.
As the e-sport industry has grown teams, players, and leagues have emulated their traditional counterparts in different ways. For example, teams like 100 Thieves have made apparel merchandising part of their business.
“Our unprecedented partnership with Nike will enable LPL teams and players to continue to shine on the world stage,” Leo Lin, co-CEO of LPL operator TJ Sports, said in a statement. “E-sports is a digital sport, and collaboration with Nike will push it to new heights.”
The LPL says that the partnership with Nike will also extend beyond jerseys and shoes. “Nike will also cooperate with the LPL teams and e-sports players to design professional physical training programs,” the league explains. “This is to help the players build a stronger physique and more stamina so they can adapt to the increasing high-intensity competition.”
With the popularity of e-sport reaching unprecedented heights, many analysts and business experts have suggested that the once small industry has grown to look like traditional sports.
They noted that the biggest profession e-sports leagues have the same characteristics as that of traditional sports leagues – they are run by wealthy, big-money owners, with structured schedules, minimum salary, and other benefits for players.
The Verge reported that it started very slowly but has now grown into a multibillion-dollar industry.
“The transformation started slowly, with European soccer clubs signing professional FIFA players to represent their teams in the competition. Eventually, these clubs expanded their influence; German soccer team Schalke 04 operates a League of Legends team in the European pro circuit, while French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain has its own Rocket League team. In 2016, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers became the first major North American team to get into the field when it acquired e-sports group Team Dignitas.”
The appeal of e-sports is tough to miss especially when in recent years, viewers and money are continuously flowing inside their bubble.
According to market analyst group Newzoo, the global market for e-sports is expected to top $922 million in 2018, with an estimated 221 million fans across the world. Significant events like Valve’s Dota 2 tournament The International have made headlines with ever-increasing numbers. In 2017, the tournament’s crowdfunded prize purse was more than $24 million, and more than 400,000 people watched the final matches on Twitch.
“As those splashy numbers attracted groups from traditional sports to the competitive gaming landscape, those groups, in turn, are changing that landscape in significant ways.” The Verge added.
For many owners, who reportedly paid $20 million fees to be part of gaming leagues, the familiar structure similar to established traditional sports league like NBA was comforting because the business model has been proven.
“That consistency and stability are essential for what we’re endeavoring to do,” says Nate Nanzer, commissioner of the Overwatch League, “which is to build a forever sport.” /apr