Expect More Sneaker Companies to Step into the Lucrative ESports Arena

Nike x LPL apparel collection

The past few months have seen an unprecedented ramp-up in the visibility of eSports on the mainstream cultural radar. It’s a big business. How big? In a report released in 2018—well before the coronavirus forced us all indoors and boosted eSports viewership on a massive scale—the investment-banking firm Goldman Sachs made a prediction: “As media rights and sponsorship continue to grow, along with the formalization of pro sports leagues, we expect total eSports monetization will reach US$3 billion by 2022.”

All this growth means we will see an inevitable increase in the number of brands trying to get a slice of the eSports pie. You really don’t need a fresh pair of sneakers emblazoned with the FaZe Clan or 100 Thieves logo, but if such a thing were available, you’d probably buy it.

Nor do you really need a set of specialized kicks just for sitting in front of a screen playing Fortnite or League of Legends. Or maybe you do. Who am I to say? The point is, whether anyone wants or needs them, a wave of gaming sneakers is no doubt on its way.

So let’s take this opportunity to look back at the few attempts footwear brands have already made to step into the eSports space.

Puma Active Gaming Footwear

RELEASED: 2019

THE OFFICIAL HYPE: “Created with console gamers in mind, the gaming sock is the first edition Active Gaming Footwear. Designed for indoor and in-arena use, it delivers seamless comfort, support and grip so gamers can adapt to different active gaming modes and game their best.”

THE REVIEWS: Eurogamer’s Will Judd said “I felt no better prepared with the Pumas on as with any other foot covering—or even none at all.” Julie Muncy of WIRED wondered what the point was: “We take esports as seriously as athletics, but they are usually played sitting down, right? Like, I’m not imagining that. You just sit in a chair. I don’t really think you need special shoes for that.”

K-Swiss ONE-TAP

RELEASED: 2019

THE OFFICIAL HYPE: “Our K-Swiss designers shadowed professional players to develop a shoe suited specifically for the performance needs of esports athletes.”

THE REVIEWS: Writing for Highsnobiety, Ian Servantes opined that “Requirements for a good gaming shoe would seemingly end at ‘not making your feet a concern while sitting down and focusing on a screen,’ a bar that K-Swiss’ latest offering certainly surpasses.” Business Insider’s Ben Gilbert test-drove a pair of ONE-TAPs and concluded, “If anything, I was so preoccupied with the subtle, persistent pain in my foot while wearing the One Taps that I probably didn’t play as well as usual.” In his review for Vice, Matthew Gault was more enthusiastic: “The One-Tap is the perfect shoe for wandering around the house in a daze, making coffee, and killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: Youngblood.”

Nike x LPL

RELEASED: 2019

THE OFFICIAL HYPE: To be fair to Nike, the company never suggested that these shoes would improve anyone’s gaming. They are basically just React Element 55s with colours selected by members of China’s League of Legends Pro League. Nike also designed uniforms for all of LPL’s teams and partnered with the league for a line of streetwear.

THE REVIEWS: These shoes were only available in China, so reviews have been impossible to find. Luke Plunkett wrote about the LPL jerseys for Kotaku, though, and he was not impressed: “From an esports perspective, they’re not bad! But then, from an esports perspective, that’s a very low bar to clear. For a line of Nike jerseys, they’re as lazy and cheap as it gets.” Plunkett was more complimentary about the streetwear collection, writing that “Nike has just shot straight at the target demographic, and the results are a lot nicer.”

Nike COD League Air F1

RELEASED: 2020

THE OFFICIAL HYPE: Nike made this variant of its classic Air F1 to commemorate the Call of Duty League’s inaugural season. They were conceived by artist and shoe designer Kickstradomis, who said “The colours of the league are black, white, and gray, keeping it monochromatic. So, it’s really cool to be able to use these colours and still make something pop. The Call of Duty logo has three pillars, and they all represent something different. So, in this custom that I’m doing, I’m going to do justice to those three pillars.”

THE REVIEWS: These were not released commercially, although exactly one pair was given away to a lucky contest winner. They’re Air F1s, though, so if you’ve ever owned a pair, you can imagine what the COD League ones feel like.

I have done a lot of different things over the course of my life and professional career. I have interviewed Oscar and Grammy winners and written cover stories for glossy newsstand magazines. I have played guitar in a rock band on national TV and run an independent music label for which I wrote all of the PR and marketing materials. In my spare time, I sweated out a novel about a world where raccoons are kings and dragons are real.

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