Before I get into the nitty gritty of what I've stumbled upon, I want to be clear that my recommendations are not based off the discovery of one individual that has the power to give "cool points" to a brand, or even change a generation's perception by carrying the brand on their back. What I'm about to present to you is an entire industry that has been overlooked by athletic brands, and this person is proof and a reminder that this could be a natural fit for Nike.
This is Kieran Brown. He goes by Kez.
Brown stands at 6'2." He comes in at about 168 lbs. Kez lives in York, England, and at only 18 years old, he has been signed by Manchester City.
But, he doesn't play football. At least on a field.
He is a very skilled E-Athlete.
Yes, that's right, athlete.
These athletes aren't doing Two-A-Days at the gym, running suicides up and down the court, or swimming 3 miles as a warmup, but their determination, competitive edge, and mental strength is just as fine tuned as any professional athlete. Thanks to a five year study by Professor Ingo Frobose, he brings to our attention that;
"The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver. This is combined with a high pulse, sometimes as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute, which is equivalent to what happened during a very fast run, almost a marathon. That's not to mention the motor skills involved. So in my opinion eSports are just as demanding as most other types of sports, if not more demanding."
If that wasn't enough to make you a believer, some Colleges and Universities are offering gaming scholarships. UC Irvine being one of the latest, and largest colleges to hop on the trend.
Nick Wingfield, a journalist for the New York Times, points out that;
"More than 10,000 students now play in the biggest college league, 4,400 more than last year and 4,600 more than the number of men who play on Division 1 college basketball teams."
With that growth, E-Sports doesn't seem to be much of a niche anymore. Nerds are now jocks. Or are jocks now nerds?
Surprisingly, Football Clubs and Universities are not the only ones getting involved. Big brands like Coke, HTC, and Red Bull (to name a few) have been aware of this industry's potential ($$$) for years.
The gaming world has been quickly climbing at 50% profit increase year over year, and is sitting pretty at a cool $463 million. The $1 billion mark is expected to be hit by 2019.
So why is this small niche of people making such a big impact? Well thats because this industry touches an untouchable audience.
Digiday uncovers that here;
“Almost half of the global eSports audience is aged between 18 and 34, a demographic full of ad-blockers that are increasingly hard to reach via other channels. For brands moving more budget into digital, it’s too good an opportunity to miss.”
And as more brands begin to catch up, the price tag to connect to these untouchable consumers is going to grow. Get it while it's hot!
It is pretty impressive how non-existent athletic brands have been in this space. It's almost as if they are actively avoiding the association, which is surprising given the increasing number of (ex) professional athletes getting involved.
Rick Fox, of the LA Lakers was first to hit the scene by purchasing a team this past December.
More recently, Shaquille O'Neal, Alex Rodriguez, and Jimmy Rollins have all invested in E-Sport teams.
League of Legends, Dota, and Counter-Strike are the major games scraping in all the cash and attaining the most viewership, but sports focused games like FIFA and NBA 2K are starting to hop on the bandwagon.
This past June, NBA 2K held their first championship offering a whopping $250,000 prize, an appearance by the Black Mamba, and even a championship ring. Jason Argent, 2K Senior VP of basketball operations, explains their decision to move into the competitive gaming space by saying;
"Our user base is small compared to some of the games you noted [such as League of Legends]. But I think we look at esports as a potential to build that ceiling. There's a lot of things about eSports as it relates to the NBA that I think are very aligned with the NBA game. Just the five-on-five, the fast pace -- this lends itself well. So much of eSports happened organically. It grew from the bottom-up. Is there a place, do fans want to follow that? Yeah, we think so."
Well, Nike's mission is "to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete."
and "If you have a body you are an athlete."
Do I need to say more? Ok I will...
While it may take most people (let alone a powerhouse brand like Nike) a little more convincing to even begin to consider e-athletes as real athletes. There are a ton of sports out there that may not take a ton of physical strength (seemingly) to participate in, but have received backing from a big stage or a brand and, in turn, slowly changed the perception of what makes a sport a sport or an athlete an athlete.
Their pulse can hit up to 180 beats per minute. They have finely tuned motor skills that excel under pressure. They are given scholarships to join college teams. They get sponsored by some of the biggest brands, and they compete in front of thousands.
Sounds a lot like an athlete to me.
Also, would if I told you that E-Sports share a lot of similar aspects to Golf?
Before you freak out, Patrick, hear me out;
They both require a lot of coordination.
They both take a lot of concentration.
Their physical demands are not apparent.
They require just as much strategy as performance.
The atmosphere and energy is low.
Nike has been able to attach themselves to Golf, a category that some may of considered more of a game rather than a sport, but they didn’t just throw their logo on apparel and products and called it a day. They gave the sport a voice, through the unstoppable force that was Tiger Woods, or the poised and playful demeanor of Michelle Wie, and showed the world what really is and what it could be.
I'm not going to suggest that Nike starts to outfit the top gamers, or sponsor the next NBA 2K championship, but what they can do is is begin to give a voice to the sport and recognize these athletes as athletes.
This could be done by simply, showing competitive gamers in spots, or bring to light the amount of professional athletes, who also play video games on the side. Nike has already started to dip their toe in the water with the Neymar VR experience, and the Pro Genius mental training app, but now they need to make a statement and develop a POV before someone else starts to claim the space (*cough cough* Under Armour).