Despite questions surrounding the long-term viability and commercial ramifications of switching to Microsoft’s Mixer streaming platform earlier this month, popular Fortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins revealed today a partnership deal with sporting brand Adidas.
The news came packaged in a highly produced promotional video that – despite floating some lofty words about knuckling down and chasing your dreams – failed to specify what the partnership entails in terms of apparel other than the ad campaign’s name, “Time In.” Blevins can, however, be seen sporting an Adidas hoodie with his very own Ninja typeface etched into the left-hand sleeve.
Adidas joins Red Bull, Maxnomic, NZXT, and Revelation Real Estate as Ninja’s official sponsors. For Adidas, there’s minimal risk involved given Ninja’s position as a family-friendly, safe bet with little to no controversy surrounding his personal brand. A devoted army of loyal Ninja fans is more or less guaranteed to buy into the partnership and lap up merchandise.
Mimicking the exponential growth of eSports, traditional brands are increasingly targeting sponsorships with the most recognizable eSports teams and personalities. For example, Puma currently sponsors pioneering eSports organization Cloud 9, and Adidas has partnered with French outfit Team Vitality.
Earlier this year, Nike announced it was linking up with the Chinese League of Legends Pro League as the official apparel provider including jerseys slated to make their big debut in October at this year’s World Championships held in Paris.
These types of collaborations are instrumental in changing the widespread perception that eSports don’t qualify as sports per se. Regardless of the merits of such a position, the backing of brands boasting established sporting pedigree lends itself to viewers perceiving eSports teams on par with NBA or NFL equivalents.
Jersey’s have always been a central part of a team’s identity, not to say a critical revenue stream, ever since the inception of modern eSports less than a decade ago. But organizations are now promoting apparel far more aggressively as will presumably be the case for Adidas through the Ninja deal.
The 100 Thieves eSports team, owned ex-Call of Duty pro player Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag and backed by rapper Drake, stylizes itself as a lifestyle brand alongside having rosters for the biggest games. With hyped-up limited runs on carefully curated streetwear merchandise drawn directly from the playbook of brands like Supreme, 100 Thieves is tapping into the visceral desire of fans to sport their favorite team’s colors.
Adidas teaming up with Ninja represents the logical next step of eSports’ seemingly inexorable incorporation into mainstream culture, and we can expect similarly high-profile sporting brands to continue throwing their hats into the ring moving forward.