Luxury brands have turned their attention to a surprising market — esports and gamers — to reach Millennials and Gen Z consumers in an environment that is both highly visual and interactive.
As with most industries in 2020, the global personal luxury goods market dropped significantly (23 per cent), per Bain & Company. It’s not that surprising, therefore, to think that luxury brands would consider new ways to attract audiences where they spent a lot of time during the pandemic — namely, playing games.
Several luxury brands have brokered strategic partnerships within the esports industry over the past year, ranging from clothing and handbags to cosmetics and vehicles.
Luxury Enters the Game
When you think of luxury brands in esports, many would immediately remember Louis Vuitton’s surprise entry in 2019. The fashion house created a luxury trophy case for the 2019 League of Legends World Championship, as well as capsule collections and “skins” (interchangeable looks for video game characters) inside LoL itself.
What you might not realise is that Louis Vuitton is far from the only luxury brand to invest in esports consumers … although it appears to have started a trend. Burberry recently created two exclusive skins for Honor of Kings, a popular battle royale mobile game in China. The collaboration wasn’t strictly aimed at esports fans. However, Honor of Kings publisher, Tencent, has placed considerable emphasis on the game’s competitive efforts over the past year, including the $4.6M Honor of Kings World Champion Cup.
China is home to the world’s largest segment of esports fans and gamers, according to Newzoo, predicting that esports enthusiasts would reach 92.8 million in 2021. Coinciding with this prediction is the fact that millennials represent more than 70 per cent of luxury fashion and lifestyle purchases on Tmall, China’s online retail giant.
Every marketer wants to reach consumers (read: Millennials and Gen Z) where they live. In addition to activations online or in digital environments, luxury brands have appeared alongside gaming activities that this audience already knows and loves.
Italian luxury fashion brand Gucci made its first esports collaboration in 2020 with British organisation Fnatic. The partnership included a Fnatic-branded watch that, despite its £1,150 price tag, quickly sold out. This activation proved that esports fans not only have that kind of discretionary income but are happy to spend it given the right offer.
McLaren Seoul entered esports in 2020 when it became the official partner of Korean organisation DragonX. The esports organisation focuses mostly on League of Legends, but also has teams in mobile games Clash Royale and the aforementioned Honor of Kings.
Another example of luxury vehicle brands in esports is the April 2021 partnership between the Polish branch of Mercedes-Benz and Polish esports organisation Illuminar Gaming. The team’s new esports and gaming venue is now called “ESPOT Powered By Mercedes-Benz.”
In both of the cases above, luxury vehicle brands have shown esports fans that they support a common interest and aim to build trust with an age group that is in the market for a vehicle.
The global luxury cosmetics market will reach $74.3 billion by 2027, according to predictions by Data Bridge Market Research. A rising prevalence of women in esports, especially all-female teams, has created new opportunities for cosmetics brands. LVMH subsidiary Benefit Cosmetics partnered with Gen.G in early 2020 to create a video series that highlights female esports players and streamers.
Danish audio brand Bang & Olufsen has sponsored simulation racing organisation Veloce Esports as of April 2021, providing audio devices to the drivers and their new gaming headquarters in Fulham.
High Prize Pools, High Fashion
Esports prize pools continue to climb, further branding the industry as a lucrative spectacle. With as much as $34.3 million on the line in a single tournament, as with Dota 2’s The International, esports fans tune in with a passion to see who will be crowned world champions.
It’s a natural connection, therefore, to associate esports with high fashion. Some of the world’s top players become millionaires, after all. While most esports viewers won’t be purchasing their first mansion any time soon, buying a luxury watch or handbag like their favourite teams can make them feel like they are involved.
Case in point — luxury suitcase manufacturer TUMI and Asian sports media property ONE Championship recently collaborated to design an esports-themed line of bags and accessories.
“Now more than ever, we see gaming as an outlet to escape our realities, striving to be the champions we all want to be,” explained Victor Sanz, Creative Director at TUMI. “With guidance from those who know the industry best, we immersed ourselves into the gaming community and created innovative products they haven’t been given yet.”
Nike’s high-end sneakers have long been a staple in different subcultures across the world from sports to music and “sneakerhead” collectors. The sportswear giant entered esports a few years ago but debuted its first esports commercial in China last year ahead of the League of Legends World Championship.
Luxury Leading the Way
Over the last several years, we’ve witnessed luxury brands not only form esports partnerships but create their own opportunities. This has been especially true of luxury car manufacturers.
The reason for this could be two-fold:
- Luxury brands maintain their social status by owning their own narratives. The goal is to be accessible, but not so much so as to diminish the perceived value. When it comes to esports, a world in which virtual cars have lived for decades, luxury manufacturers are attracting their own fans in their own ways.
- Young consumers these days are less likely to have a poster of their dream car on the wall and flip through magazines to see the latest model. Rather, car manufacturers have licensed and even debuted new models inside video games like Forza Motorsport and Need for Speed, offering a kind of pretend test drive. In fact, hyper-realistic photo modes in these games have spawned an entirely new market for vehicle photography.
For example, Lamborghini sped into competitive gaming on its own in July of 2020 when it formed ‘The Real Race‘, an esports series inside the video game Assetto Corsa Competizione. More recently, the luxury car brand partnered with Rocket League developer Psyonix to sponsor the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) X Lamborghini Open and a new event titled the ‘Battle of the Bulls’.
Further, Porsche launched the Porsche iRacing World Championship Series in 2018 and its Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup entered its third year in 2021. Aston Martin made its esports debut in May of 2020 when it entered its own sim driver in The Race All-Star Series Powered by ROKiT Phones and ultimately taking home first place.
Luxury Brand in Esports: Why it Matters
Pandemic lockdowns showed brands that nothing is certain except the unexpected. Old ways are often the best ways when it comes to marketing, but all of that gets thrown out the window when retail stores are closed and the economy crumbles.
Gaming, and by extension esports, has offered luxury brands a new way to engage and entertain young consumers, even when they are watching a livestream completely unrelated to shopping.
Louis Vuitton made headlines across the world when it partnered with Riot Games. The idea that a luxury fashion house would partner with a video game competition was praised for its ingenuity and forward-thinking — two brand qualities that are always in fashion.