Since taking its first steps into the esports industry in 2018, the athletic apparel giant has helped influence a new standard for how pro gamers view training.
Inside Nike’s First Esports Ad
Nike’s first esports ad combines the brand’s trademark “just do it” attitude with a message to gamers — “Your body is the key to your dreams.” This theme is on-brand for the company but also contains a subtle warning.
The ad imagines an elaborate esports training camp led by pro-gamer Jian “Uzi” Zihao, a champion League of Legends player for Chinese organization Royal Never Give Up. Zihao retired earlier this year due to health problems, including complications from diabetes and chronic joint injuries. He literally sacrificed his body for greatness, but Nike’s ad imagines a world where that shouldn’t happen.
In the commercial, would-be pros get restful sleep and eat a healthy diet in addition to rigorous physical and mental training.
Strategic Marketing Starts With Purpose
The commercial is also significant because Zihao’s 2018 endorsement deal was Nike’s first foray into esports. Since then, Nike has created esports collaborations with the Chinese League of Legends Pro League (LPL) and its first esports team collaboration, Brazilian organization FURIA. Currently, FURIA is the top Brazilian CS: GO team in the world.
SK Gaming marked Nike’s first venture into German esports this past January. The company will serve as SK’s exclusive athletic wear provider. SK Gaming has grown into one of the world’s most recognized organizations, especially for its winning CS: GO rosters.
It may not be as fantastical as the “Camp Next Level” ad, but Nike will provide South Korean organization T1 with real “cutting-edge training facilities” at its new headquarters in Seoul, which is set to open in 2020, to aid in “empowering” the organization’s players. Like the ad, however, Nike will create custom training programs for T1 that will subject its players to physical and mental challenges.
Nike’s partnerships are clearly strategic both in terms of an organization’s audience as well as location. Sponsoring Vodafone Giants in January, for example, introduced the brand to Spanish esports audiences for the first time. Like SK Gaming, Nike introduced a co-branded apparel collection.
A Lesson in Non-Endemic Sponsorships
Nike is a perfect example of non-endemic brand sponsorship done right. It’s not enough to slap your logo onto a jersey — you have to leave an impact on the industry. For Nike, that means improving pro gamers’ physical fitness, who lead much of their careers sitting still. Over the years, we have seen esports organizations realize the importance of physical and mental wellness, as shown by nutrition brand sponsorships and sports medicine access.
It’s no wonder that more organizations are recruiting top executives from the world of traditional sports. There is much to learn from how these teams manage athletes throughout the competitive season and beyond.
Non-endemic brands interested in esports should consider how they can make a difference. The best partnerships are mutually beneficial. Remember that esports players and audiences are consumers, too — they need the same things as everyone else, from housing to food and an overall community feeling.
Nike offers a few key components that translate well to esports sponsorship:
- Brand recognition and trust
- Experience and relationships in the worlds of physical fitness and sports.
- Validation from a global brand that esports should be taken seriously.
Written by HB Duran | image credit: nike.com – media resources