Sources: Sports brand Kappa’s esports activities draw mixed reception - Dexerto
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Sources: Sports brand Kappa’s esports activities draw mixed reception

Published: 11/Nov/2020 17:50 Updated: 11/Nov/2020 17:56

by Adam Fitch

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Italian sportswear brand Kappa entered esports in August 2019 and their first year in action has been inconsistent at best, according to multiple sources familiar with their activities.

The esports industry has seen a flurry of activity from sportswear brands in the past couple of years, with major companies hurrying into the scene to secure exclusive merchandise and apparel deals with major teams.

Nike with the LPL, T1, SK Gaming, and Vodafone Giants; adidas with Team Vitality, Team Heretics, and FOKUS CLAN; PUMA with Cloud9 and Gen.G. The list goes on.

Kappa — a sportswear brand that sponsors the likes of Italian football league Serie B, Formula 1 team Alfa Romeo Sauber, and Premier League side Aston Villa — are no exception. Since entering esports with British organisation Vexed Gaming in August 2019, they’ve quickly expanded their reach and secured deals with a number of other UK-based teams.

AS Monaco Kappa Partnership
Kappa
Kappa supply the kit of popular football club AS Monaco.

Diabolus, Demise, Audacity Esports, London Esports, and Tundra have all entered partnerships with the Italian company, in which most (if not all) of the agreements are three years in length. Dexerto spoke with people behind the scenes who are familiar with sports company’s operations to see how the collaborations have gone, most of which obliged under the condition of anonymity.

Dexerto learned that following Kappa’s esports entrance with Vexed in August 2019, they hired sports marketing agency Van Hawke Sports to establish additional partnerships and expand their presence in competitive gaming. This resulted in many of the deals starting, at least as serious conversations, in February and March of this year.

However, speculatively because of the global health situation and an apparent emphasis on serving their partners in sports as a priority, the company has allegedly dragged their heels in getting some of the deals off the ground. Despite having come to an agreement in the first quarter of the year in some cases, it’s said that it took a handful of months to get team-branded merchandise and an official announcement lined up.

A home run or disappointing defeat?

On the topic of overall satisfaction with how they have served organizations as their partner, there were mixed reviews. One source stated: “The setbacks on the core part of the partnership have been detrimental, and there has been little to no action from the side of Kappa to remedy.” They explained that the core of the partnership, and the main point of contention, is kit production.

Another source explained that while they’re happy with the appearance of their kit, “communicating with their team around getting jerseys made for staff and players and running discounts with influencers has been very poor. Messages and emails have been ignored for weeks and are very rarely answered.”

They continued: “Our jersey was publicly released with little to no notice and a large number of units of stock were ordered without our knowledge, leading to some design issues that we’d hoped to resolve.”

Kappa Vexed Gaming Partnership
Vexed
Kappa entered esports with Vexed Gaming in August 2019.

Esports is occasionally criticized for its lack of professionalism, while sports is normally viewed in a much different light — then again, there have been decades of growth, development, and maturation for the former. With a sports brand entering esports comes an expectancy, an almost unspoken understanding, that they’re going to get the job done. The mixed reception to Kappa and their results so far may sound comparable to an amateur “bedroom” apparel manufacturer that we’re all too familiar with in esports.

People may now be questioning why they came into esports, an emerging industry that had already welcomed the likes of Nike and adidas, if they’re allegedly unwilling to fulfill obligations. It’s also a point of interest that they chose to significantly expand into the United Kingdom — a nation that certainly isn’t at the top of the totem pole in the industry.

One source explained that they “believe Kappa and Van Hawke have used the brand name of Kappa to encourage free advertising from a scene that has seen little sponsor support. With there being so many teams together, and seeing how ours and other partnerships have gone, this feels like a predatory one-sided practice.”

Another source echoed this sentiment and delved deeper into the potential financial incentives of the brand attaching themselves to UK esports organizations: “Each deal safely secures Kappa approximately £1,700 in income, more if lots of jersey units are sold.”

“If you’re being cynical, you could say that the aim was to secure 10,000-15,000 in sales quickly, however, I don’t think this affects the bottom line of Kappa enough to make it worthwhile,” they continued. “I think the actual reason is that the contracts can be very one-sided towards Kappa as the organizations have very little bargaining power due to their relative size, but Kappa can still enter into the UK esports market in a big way and make themselves known, without having to pay significant fees to larger organizations.”

Audacity Esports Kappa
Audacity
Audacity Esports are one of Kappa’s UK esports partners.

Vexed were happy to publicly share their thoughts on why the sportswear brand decided to add esports to their repertoire: “We put in some good groundwork with Kappa in the early days, where we’d discuss their brand, the esports marketplace, other sportswear brands, and so on. A degree of education was placed around esports as well as UK esports, which is something we are passionate about.

“When we made the announcement, we generated significant coverage in the media and across social platforms which exceeded both of our expectations. So, I’m not surprised that other teams, tournament organizers or local sports agencies have approached them and that they have been open to their advances.”

Without pointing fingers, because ultimately the responsibility of kit production falls on Kappa, it has to be noted once more that Vexed dealt directly with the brand when establishing their deal — whereas other eventual partners instead went through Van Hawke.

While the sportswear giants may have enjoyed some additional exposure from the esports crowd through forming partnerships with organizations, it’s hard to believe that they’re providing a consistent service that adds to the industry having spoken to those with knowledge of their activities.

Dexerto has contacted Kappa for comment.

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Adam Fitch: Sorry Dr Disrespect, mobile esports are thriving

Published: 27/Nov/2020 17:00

by Adam Fitch

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Earlier in November 2020, streamer Dr Disrespect spoke down towards mobile gamers on Twitter by questioning how it could be a “serious thing” — however, he’s just failing to understand how popular competition on mobile already is.

While mobile gamers and industry figures alike came to the defense of mobile gaming when the Two-Time took aim at the platform, there’s still a serious misconception around mobile esports and the success it’s already achieved.

Firstly, it’s worthwhile addressing the “serious” comment from Doc. While mobile devices perhaps don’t allow for precision that PCs do, there’s still a major skill gap between average and professional players and that lends itself perfectly to competition. The most common and widely-accepted definition of esports is a “video game played competitively for spectators,” mobile tournaments meet such a criteria on a daily basis and it’s already serious to hundreds of thousands of viewers on a weekly basis.

This skepticism from one of the faces of gaming is emblematic of a larger problem of platform elitism that plagues gaming on all levels. Ever since the popularization of esports there has been debate between console and PC gaming, centering around not only which type of players are better but whether console esports have unfair advantages due to features such as aim assist.

Ezreal in League of Legends Wild Rift
Riot Games
The most popular esports title, League of Legends, arrived on mobile in October 2020.

Tribalism is also a factor in this spritely, never-ending discussion, with players grouping together based on their platform of choice and nonsensically taking aim at those who have other preferences.

The only time in which such a debate would be productive is if cross-platform play is embraced in serious competition, which seems to be a long way away from ever becoming a reality. Fortnite developers Epic Games received plenty of criticism when implementing this feature in casual play, never mind in their esports activities, so it’s probably safe to assume no companies are rushing to make this a reality for the time being.

Infrastructure matters

Something that all good games need to be viable on a competitive level is infrastructure. Creating an appropriate structure for esports initiatives is important, whether it’s by a game’s developer or a third-party tournament organizer.

A great example of this in the realm of mobile esports is Clash Royale, one of the more popular titles from Finnish developers Supercell. The real-time strategy game has its own official team-based league from the company themselves, with top-tier gameplay spanning nine weeks and culminating in a year-ending world championship. This level of support and structure actually goes beyond what some PC and console games receive.

On the third-party organizer front, especially in the West, you only have to look as far as ESL to see how seriously mobile esports is being taken. As well as hosting regular online events for the likes of Call of Duty: Mobile, Clash of Clans, Brawls Stars, and Clash Royale, they have the ESL Mobile Open for elite players.

Clash Royale League World Finals
Supercell
The Clash Royale League World Finals are always a spectacle, rivaling events in almost any other game.

Recently incorporating the Middle East and North Africa into the European arm of the competition, it’s said that ESL hosted over 500,000 players in the inaugural season alone. The second season involves PUBG Mobile, Auto Chess, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Clash of Clans, and will be expecting even more success with the widening of the player base.

In North America, the Mobile Open from ESL is already in its sixth season and has a headline sponsorship from the world’s largest telecommunications company, AT&T. There are other examples of infrastructure being fleshed out for mobile titles, but you get the gist.

A sight for sore eyes

One major factor of how we define success in esports is viewership. With a healthy amount of eyeballs on a product comes sponsorship opportunities, bragging rights, and further validation that fans are interested in watching the elite face off against each other.

With that in mind, it’s never been clearer that mobile esports isn’t just a major part of the future of the industry — it has already arrived. According to analytics agency Esports Charts, mobile events made up three of the five most popular tournaments in October 2020. This happened alongside the League of Legends World Championship taking place, which is not only one of the most anticipated occasions in the esports calendar but as it turned out to be one of the only LAN events we’d seen in six months.

Garena Free Fire
Garena
Free Fire hit a record of 100 million peak daily users earlier in 2020.

Asia and Latin America are where mobile esports are truly thriving at the moment, rivaling the popularity of any other title you decide to compare them with. This is proven from last month’s peak viewership statistics, where MOBA title Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and battle royale game Garena Free Fire occupied three of the top five placements.

Ryan ‘Fwiz’ Wyatt, the head of gaming at YouTube, posted a thread on Twitter on November 26 backed up the sheer popularity of Free Fire on the platform. In 2019, it was YouTube’s fourth most-viewed game and it’s proving to have some longevity considering its monthly viewership peaked in October 2020.

While this level of success isn’t replicated across all regions just yet, that’s how esports typically work. Call of Duty and Counter-Strike are mainly popular among those in North America and Europe, for example, which is reflected in the demographics of both the top-level players and the viewership alike. The same applies to mobile but it’s not an excuse for ignorance.

The future?

Mobile devices are generally more accessible than a high-end computer or new-generation gaming console so there’s a much higher ceiling on participation in mobile esports by default. Whether adoption from mobile users does indeed propel it into becoming the de facto competitive option is yet to be seen, but such potential can’t be ignored.

With viewership rivaling (and even oftentimes besting) that from console and PC esports alike, it’s sheer ignorance to state that mobile gaming isn’t already a major player in the industry. If you fail to see that from the investment that’s being funneled into mobile titles, or the number of people who already enjoy playing and spectating, then perhaps you’d like to argue that grass isn’t green too.