Nike, the largest apparel and sports equipment company in the world, has just signed Jian ‘Uzi’ Zihao, a League of Legends player for Royal Never Give Up.
This is the first sponsorship of an esports player for Nike and marks a major step in the company's esports initiatives.
The partnership is to promote LeBron James’ new documentary “Shut Up & Dribble,” which covers the intersection of sports and social issues.
Joining Uzi and James in the ad is Chinese actor Bai Jingting. At the time it is unclear if this is just a one-off sponsorship to promote the documentary in Asia or part of a larger esports push for the brand.
Nike has been involved in gaming but their previous initiatives were centered around in-game activations with the sports simulation titles like NBA 2K, Fifa and Madden.
Those initiatives were basically a given as those games represent physical leagues with large Nike presences. The games would feel weird if the brand wasn’t included in some way.
A partnership with a League of Legends player is a step towards future partnerships with esports athletes in the most popular esports that aren’t as naturally intertwined with the brand.
Esports apparel is an interesting, largely unexplored frontier. Adidas has a couple partnerships with esports organizations including Team Vitality and FC Copenhagen esports.
Esports has a large sneaker culture and custom fan-made Nikes have gained a lot of traction on social media.
Whether this represents an opening of floodgates for major apparel brands in esports or is just a one-off partnership still remains to be seen.