North American esports organization, media company, and apparel brand 100 Thieves announced their first-ever acquisition on October 13, taking on gaming peripherals brand Higround and their two founders.
While 100 Thieves are known for many things — being founded by Matthew ‘Nadeshot’ Haag, competing at Worlds, and housing prominent influencers like Valkyrae are just a few examples — it’s fair to say that their interpretation of the hypebeast culture and a high-demand, scarce-availability business model frequently seen in streetwear has gained them a lot of attention over the years.
While this year they finally released an apparel collection that’s always available (which raked in $2.5m in revenue in the first month, by the way), the multi-faceted company have a knack for generating impressive hype for their limited-edition collections, which sell out in a matter of minutes. It’s not a new business model in the world of clothing, but they have adapted it to gaming culture brilliantly.
That’s what makes their newly-announced acquisition of Higround an excellent move. Their new company, which will keep its name and reportedly operate as an independent business unit, are also a product of the streetwear industry I’m raving on about. They’ve applied the model to an area where there’s rarely innovation in terms of design, trendiness, and scarcity: gaming peripherals. “We see hardware as a form of expression,” it says on Higround’s website. “We launched Higround in 2020 because we were unsatisfied with the plain keyboards marketed to us.”
There are plenty of companies focusing on manufacturing gaming keyboards, mice, mousepads, headsets, and other equipment usually developed with the sole purpose of improving gameplay; there aren’t many that have realized people like collecting things — especially things that other people wish they could have. The act of buying items from Higround, 100 Thieves, or Supreme could be seen, after all, as a signal of status.
100 Thieves’ business model
To understand exactly how Higround fits in with 100 Thieves’ plans, it’s worth understanding how Nadeshot’s org are structured. Their three core verticals are competition, content, and as discussed already, clothing. They have professional esports teams, they create content using their ever-popular influencers, and they sell cool clothes.
While each of these three verticals very well could have three independent demographics, there is indeed some crossover there, and this acquisition seems like a solid fit for each. 100T’s players can utilise, boast about, and promote keyboards. Their influencers and content creators can organically discuss these products during streams and videos, and Higround’s high-demand, low-quantity strategy fits right in with the org’s existing apparel model.
To give you an idea as to Higround’s recent work, they collaborated with Apple’s popular audio hardware company ‘Beats by Dre’ to produce a “private capsule” that pays homage to the 8-bit era of gaming. They produced a custom keyboard and wireless headphones, though they were never put up for sale.
We’re honored to partner with @beatsbydre to create a private capsule paying tribute to the gaming era that started it all – 8 bit. Together we designed a blue and pink pixel graphic Higround keyboard, alongside matching Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones. pic.twitter.com/dBUeNBGD2e
— Higround™ (@higround) October 1, 2021
I’d be wrong to claim that 100 Thieves are the first esports organization to acquire a hardware brand. London-based Fnatic acquired FUNC in 2015 and later rebranded the company as Fnatic GEAR, producing a branded collection of gaming peripherals. For my money, however, that particular rebranding was a mistake if the org were hoping to compete with the likes of HyperX, Razer, and Turtle Beach.
Considering the products are Fnatic-branded, they most likely cut their prospective customer base down to a fraction of what it could be. If you’re a fanatical supporter of G2 Esports or EXCEL ESPORTS, who these days are two of Fnatic’s biggest competitors, then would you really want to be using products from your rival team? Would you even be willing to part ways with your cash to bolster their bottom line? I suspect not, in most cases.
100 Thieves may have received tens of millions of dollars of investment since their launch — plenty of which came from global superstar Drake, no less — but that doesn’t mean they just have an endless pit of cash to chuck at companies they quite like. Profitability isn’t easy in the esports industry, to put it kindly, and acquisitions such as this have to be approached mindfully and with a clear vision of the future.
Nadeshot and his team want to be great in competition and win trophies, no doubt, but they also want to be prominent players in the overall entertainment landscape and to have their apparel worn by teenagers and fashionable adults (like me, obviously) all around the world.
Now, they can put products in the offices, bedrooms, and streaming setups of gamers, creators, and collectors of anything with some buzz around it. Bringing the hardware brand into the fold feels like a perfect move from 100 Thieves from every angle, and we’ve not yet seen what Higround founders Rustin Sotoodeh and Kha Lu are capable of with the backing of dozens of creative folk and, presumably, a healthy amount of capital.