We Are Nations CEO Says Esports Carries Every Benchmark of a Sport

Top spots for apparel deals in esports are going fast. Teams and leagues are quickly taking their jerseys out-of-house and placing them into the hands of iconic, front-facing brands or, in some cases, endemic newcomers. We Are Nations, an esports apparel company set up in 2016, has a lock on the League of Legends Database-Link-e1521645463907 Championship Series (LCS), the top competition in North America, as well as several other teams across Europe and China.

While the LCS deal largely has We Are Nations curating merchandise, it also places the company’s logo on the tag of authentic jerseys. “Eventually, we want to have our own brand,” Nations CEO Patrick Mahoney told The Esports Observer. “There’s actually a couple of other brands that we’re looking at developing that niche out in specific areas of esports.”

A licensee his entire life, primarily on the music side, Mahoney has grown used to a particular cycle. An album or tour does particularly well, which pushes a lot of merchandise, in turn adding an extra order point in royalties or in the advance. Mahoney jokes that in this scenario you “get punished for doing a good job.” While accepting this as rules of the business, he reiterates it would be good to develop an original IP.

“Those guys measure their sales with zeros that we don’t use, both in terms of revenue and units.”

“Where we can, certainly you will see Nations on product. We know our lane at this point for LCS, and most of our teams, is to be their underlying support. It’s less about Nations product, and more about what Nations can do on scale, round the world through multiple channels of distribution.”

On top of branding, the LCS deal includes delivering all jerseys on game day, managing activations at roadshow events, and hosting an online shop for the league. One thing that was not uniformly available last year was the choice to order your team’s colors with individual player names, or even a custom tag.

It’s still early in the season, but Mahoney said that some of the league’s most well-known stars have done well, and that 60% of the top-selling orders are customizable. “It speaks to the amount of participation going on in the amateur ranks that most kids are putting their own gamertags on them.”


Credit: We Are Nations

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The tail-end of February saw one of the most far-reaching apparel deals in esports yet. Nike is now locked into a four-year contract with China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL), with players, managers, and referees all to be kitted out with the world-famous swoosh. Asked for his take, Mahoney said the deal is good for the ecosystem, for the sport, and for proof of concept.

“I think it’s more of a marketing play than an apparel play,” he commented. “Those guys measure their sales with zeros that we don’t use, both in terms of revenue and units. I would think that at that price you’re not looking to recoup your investment through apparel sales, necessarily. You’re looking to recoup your investment through impressions.”

Mahoney’s hope is that as Nations’ continues to grow, and bigger brands come into esports, there may be an opportunity to sub-license. There’s actually precedent for that; when Puma partnered with LCS team Cloud9, the existing partnership with Nations meant Puma would provide pants and footwear for the team, and keep its logo on the jersey.

“In a lot of ways, it’s a couple of keys in that keychain to unlock success, but that founder key is…key, no pun intended.”

We Are Nations is also expanding beyond its partner list. In February the company closed a pre-Series A funding round, and the month before, acquired Sector Six Apparel, based in Frisco, Texas. A number of Call of Duty (CoD) teams took care of their own merchandise back in the day—something which reminded Mahoney of his own time playing music in DIY bands. He only learned later, during the deal phase, that Sector Six had its roots in amateur CoD. “Those guys are doing an incredible job on their own,” said Mahoney. “It’s one of those things where I’ve said we’re going to leave you alone until you need us, or something from the Nations side, to enhance your business.”

Mahoney said that esports, as a microcosm, has every sort of benchmark you’re likely to find in an activity. Any A-Z of things one would find interesting in baseball can be found in pro gaming. As a young industry, it also has its share of brand pioneers and figureheads. Case in point: the bomber jacket Nations put together for G2 Esports Database-Link-e1521645463907 is promoted on the back of the team’s owner, Carlos “ocelote” Rodriguez, rather than one of today’s active rosters. “It’s a classic brand story, period,” said Mahoney.

“Carlos does an amazing job of basically saying to the team’s fans ‘I’m not that different from you guys. I love this as much as you do, I’m lucky to be here.’ The amount those guys have changed and grown since even I’ve gotten involved with them is amazing. In a lot of ways, it’s a couple of keys in that keychain to unlock success, but that founder key is…key, no pun intended.”

Want to hear more about esports apparel? Patrick Mahoney will be a speaker at the HIVE esports business conference in Berlin on April 11, 2019. The first international esports business conference in Europe’s capital of esports. An unprecedented conference format featuring thought leaders of industries adjacent to esports sharing their insights. Click here to reserve your seat!


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