When players wear Gucci
Ferraris in Fortnite, players parading in Ralph Lauren, a Gucci game watch and a Louis Vuitton trophy… Hardly a year goes by without a luxury brand announcing a new collaboration with a game, publisher or esports club. After years of trying to avoid each other, it seems these two industries have finally realized that they have a lot to gain by working together. Because not only do video game players have nothing to do with the stereotypical image of bespectacled troglodytes that has stuck with them for so long, but the ever-faster development of virtual worlds is offering an incredible new playground to luxury industry players.
So much so that it becomes difficult to find a luxury home without trying your luck in the gaming world. After Puma, Balenciaga, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Dior, Marc Jacob, Valentino, the latest announcement was about the release of a new work with one of the pilots of the game Need For Speed: Unbound belonging to the legendary Balmain fashion house. race dressed from head to toe by the brand. The most interesting thing is not that there is a new big name in fashion in the game, but the way it is integrated. Because the Electronic Arts studio turned to Tony Blaze-Ibekwe, a real fashion designer, who was responsible not only for finding the clothes of the characters for their game, but also for managing the collaboration with various creators.
Such convergence between the world of luxury and video games can be explained by many reasons. Reaching a new audience, finding new marketing opportunities or a simple commercial opportunity… But often articles approaching the topic are stopped for the simplest reasons. It’s as if, on the one hand, brands were only interested in video games to rejuvenate their audience, and publishers and sports organizations only wanted to prove their credibility in the eyes of the general public. While this analysis isn’t wrong, it often seems a bit limited. If the world of video game entertainment has become so important to the big luxury brands today, it’s for deeper reasons.
“From the perspective of luxury brands, you have to admit that the number one reason they are interested in video games and esports in the first place is a matter of numbers, G2. Sabrina Ratih, head of partnerships at esports, analyzes. When it comes to esports, brands have realized that we no longer live in a world where esports is a microscopic place with a few hundred players. It is a competitive scene with more than 200 million players with a bigger audience. In total, the number of viewers is more than 500 million people. When you’re at the helm of a big brand, it’s no longer something you can afford to ignore. »
Among these major brands, Louis Vuitton was one of the first major players to understand the value of such collaborations and establish a position in the market. After its first partnership with the Final Fantasy saga in 2016 by featuring one of the characters in an advertising campaign, the famous Parisian house went even further three years later by collaborating with publisher Riot Games during the world championships. League of Legends. Pierre Sesmat, brand manager of G2 esports, analyzes: “What they did was quite clever. Because they are only placed above the most prestigious competition of the year, the game that embodies the excellence of esports, clubs and organizations that pass directly from the publisher Riot Games. It’s more neutral, but the radiation is much more important, and it’s very premium, which goes well with the positioning of the LV. »
In addition to the massive trophy case, they also released a special collection with a unique in-game skin and some streetwear. This big event was undoubtedly extremely important for the entire luxury industry as well as the esports industry. Even concretely, the reception of European esports fans was somewhat mixed in the face of the extremely high price of these collector’s items. After all, Louis Vuitton was one of the first big players to offer a solid partnership between luxury and esports.
For a long time, most collaborations were mostly limited to marketing operations where video games were used more as a communication tool or a popular cultural reference. For example, we can think of Dior’s advertising campaign in 2011, which featured various games such as Pacman or Tetris, which caused a great reaction at the time. A little later, we can also think about the promotional campaign for the new model of the Kelly bag by Hermes, completely inspired by retro games. The easiest way is to simply create your first game. Whether in the middle of New York in the endless run of Louis Vuitton, on the sky platforms for Burberry, or on the giant tennis court for Ralph Lauren.
Sabrina Ratih of G2 esports said, “It’s interesting to see that luxury brands are primarily looking for organizations, teams or publishers that see esports as a form of entertainment.” Looking at the broadcast format of competitions, it’s something we’re seeing more and more with music, long videos, featurettes and shows… At G2, our main goal is to be an esports-based entertainment company. This is something that fashion brands are very interested in. But for that, it’s important to expand your audience a bit and step outside of your comfort zone while maintaining your personality. »
When European esports team G2 announced a long-term partnership with the Ralph Lauren brand in 2021, the news came as a wave in the esports ecosystem. In addition to already being partners of major sports events such as Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open, three Grand Slam tournaments, the brand of the American golf team in particular has struck a symbolic blow.
“We started by developing online games to promote our partnership with Wimbledon,” explains the partnership manager at Ralph Lauren. Then we had events with broadcasters and stars of the video game world… In fact, it worked so well that we thought we’d do something. Since our brand is already heavily associated with sports, it seemed natural for us to move into esports when we saw what a new craze it was for a younger audience. We wanted to go further by looking for teams to build a long-term relationship with. The most impressive thing is how interesting the audience in this universe is. They’re not just fans, they’re into it. »
And for good reason, video game players, and esports fans in particular, are not a traditional audience. These are people who are used to expressing and consuming online. Whether it’s games or skins, video game players are sometimes willing to shell out huge sums of money for virtual goods. Additionally, this is a demographic that is very comfortable with the idea of customizing their avatars and personas. These are people who can sometimes consume very differently online than they do in real life.
Adds Toni-Blaze Ibekwe: “Even if one would never dare to walk into a Balenciaga store or even wear one of these sweaters, if you do it in a video game, no one will say anything, you feel freer.” Considering that buying leather is much cheaper than the replica in the store. Even today, the vast majority of garments created during these partnerships are produced on a very small scale. The goal is not to sell clothes or watches, but rather to position yourself in an exploding market to feed your image.
Finally, for Sabrina Ratih, the arrival of major fashion and luxury brands into the gaming world is also and above all a way to position herself for the future. “Looking at the new generations, they’re used to being part of the conversation, they don’t want to be told what to do. If they feel that what you’re doing doesn’t align with their values, they won’t buy. We’re talking two billion Alpha Men here, which is nothing. So there’s a lot of pressure on fashion brands to rethink their business over the next few years. It’s a dangerous path for a luxury brand to keep releasing collections and hoping it speaks to them. »
In terms of marketing, some video game niches have even become important. This is the case of Fortnite, which has a number of collaborations with, for example, Balenciaga, Dior or Ralph Lauren. As Ralph Lauren’s head of partnerships explains, these games are what we call audience intersection: if you’re not there, you’re not seen, and therefore your brand doesn’t exist. The goal is not to sell skins or clothes, but to be on the radar. Except for those welcome video game players… it’s definitely not the easiest job in the world.
Pierre Sesmat explains: “The thing about esports, as with any medium that is not yet mainstream, is that fans are still very demanding about codes. Just like rock fans who were purists in the 1970s or 80s, everyone today can even wear a Guns N’ Roses T-shirt without listening to rock – much to the dismay of fans of the genre. As a result, luxury brands are also very careful to ensure they understand the codes to be perceived as authentic and legitimate by their fans. Investing in a partnership because you don’t fully understand how this ecosystem works and there’s a real danger of missing your target entirely. The brands in question will lose credibility as well as the Esports organization itself, which is actually the worst thing that can happen to a business that relies on the trust of its fans.”
Today, the only barrier that still exists between the two universes remains the issue of the violence of certain games. ALSO Fortnite It’s a big part of first-person shooter games with its cartoony look Counter-attack Where call of duty difficult licenses to develop for a mainstream luxury brand concerned with maintaining a flawless image. To solve the problem, brands will often prefer to approach personalities or organizations outside the gaming world, such as influencers or broadcasters. A way to solve the problem without cutting yourself off from this growing market.
“I think we will see more and more luxury players enter the industry,” says Pierre Sesmat. The question I ask myself is how the shape of these partnerships will evolve. A luxury brand needs rarity and cannot combine partnerships, campaigns or events in the same sector. In my opinion, the collaboration between the world of luxury and Esports will be more refined and more sophisticated than anything else. Balmain will never bring the same story as Gucci or Prada, and that’s what will be interesting to see what color each brand will bring depending on the organizations and games they collaborate with. »