This year marks Ralph Lauren’s 16th anniversary as the official outfitter of the Wimbledon Championships – and they’re using the occasion to get into an entirely different type of game: esports.
In 2020, with Wimbledon cancelled, the label accompanied their annual tennis-themed capsule and campaign with an interactive augmented reality experience launched in partnership with Snapchat – apparently making Ralph Lauren the first brand of its kind to use “ground segmentation” technology for audience engagement. The 2021 Championships are open to IRL audiences – with restrictions, of course – but Ralph Lauren is delving further into the virtual sphere. This summer’s Wimbledon launch doubles as the announcement of the multi-billion dollar American heritage purveyor’s long-term partnership with G2 Esports, a massive global entertainment brand with an estimated 32 million fans worldwide and an in-house team of world-class League of Legends players. G2 star player Martin “REKKLES” Larsson was cast in a video spot launching the “next generation” deal, part of a rollout that also includes a series of live-streaming and interactive initiatives that adds platforms such as Twitch to Ralph Lauren’s expanding portfolio of digital-first collaborators.
Seeking, ambitiously, to find new ways to engage the young, vast, global audience that follows esports, the brand shares the primary goal of the gaming industry: in Rekkles’ words, “to increase our fanbase.” The League of Legends champion and face of the Ralph Lauren and G2 Esports Wimbledon campaign spoke to 032c about an industry that, despite its titanic reach, remains in left-field as far as fashion is concerned. Putting esports competitors in the sportswear arena alongside traditional athlete-ambassadors, Ralph Lauren embraces branding as a multi-player game.
How analogous are the respective worlds of esports and of traditional sports, in terms of industry norms, brand partnerships, etc?
I don’t like to directly compare the esports industry to traditional sports. Our space is very different to theirs, and people don’t interact with us for the same reasons. However, the huge growth the space has experienced over the past few years has definitely put us on an equal playing field in terms of relevance. Ultimately, both industries exist for the same reason: to provide great entertainment for our fans. Brand partnerships, from that perspective, are similar across both industries, as they help us both achieve that shared goal.
Is e-sports industry pioneering a new type of sponsorship model or replicating those of the traditional sports industry?
I am not a sponsorship professional, but I think they’re a great way for us to welcome new fans to the space. I think the real points of difference are our focus on a digital-first approach, and the efforts we plough into a first class entertainment experience.
We have a vested interest in one another that extends beyond the virtual/in person boundaries.
Is this your first partnership with a major luxury brand of this kind? If so, why Ralph Lauren?
This is the first long-term partnership that I am involved in, and I am super excited to be a part of it. Ralph Lauren is a brand I have admired for many years – I have many of their pieces in my wardrobe! I absolutely loved doing the Wimbledon shoot. It was a real career highlight for me not only from a personal perspective, but also in what it represented for the wider esports industry.
How else would you describe your personal style?
I love the athleisure style – comfort is king for me. Having said that, as we start heading into competitions I’m really excited to start trying more luxe looks out. Whilst suits aren’t practical for everyday wear, I’m super excited to don them for special occasions.
Have any style or fashion trends emerged out of the e-sports world? Is there a particular e-sports “looks” as you do for example with tennis, or with Ralph Lauren’s touchstone, polo?
I think it’s impossible to generalize. Broadly speaking, I think we’re all huge fans of athleisure, but we don’t have the structured kit that traditional sports opt for. Merch has always been a big part of the entertainment business. But all of us work closely with the partnership teams to make sure our personality can shine through in any styles that are selected.
You don’t just have external partnerships – you also play in teams. How do you build a sense of community membership and camaraderie in a milieu where the competition is online?
Communication is key. I am constantly in contact with my teammates, not only in terms of prep, but also on a personal level. We have a vested interest in one another that extends beyond the virtual/in person boundaries.
Do you predict that in time esports will overtake or fuse with traditional competitive sports in the media and culture?
Again, I don’t think the industries are comparable in a way that you could track who is ahead of who. Having said that, I think partnerships such as this one with Ralph Lauren will definitely help in raising our awareness among audiences who haven’t previously encountered esports – and that’s a very exciting thing. After all, the overarching goal of the industry is to increase our fanbase.
What do you predict for the intersection or relationship between esports and fashion?
I think esports and fashion will work together increasingly over the coming years. Our industry is appealing because of our fanbase: it primarily consists of the younger generation. They are so keen and engaged, and I think fashion brands will want to tap into that. I hope esports continues to grow in popularity and that we have the opportunity to entertain even more fans across a variety of generations.