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From Animal Crossing to esports: how fashion met gaming

One of the biggest challenges for fashion brands has always been to
maintain relevance in a rapidly changing industry by consistently engaging
with consumers in new and innovative ways. Though the mash-up between the
gaming and fashion industry is by no means new, the relationship between
the two industries has undeniably been growing in recent years. Now, from
fast-fashion giants to storied luxury houses, everyone wants a piece of the
digital pie.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that fashion is embracing the world of gaming
and esports (electronic sports) when you look at the size of the industry
and the explosive rate at which it’s growing. Market analyst firm Newzoo
expects the 2020 global games market to generate revenues of 159.3 billion
dollars – that’s 9.3 percent more than the prior year.

It’s also worth noting that while other industries – fashion included –
have been heavily and negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, gaming
has prospered. After all, what better excuse than a government-enforced
lockdown to blow the dust off your game console?

Animal Crossing – a new way to showcase fashion

One particular success story in recent months has been Nintendo’s Animal
Crossing: New Horizons. For those of you who don’t know, a quick summary of
the game: Launched in March, New Horizons is the most recent installation
of Animal Crossing, a game originally published almost 20 years ago. It’s a
‘social simulation’ video game allowing players to customise and control
digital avatars and walk around a desert island doing odd jobs for a guy
named Tom Nook. Sounds rudimentary, and in many ways it is, but it has
nonetheless taken the world by storm.

One feature that has made the game so popular – and has caught the
fashion industry’s attention in particular – is the ability for players to
elaborately customise the clothing their characters wear, sparking waves of
sartorial creativity among its expansive audience. Instagram profiles such
as Nook Street Market have capitalised on this appetite for fashion-savvy
avatars by recreating looks from top designers such as Chanel, Off-White,
Vivienne Westwood and Fendi, and making them available for other players
through shared codes.

The account is run by New York City-based graphic designer and
photographer Vivian Loh, DJ and designer Michele Yue, and model Fernanda
Ly. “In the beginning, the three of us were creating and sharing custom
outfit designs with each other in private. It was almost comical how
closely we could get our designs to resemble those in real life, and we
fell in love with the process,” Loh told FashionUnited.

Another key to the game’s overnight success is its community-based
format – meaning players can interact with the characters of other players
– which has fostered a feeling of togetherness at a time when many are
feeling more isolated than ever.

“Nook Street Market was created purely for fun, and as a way for us to
connect with each other and our friends. This has now become especially
important as we’re in the midst of a global pandemic,” Loh said. “I believe
that people visiting our feed have been in a similar situation – cooped up
in their homes, seeking some semblance of normalcy, and finding ways to
express themselves sartorially, even when their reality couldn’t be farther
from it.”

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Photo: Chanel (left) and Off-White looks created by Nook Street
Market

Photo: Vivienne Westwood (left) and Fendi looks created by Nook
Street Market

British streetwear label Lazy Oaf launched a competition in April asking
its Instagram followers to recreate the brand’s looks in the game with the
hashtag #oafcrossing for the chance of winning a 250 pound gift card.
Engagement and effectiveness for that post was up 25 percent from the
previous week’s average, according to UK-based visual marketing software
company Dash Hudson.

And big-name brands have also noticed the reaching power of the game.
Luxury Italian label Valentino recreated iconic archive looks in the game
which it shared through its Instagram account. And that resonated with the
label’s audience, with its post seeing a 100 percent higher engagement rate
than it’s previous week of posts, according to Dash Hudson.

“What’s interesting about a lot of player behaviour in Animal Crossing
and other popular games, is that ‘traditional’ patterns of consumerism
exist in virtual spaces,” Victoria Loomes, senior trend analyst at
Trendwatching, told FashionUnited. “Some people in real life line up around
the block for a limited drop of Supreme shoes – you see the same pattern of
people in digital queues waiting to get some exclusive piece of content, or
wanting to dress their avatar in some customized clothing.”

That’s exactly what happened with New York fashion designer Sandy Liang.
In April, she teamed up with Paige Rubin, the director of luxury buying at
What Goes Around Comes Around, to recreate digital versions of her brand’s
looks as part of an Animal Crossing virtual pop-up. She then invited fans
to join the event but was restricted by the eight avatar capacity of the
game, so she had to set up a queue through an external website. At one
point, there were 100 people queuing up, she told fashion and culture
publication Nylon.

“The stories and
experiences you collect in games can give you a status hit”

Loomes explained that this type of behaviour – consumers’ desire even in
a digital format to feel included, and their willingness to wait in line to
achieve that – is part of a trend she refers to as ‘the Virtual Experience
Economy’. “It’s essentially this idea that digital experiences – such as in
a game, with VR, or with AR – can be as meaningful to consumers as the
experiences they have in the real world,” she said. “The stories and
experiences you collect in games can give you a status hit.”

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One way gamers are getting this ‘status hit’ is through buying clothing – or ‘skins’ –
for their online characters. The concept has been around for a long time, but
recently games like Fortnite have propelled the trend, with players splashing
out more real cash than ever on virtual clothing.

In April, Travis Scott played a virtual concert inside Fortnite. The 10-minute
show drew a crowd of 12 million people who watched a digital avatar of the musician
perform. It was the game’s biggest ever event, according to its maker, Epic Games.
Attendees could also buy exclusive merch from the concert – or ‘skins’ – for their
virtual avatars as proof they were there. “For brands, it’s about thinking about
digital experiences not as ‘entertainment’, but a platform for status-accruing
experiences,” Loomes said. “Once you make that shift, the possibilities are infinite.”

Fashion invests big in gaming partnerships

When we consider this idea of a digital ‘status’, then it’s a natural
step to look at luxury fashion which has long been considered an indicator
of wealth and social positioning. And while video games and high-end
fashion may not seem like the most natural pairing at first glance, it
makes sense when you consider the heavy reliance each market has on younger
Chinese consumers.

In December 2019, Louis Vuitton, the driving force of French luxury
conglomerate LVMH, marked the first collaboration between a luxury fashion
house and a global esports brand when it teamed up with Riot Games’ League
of Legends, the most popular PC game in the world. The luxury label’s
artistic director of women’s collections, Nicholas Ghesquière, designed a
capsule collection inspired by the game to be worn both in real life, as
well as by in-game characters. A real leather jacket from the collection
cost 5,000 dollars while a digital outfit for a character cost around 10
dollars.

Photo: Louis Vuitton x League of Legends, courtesy of Louis
Vuitton

The popularity of that same game has also since been tapped into by
Gucci. The label invited the League of Legends esports team of London-based
gaming organisation Fnatic to sit on the front row of its AW20 menswear
show at Milan Fashion Week in January and kitted them out in Gucci apparel.
“As game spending goes up, gamers are becoming the new celebrities, and
it’s becoming impossible for fashion brands to ignore the importance of
gaming,” Loomes said.

In fact, last year, deals between apparel brands in esports more than
tripled, according to a report by market intelligence service Sportcal.
Nike struck the biggest deal – one with the League of Legends Pro League
estimated to be worth over seven million dollars per year.

Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis and consulting at Sportcal, said in the
report that he expects brands to continue capitalising on that growing
market. “Esports continues to defy expectations. With brand sponsorship
already a crucial part of the sports revenue, it is perhaps no surprise to
see that esports has followed traditional sports in exploring the viability
of kit deals.

“With nearly half the esports audience based in Asia, many brands see
esports as a way of reaching this fan base. While Louis Vuitton is already
present in China specifically, the ability to partner with esports engages
both the younger audience and the country’s growing middle class.”

Brands launch games

And it’s not just partnerships that brands are interested in. Some are
now experimenting with mobile games. It makes sense: More people own mobile
games than ever before, and with the rate at which mobile technology is
developing, those games are vastly improving. According to Newzoo, mobile
games are expected to generate revenues of 77.2 billion dollars in 2020 –
up 13.3 percent from the prior year. That’s more growth than both PC and
console gaming.

Gucci has been one of the most active luxury brands in that department.
In July 2019, it released 8‑bit arcade games Gucci Bee and Gucci Ace on its
app. More recently in May, the label announced a partnership with mobile
tennis game Tennis Clash. Launching on 18 June, the collaboration will
allow players to dress their avatars in exclusive Gucci outfits and
participate in a special Gucci tournament.

See above the ways these brands are experimenting with games. Multimedia created by Belén Bednarski for FashionUnited.

Similarly, British label Burberry launched its first online game in
October 2019, called B-Bounce. The game has so far been played by two
million people in over 40 countries, a spokesperson told FashionUnited. The
brand has seen a growing appetite for gaming among its younger consumers,
especially those from China, they said. Burberry later released an
extension of the game, this time called Ratberry, which came out for the
country’s Lunar New Year in January in honour of the Year of the Rat.

In October 2019, Adidas became the first retailer to allow customers to
purchase items within a Snapchat game. The German sportswear giant
partnered with Snapchat to launch an 8-bit game called ‘Baseball’s Next
Level’, inspired by old-school videogames and the start of the Major League
Baseball playoffs. The ‘8-BIT’ cleats are available directly from the
Snapchat game as well as from the Adidas website for 130 dollars.

And some brands have begun selling gaming hardware – even further
blurring the intersection between physical and virtual worlds. In December
2019, German sportswear brand Puma released a pair of sock/shoes designed
to be worn while gaming. The ‘Active Gaming Footwear’ comes in three
‘modes’ for gaming: Medial wrap-up grip in ‘seek’ mode, lateral wrap-up
support in ‘attack’ mode, and heel wrap-up stability in ‘cruise’ and
‘defense’ mode. They sell for 80 pounds on the company’s UK website.

Photo: Puma ‘Active Gaming Footwear’s, courtesy of the brand

In March, Adidas teamed up with football video game Fifa to launch GMR,
a physical smart insole tag players can place in their football boots to
trace their real-life movements on the pitch, allowing them to measure
kicks, shot power, distance and speed. Players can complete challenges to
win virtual in-game rewards and climb rankings in global leaderboards.

“Adidas GMR lives at the intersection of gaming and the material world
because that’s where the audience is,” Moritz Kloetzner, director of
business development at Adidas Football, said in a statement on the brand’s
website. “By exploring and challenging traditional approaches to product
development, alongside Jacquard by Google and EA Sports’s FIFA Mobile, we
have been able to equip players with a whole new way to use their
creativity for the betterment of their sport.”

Looking forward, the fashion industry has a lot of exciting new
opportunities on what is largely untrammelled grounds when it comes to
gaming. One idea that particularly interests Loomes is the way brands might
embody themselves in virtual characters, allowing them to more closely
engage and interact with consumers through digital channels. “It would be
very interesting for fashion brands to think: ‘if this brand was a living
character, what would it look like? What values would it have?’ Could it
help you to connect with consumers on a new level?,” she said. “Fashion
brands should certainly not abandon more traditional marketing strategies.
But they should think about how they can create integrated real world and
digital world campaigns and meet consumers in more than one ‘place’.”

Whether it’s through digital avatars, multimillion-dollar inter-industry
sponsorship deals, the launch of branded games, or a pair of ‘performance’
socks, the fashion industry has proved that it has a real appetite for
gaming as a new way to engage with an increasingly digital-savvy audience.
The gaming market is expected to surpass 200 billion dollars by 2023,
according to Newzoo, and it’s safe to say the fashion industry will be
watching with interest as it does.

This article was created with the help of Belén
Bednarski

Main article image: Burberry, Chanel and Prada looks created by
Nook Street Market on Animal Crossing

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