Pop culture may shift often but gaming has been a part of it for a long time, though it’s arguably at its highest level of influence and popularity. Gaming captures the young demographic and what better audience to influence and capitalise off of?
It’s hard to argue that a game has been more influential in pop culture than this year’s break out hit, Fortnite: Battle Royale. From celebrities playing the game on Twitch, through to athletes and prominent figures replicating emotes seen in-game, Fortnite has been everywhere this year.
With gaming’s further rise to prominence, it has naturally become intertwined with another staple of pop culture: hip hop. Rap music frequently tops sales charts; gamers wear the brands donned and created by hip hop artists, and their respective audiences cross over massively. Young males are undeniably huge consumers of both gaming and hip hop, and that’s a big reason in why the industries are overlapping. As the esports industry rises in value and hype, hip hop moguls and entrepreneurs are lapping up investment opportunities that are presented to them.
Esports is a subculture of gaming, so it’s important to look at gaming as a whole as to esports has seen such a ramped up presence from those who occupy space in hip hop.
The moment of the year in gaming, for many, is when popular streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins was joined on-stream by Drake and Travis Scott for a session on Fortnite: Battle Royale. Seeing the most popular rapper – and a bona fide pop star in his own right – play with Ninja broke records on Twitch and garnered a plethora of headlines.
Other rappers have played games, namely Fortnite, this year on Twitch too. XXXTentacion, Lil Pump, 21 Savage, Lil Yachty, Trippie Redd, and plenty of others all took to the Battle Royale title throughout the year. This brought a new level of popularity to gaming and perhaps added some credence to the hobby for some, too.
Luminosity Gaming partnered with Universal Music Canada in July last year, meaning the label could advertise and share music through the organisation’s numerous outlets and signed personalities. They also created the ‘Gaming Hip Hop’ playlist, made for “gamers to stream while they play”.
A whole host of investments and organisational play took place between esports and hip hop in 2018 alone. Perhaps the biggest artist in both hip hop and music in general in current times, Drake, became an owner of Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag’s 100 Thieves in October – alongside entertainment heavyweight Scooter Braun.
Another major move saw Sean “Diddy” Combs, a long-time rapper and serial entrepreneur, invest in high school esports initiative PlayVS in November following a $30.5 million (£23.7 million) Series B funding round.
Not long after, Soulja Boy announced his intentions to start an esports organisation of his own just a month ago, putting out a recruitment drive and stating that it’ll be launched in January 2019.
Lil Yachty had been attached to FaZe Clan in intangible ways for most of 2018 until they made things official, also in December. Naming himself ‘FaZe Boat’. It’s unclear in what capacity he joined the gaming giant but nonetheless, he’s part of the team.
Sneaker culture has long been connected to hip hop. From prominent figures wearing the latest sneakers and influencing their huge fan bases to rappers creating their own trainers with iconic brands such as adidas and Nike, the two cultures are massively intertwined and that has also leaked into esports.
You can frequently see popular esports professionals donning the latest trends in sneaker culture, especially Kanye West and adidas’ Yeezy collaborations; good luck attending an event without seeing players rocking a pair! In June 2018, 100 Thieves entered a partnership with streetwear and sneaker reselling platform StockX – as a result of the deal, the organisation’s team house has its own decked-out StockX locker room.
Immortals has launched its very own sneaker in collaboration with K-Swiss in recent times, too. SNIPES is a German streetwear chain and following a partnership with esports organisation mousesports, a video featuring hip hop artist Rick Ross was released alongside the announcement of a new collection.
It’s evident that both hip hop and sneaker culture are prominent in the esports industry in several capacities, and it’s likely that we’ll see the industries continue to interweave as time goes on. As esports professionals become celebrities in their own right, it’s not too far-fetched to envision a time where they get their own collaborative sneakers and hang around with more hip hop artists in the not-so-distant future.