The two companies launched a partnership last November, with We Are Nations taking control of the North American league’s merchandise – including its 10 franchise partners.
Each of the team’s collections will be available through stores for the United States and United Kingdom. A variety of LCS-branded gear will also be up for purchase.
The partnership between We Are Nations and Riot Games for the LCS had been under negotiations way before the 2019 Spring Split came around, as Patrick Mahoney, CEO of We Are Nations told Esports Insider: “We started talking to Chris Hopper [Head of Esports for NA at Riot Games] about what a deal could look like in mid 2018 and then by last fall we were negotiating in earnest so that by October we were getting ready to ramp up for the 2019 season.”
“It was a really enjoyable process and working with those guys through different scenarios and iterations of deal structure certainly demonstrated to us that they wanted to create a long-term future-proof merchandising program with real equity for the league, the teams and most importantly the fans,” he explained.
Not only is We Are Nations taking care of LCS-branded apparel but it’s creating and selling merchandise for the league’s 10 teams too. With a number of big brands involved – such as Team Liquid, 100 Thieves, and Team SoloMid – it’s no light task.
“We’ve learned a lot about the needs of the teams. We are finding that though there is a subset of best practices that we have documented and will continue to refine for future use when it comes to product development, each team still has unique needs, ideas and requirements that we need to address as well,” Mahoney remarked.
“The LCS is not a “top-down” league so the challenge will always be balancing the needs of the league with the individual spirit and personality of the teams,” he continued. “This is both a function of relationships and process, and will always evolve.”
With a franchised league comes huge sponsorship opportunities as teams are guaranteed a spot in the competition for the long-term. Many sponsorship deals include the promotion of brands on teams’ jerseys, and even that presents a potential issue when retailing online. If a sponsor is promptly added to a teams’ jersey – at a greater cost than usual – then there may be a difference between what fans see on their favourite players and what’s available for them to purchase.
Mahoney is aware of this, however: “We are committed to accommodating the teams and their sponsors in every way we can. We also hope that as we push the boundaries and create new markets for esports merchandise, we are adding real value to the sponsorships.”
“What we are selling is the same exact jersey the teams are wearing onstage and any time there is a sponsor change we will cycle those changes into our inventory as quickly as possible,” he added.
Not only will jerseys be available for purchase through the store, there will be zipped hoodies, a long sleeve shirt, and four different t-shirts. “You’ll see an initial line of LCS branded merchandise on launch. Also, we are in discussions with all the teams about additional merchandise and you will see the fruits of those discussions in the form of special drops and inline product releases throughout the season and beyond,” Mahoney revealed.
“When rivalries or other narratives develop, we’ll be telling that story as well. I personally look forward to seeing where all of this stuff goes – I grew up in Boston in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry was literally in the fabric of my everyday life. In some ways, this is what sports is all about,” he concluded.
Esports Insider says: While we’re yet to personally inspect any of the LCS merchandise, the gear looks great and we’re impressed by Patrick and his team’s approach to the partnership. Hopefully the launch is both stable and successful, marking a good sign for things to come over the course of the 2019 season.