We Are Nations’ Patrick Mahoney on esports becoming pop culture

Esports and gaming are converging with other entertainment and leisure sectors and, slowly but surely, they’re making their way into pop culture. From in-game concerts performed by popular DJs to celebrities investing in esports organisations, the lines are blurring more and more as time goes on.

To discuss this interesting intersection of entertainment, we sat down with Patrick Mahoney, CEO of We Are Nations. With past experience in the music industry and now clothing a healthy portion of those in esports, he’s in a great position to observe this happening.

Mahoney will be speaking on the ‘The continued convergence of pop culture and esports’ panel at ESI London, the leading esports business conference.

Esports Insider: You have a lot of experience in the music industry. What do you make of the crossover between music and esports, and why do you think this crossover is occurring?

Patrick Mahoney: For the same reasons there was a connection between action sports and music in the 1990’s, everyone who is participating in the esports ecosystem wants to put their mark on the entirety of the culture. The classic 1990’s example, of course, is The Vans Warped Tour. At the time, for those first few years, it might as well have been a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, because it worked so well.

“An activation – a real brand statement – is like when Jordan and Nike launched with Paris Saint-Germain”

ESI: What do you make of the musical performance seen at esports events? A lot of people don’t appear to be overly keen on most.

PM: It’s funny that people aren’t overly keen from the esports side because I can assure you that the Marshmello and Fortnite collaboration has got the entire music business scrambling. Maybe that’s the point – clearly the esports community wants to consume music, but apparently on its own terms. We’ll have to watch.

I have no doubt that over time, ‘half-time’ shows will prevail at major esports events and the Coldplay’s, Justin Timberlake’s, and Maroon 5’s of the times will be taking part, posting some of their best engagement numbers of the year.

Marshmello Fortnite
Marshmello performed a concert within Fortnite. Image via: Marshmello.

ESI: These days, organisations and companies are trying to create clothing that can be worn anywhere without it being overtly obvious what the brand’s origin actually is. What are your thoughts on the emerging trend of esports apparel being completely unrelated to gaming and esports?

PM: Endemic esports brands are definitely a piece of the overall pie. I’ve invested in a few lifestyle brands over my career and they definitely serve the purpose of leading the way in terms of trend and product. But it’s so hard to cut through and I think most of these brands will hit a wall once they exhaust their internal resources. Some will be able to scale, some won’t, and some won’t want to. That’s how it’s always worked. In 10 years, it will be surf/skate/snow all over again, but with gaming.

“I expect esports to become a dominant part of pop culture”

ESI: In the past year, we’ve seen major players in clothing and sportswear enter esports. Why do you think they’ve decided to get involved at this point?

PM: I honestly don’t think they have, really. Most of the activations we’ve seen thus far have been from the local management level, and in most cases, they’ve been limited. Don’t get me wrong, there is some great stuff going on out there with Champion and some other brands, but they should be seen as pieces of an overall merchandise strategy. An activation – a real brand statement – is like when Jordan and Nike launched with Paris Saint-Germain this past year. Everybody knew this was coming and when it came out it blew up in the sports world.

That’s not happening yet in esports. The scale is simply not yet there. And to take the Jordan and PSG example further, that deal literally revitalized a brand and created a market that opened up further opportunities for additional product categories. Have you seen the Herschel and PSG backpacks? They are amazing. I don’t want to negotiate against myself here, but the industry needs to learn that exclusive deals aren’t always the best deals.

OpTic Gaming Champion Hoodie
OpTic Gaming’s collaboration with Champion. Photo credit: OpTic Gaming.

All this said, we’ve had numerous discussions with brands about how we can help with scale, so I think you’ll see us continue to partner up and execute on behalf of brands. It’s important to point out that  We Are Nations as a mark is more or less neutral – we are building the company to be synonymous with esports merchandise quality and not as a specific brand on its own.

ESI: Do you think it’s necessary for esports to tie itself with pop culture for its growth in the future?

PM: Yes. My 13-year-old son spends a lot of his free time gaming, listening to Spotify, and watching YouTube videos all at the same time. There’s simply so much out there, all cross-referenced and cross-delivered. That said, I expect esports to become a dominant part of pop culture so the balance of power may very well shift.

ESI: Besides speaking on the pop culture panel at ESI London, what are you most looking forward to at the event?

PM: Meeting new people. We are at a stage in the industry where these conferences and other events are literally filled to the roof with awesome ideas, but I also love London so I’m coming a few days early. I’ll be bringing a bike and will spend the weekend riding in Surrey, which has been calling me since the London 2012 road race (if anyone wants to ride…). I also need a new pair of kicks and the Adidas Originals shop off Regent Street is a favorite.

ESI London Partners

We Are Nations is one of the incredible partners supporting ESI London, the ultimate esports industry showcase. Find out more before it’s too late!