Given the rise of esports in terms of viewership, investment and overall interest, nearly every sector of the industry is looking to develop and expand. The apparel industry is no different.
Esports and apparel have long been closely aligned, however, in recent years there has been a significant focus on the design of jerseys, hats and other clothing options. This can be seen in the professional scene with brands such as Marvel partnering with Team Liquid to launch a new ‘retro’ clothing range, whilst Nike has also teamed up with the likes of T1 to become its exclusive apparel partner.
Looking further down the pyramid, this interest in apparel has even trickled down into the grassroots and amateur scene with US firm Sector Six Apparel identifying a market to provide jerseys for developing teams and its fans. Following the company’s acquisition by We Are Nations, plans were made to take this apparel structure to the European market and last month the firm announced it had formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, based in the UK.
Following this, Esports Insider caught up with Sector Six Apparel Co-Owner Josh Whatley to discuss the company’s decision to expand into the European market and how it plans to help strengthen the continent’s esports apparel offering.
Expanding into new waters
“We were actually wanting to launch things in March, or at the beginning of Q2, but COVID delayed everything. So this was actually something that was supposed to be early 2020,” highlighted Whatley. “This has been in the works for such a long time and with COVID in certain places being at least controlled a lot more we were able to just get this wrapped up and get it out to the public that we are now being able to cater to the European market.”
When opting to decide the firm’s European base of operations it became clear that the UK was the most sensible option, especially since We Are Nation’s COO, Alex Romer, is based in the country. This provided Sector Six’s new subsidiary with a familiar face on the day of its launch, which is crucially important given that travel restrictions are constantly changing due to the current global climate.
Following the announcement of its new subsidiary, named Sector Six Apparel, Ltd, the firm was immediately inundated with enquiries. “We got hit with a lot of scheduled calls right off the bat. The number was actually quite high,” Whatley said. This not only showcases that the firm’s reputation in the US has carried over across to Europe, but it also signals the underlying need of a professional grassroots apparel company.
He continued: “They approached us almost instantly saying ‘hey, how can we help? What are your plans? How can we work together?’ So we’re really excited. But also surprised because the number was quite high!”
Bringing a sense of professionalism
Like many sectors, the apparel industry has gone through its own transformative stage as the esports scene grows and develops. This is why it is imperative that professionalism is maintained during this period. Unfortunately in Europe, the apparel industry still has a long way to go with the recent news of DashThreads failing to deliver on promises highlighting this continuous problem. However, Sector Six, along with other reputable firms, look to bolster the industry in the right way.
“This is our full-time job, a lot of other companies do it as a hobby,” said Whatley. “We have the systems in place we’ve perfected. We’ve perfected our systems over the last four years and we’re looking to bring that to the European market.”
Moreover, Whatley emphasised the importance of turnaround time. Particularly with grassroots esports, it is imperative that apparel is delivered to a team within a reasonable timeframe so that it can be made available for upcoming tournaments or for fans to purchase clothing ahead of the event.
“If a team needed a jersey because they picked up a player last minute, since we’re in the grassroots-based Call of Duty space and players can get dropped the week of the tournament, then that jersey needs to get to them quickly.” Sector Six’s Co-Owner explained. “What we are able to do in the North American side of things is provide a fast turnaround time to get that player jersey and we’re looking to try to replicate that as well in the European side.”
The differences between Europe and the US
Speaking of the North American market, it quickly became apparent to Sector Six that its apparel industry is different compared to Europe. In particular, Whatley opened up about the challenges he faced when researching the continent due to the stark contrast of Europe’s amateur scene. “The European grassroots market is hidden, but it’s there,” he added. “But the European grassroots market is such a massive market. That’s one of the most intriguing things is that it’s there and we have found it. So now it’s just time to actually get it.”
One scene that Whatley did see as a potential opportunity for Sector Six is Europe’s blossoming League of Legends ecosystem. Unlike North America, Europe’s League of Legends structure embraces teams, from grassroots through to professional, with its European Regional League system, which consists of a variety of nation-specific tournaments like Spain’s SuperLiga Orange. This league system has provided a different opportunity for the apparel company.
Whatley stated: “Getting into those leagues, whether it’s with the league itself or with the individual teams, that’s what we want. We want to work with as many European clients as we can.”
Whilst the company sees value in entering into partnerships with teams, it’s vital that the market is developed enough, and continues to develop at such a rate, that there is an interest in apparel from organisations. As the esports industry develops, Whatley believes that its trickle-down effect will see more and more amateur and grassroots organisations looking to boost their brands by creating apparel lines. “I kind of run with the phrase you look good, you play good,” he said. “That has gone from the professional side all the way down to the amateur and grassroots scene, they now look at it as they’re on this massive stage and so think ‘we need to look the best we can’.”
Whatley continued: “It also is appealing when you’re trying to get some type of partnership or sponsorship with any other brands in the space. Having that jersey, having a place to put a logo or having a just well-designed jersey appeals to the Pepsi’s and the Scuff Gaming’s of the world.”
As more professional entities such as Sector Six look to establish themselves in the European apparel market, the scene should strengthen accordingly as competition breeds excellence in business as much as it does in-game after all. Whatley added: “We want to do exactly what we’ve done with Sector Six in the US, but then put it over in the European Market and work with as many teams as we can.”