We Are Nations wants to be the ultimate fashion resource for esports
Esports is a rapidly growing industry. Everything from law practices to stadiums are being created and are adapting to the potential opportunities developing in the world of competitive gaming. Merchandise such as apparel and accessories present one such opportunity and will likely be approached in different ways by various companies. One of the companies we’ve come across that is entering the area from an interesting angle is We Are Nations.
The Nations brand was founded in 2016 by Patrick Mahoney and Chris Cornell. Nations caught our eye at PAX East in April where they had a booth that stood out with unique designs and styles. The company works with esports organizations like G2, Misfits, Rogue, and MVP as well as creates collections with their own Nations brand that include tees, hoodies, and jerseys.
Mahoney and Cornell both have backgrounds in music and entertainment merchandising. Their other business, Manhead, works with rock bands like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, and Weezer. A few years ago the pair decided they wanted to expand into another area, but weren’t sure exactly what that should be.
“Our strength as a company is to be a very dominant sort of boutique independently owned midmarket player and instead of growing the music business artificially with investment or whatever we said let’s just find another channel to go into,” Mahoney told GeekFold. “[We] didn’t know quite what it was, but we found esports through a venture capital friend of ours and went to an ESL event in Germany and were blown away by the whole thing.”
What stood out to them about the event was the production value and the participants themselves, however it was when they went to a MLG event afterwards in Las Vegas that Mahoney said they had an even bigger “ah ha” moment.
“It was kids doing it themselves. Practicing, making their own travel arrangements and getting themselves to Las Vegas, right down to the jerseys. Chris and I, we come from punk rock in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, and there was a common spirit there. That’s what we did,” Mahoney explained. “It wasn’t putting teams together to play Call of Duty. It was putting bands together and working our own shows. There was a kindred spirit and that’s really what hooked us.”
They decided to create their own Nations merchandise as well as work with teams for two reasons. One is that for both of the founders’ careers they’ve never owned their own intellectual property, working with licensed IPs that always had to be renegotiated every few years. The other reason goes back to their punk rock background and its connection to surf and skater culture that they were into as kids. Mahoney believes that the lifestyle brands that will emerge as a result of esports will be closer to a Quiksilver or Billabong than anything else since there are fans of pro teams who are also avid players. Mahoney sees this as similar to how fans of pro surfers are also surfers and fans of pro skaters are also skaters.
“It’s not like going to a baseball game one afternoon. Traditional sports have these avid fans, but they’re not in the community as authentic as they are in something like esports…” he said. “We feel there’s an opening and that’s why we went in. It was a mix of Chris and I’s old school surf and skate sort of leanings and the guys we have in design and stuff are very much into esports.”
Their experience in music merchandising has come in handy with their entrance into esports with the production and distribution sides very similar, but putting together that team behind the scenes was different. Mahoney said he and Chris are the Gen X guys while most of the execution team is made of men and women who are like the kids actually gaming. To Mahoney, this is “a great merging of two different cultures” that need each other and their combined knowledge to achieve what they want to do.
Another difference they’ve found is that esports is truly international.
“We’ve been scrambling to open up subsidiary companies all over the world. Since we started we’ve established subsidiaries in the U.K. [and] in Australia. We’re going into Brazil. That’s been really great and the sales have definitely been worldwide,” he said. “I couldn’t give away a Panic! At the Disco shirt in China really, partially because they’re not big there and partially because of bootlegs and stuff, but we get these royalty statements from a Russia licensee and it’s like wow this is great. There are sales there. It’s really international and we feel like we’ve really been able to scale up because of our previous experience.”
In addition to being present online, they attend shows and sell at tournaments. However, Mahoney thinks these won’t be the only places you’ll soon be able to find esports merchandise. In the next year or two, you might see items from pro esports teams available in malls. Mahoney believes this could start with hats before venturing into jerseys and that the items might not necessarily be in a GameStop, but in stores like Journeys and Dick’s Sporting Goods. The challenge to taking that step is educating retailers.
“We’ve had some initial discussions with more specialty retailers who want to cherry pick designs say, which probably works if you’re buying for publisher titles like Call of Duty or Counter-Strike or any specific video game shirt,” Mahoney said. “That hot market, fast fashion thing works, but with esports it’s team collections. It’s not going to work unless you have a capsule in the store with the top seven or 10 teams just like you go into a sporting goods store and sure, you have all the local teams, but you’re going to see all the big sort of nationally acclaimed teams. For example in soccer, you’re always going to see a Manchester United shirt. That’s the way you’ve got to sell it. You’ve got to sell it as a collection so that education is going to be the biggest challenge.”
As with all geek fashion, having options for both men and women in esports merchandise is something that will be imperative to have available as the industry continues to grow and as it addresses the importance of women in esports as both fans and participants which has inspired continued discussions online. When it comes to fashion, Nations seems aware of making sure there are options for all fans and teams.
“We just did a deal with a big CS:GO [Counter-Strike: Global Offensive] female team in Australia and we’re specifically supporting all that and we are designing graphics with women in mind,” Mahoney said. “The funny thing is though, from a body style standpoint, there isn’t much difference between cuts right now…We’re very interested in pushing and making sure that women are taken care of, but the product spread isn’t as crazy as it has been in the past [when it comes to] gender specific.”
It will be interesting to see what Nations produces as it moves forward. Mahoney is excited about the possibilities.
“These kids are fashionable and driving trends in terms of apparel and fashion. We have this ability to sort of mix these properties with relevant cuts, fabrics, and articles of garments and accessories. That’s the really cool part,” he said. “I think there’s an absolute argument for streetwear type collections not only for Nations itself as a brand, but for the teams.”
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