Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman once famously said, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.” It’s an inspirational quote that’s ingrained into Nike employees’ brains and has been used to motivate people into getting off their asses. But now the brand is taking it a step further by helping athletes who make a living by sitting on their asses.
The sportswear brand is now playing in the realm of pro gamers, linking up with Overwatch League eSports franchise New York Excelsior (NYXL) earlier this month. This isn’t the first time Nike has dipped its foot into video games. It’s done collabs with Playstation and XBox (through Jordan Brand), but now it’s going beyond just products and working with eSports athletes in a more holistic way.
“When you factor in the intense training and gameday routines such as practice and reviewing film and matches that can span multiple hours, it’s easy to see that gamers are indeed athletes,” says Nike spokesperson Josh Benedek. “NYXL came to us with a brief to make their athletes better, healthier, and more prepared to compete, and that’s exciting for us.”
If you’re not familiar with eSports franchises, they operate just like any other team in the NBA or NFL. Athletes are kitted out in uniforms (NYXL’s was designed by Undefeated) and compete in front of packed arenas (The Overwatch League’s 2018 Finals was held at the Barclays Center). They even get player exclusives. In NYXL’s case, the team got a two Nike Air Force 1 PEs that were also available for sale at NYXL’s pop-up gaming space in Brooklyn.
While Nike isn’t an official sponsor of NYXL, it did commit to helping the team become better at its craft. During the team’s visit to Nike’s NYHQ, the brand’s sports trainers and experts took the gamers through nutrition, recovery, mindfulness, and a physical workout session.
“Nike was the best-equipped brand to help our athletes with trainers and knowledge,” says Collette Gangemi, NYXL’s Head of Consumer Products and Merchandising. She added that most of the eSports athletes can be in front of a screen for up to 12 hours a day. “A lot of our players went up to the trainers after and asked for tips on how to stretch hands, wrists, and arms which are the most common injuries.”
This isn’t the first time Nike has put together a program for gamers, but Gangemi says it’s something the team would like to do on a monthly basis with the brand.
"We approached the program in two ways demonstrating Nike’s ability to serve eSports athletes in their entirety through product and sport,” Benedek says. “We prepared them for their competition by treating them like the athletes they are.”