When Chinese League of Legends player Jian “Uzi” Zihao appeared in a Nike campaign, the esports community assumed the sportswear giant had signed its first gamer.
— IGN (@IGN) October 23, 2018
The news sparked quite a stir on social media with many debating whether an esports player can be considered an athlete.
While others debated, the gaming community rejoiced when Nike Basketball shared on Weibo that Chinese League of Legends player Jian “Uzi” Zihao of Royal Never Give Up (RNG) will appear in Nike’s “Dribble &” campaign led by basketball superstar LeBron James. Adding to the fact that Uzi is one of the best players in the world in League of Legends, the public endorsement seemed like a monumental step for esports.
However, according to Hypebeast, Nike is not in fact signing Uzi. The brand only roped the pro gamer in on the campaign due to his influence in China. It’s all part of the brand’s effort to publicize the customizable “Dribble &” t-shirts (as seen on Uzi) which will be made available at stores across greater China.
The truth of the matter, however, shouldn’t downplay the huge marketing potential that esports has to offer. The fact that Nike recognized the potential in Uzi to drive t-shirt sales is something worth noting. Elsewhere, French football club Paris Saint Germain and German footballer Mesut Ozil founded their own esports teams recently and Adidas officially sponsored French gaming team Vitality in January last year. Perhaps it’s not such a distance future that we might see more endorsement deals offered by sportswear brands to esports teams.
Do you think this could be a possibility? Share your thoughts in the comments below.