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Esports meets mainstream: Sizing up esports' hidden obsession with sneakers

by Dennis Gonzales May 9 2017
Thumbnail image courtesy of Damian Estrada

A fascination for footwear has been prevalent in youth culture since, well, the invention of the shoe. And esports athletes and fans are no exception.

Whether you're wearing classic Stan Smiths or Converse All-Stars, prefer more modern sneakers like adidas' NMD or Nike's Roshe One, the shoe you wear can be a symbol of your taste in music, make a political statement, or simply define which side of the schoolyard you occupy.

Being a field dominated by a bunch of teens and 20-somethings, the prevalence of sneakerhead culture in esports is almost unavoidable. Keen observers are quick to notice the presence of esports' so-called hypebeasts.

Hypebeasts and Hyper Beasts

From Arteezy's "Pirate Black" adidas Yeezys 350 Boost ($200 retail, though his are fake, lul), to Aphromoo's "Bred" Air Jordan 1 Retro High OGs ($160 retail) or RUBINO's Y-3 QASA Highs ($390 retail), the sneaker game is at a high between Dota 2, League of Legends and CS:GO.

While there are plenty of individual esports players that have been flexing some high-end footwear, a few teams in particular seem to have embraced the sneakerhead culture too. Think Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses.

For TL, an entire episode of their Let's Go Liquid YouTube series was devoted to their LoL team's shoe shopping venture. They picked up navy adidas AlphaBOUNCEs ($110 retail each) for their entire team and debuted them on the NA LCS stage during the 2017 Spring Split.

TL's fans seem to be just as rabid for footwear. Take David Chen's sick customization of the navy adidas NMD XR1 PK ($150 retail), featuring an "uncaged" mod, Team Liquid pin and Team Liquid pull tabs.

The custom shoes were also posted on /r/sneakers, racking up more than 1,750 upvotes in a week, making it one of the highest voted posts of all time for the subreddit.

Moving on to Evil Geniuses, their sneaker obsession is less organization-wide and more on an individual level, as seen at The Boston Major during Jake "SirActionSlacks" Kanner's cringe-y game show segment.

Ignore their manager Phillip Aram's (second from the right) pair of basic Vans and take a look at Universe, zai and Arteezy's shoes.

Second from the left is Universe, who is wearing a pair of "Vista Grey" Y-3 QASA Highs, which retails for around $390. Meanwhile on the far right, zai is rocking blue Maison Margiela paint splatter sneakers, which retail for $650. And finally is Arteezy on the far left, who is wearing a pair of adidas Yeezy 350 Boosts, likely the most well-known shoe of the bunch.

The Yeezy was a shoe made in collaboration between hip-hop artist Kanye West and adidas and one that carries a consistently high demand. Arteezy's pair in particular are the "Turtle Dove" colorway, which are noteworthy because they were the first Yeezy ever released.

Though they would have retailed for a modest $200, their rarity and high demand mean the grey market value is in the ballpark of around $2,000. And while his "Pirate Black" Yeezys are apparently fake, his "Turtle Dove" Yeezys appear to be legit.

Got the yeezys woo thanks brother!

A post shared by artour babaev (@arteezyarteezy) on

Twitch is getting in on the action too. They recently announced a show dedicated to sneaker culture, dubbed Fresh Stock.

Even fictional characters in esports have their shoe game on point, as seen in Reddit user oksklok's artwork, which decks out of 10 Dota 2 heroes wearing a variety of different sneakers, including Tusk in Yeezy 750s.

Suffice to say, there's some clear sneakerhead influence within esports. With that there has been demand for official collaboration. But so far, the closest we've come is CS:GO player byali and his pair of custom Nike Roshe Ones in Virtus.pro's colors:

Never give up!

A post shared by Paweł Bieliński (@byalkoo) on

But despite obvious interest and marketing potential, sneaker culture and esports are still merely flirting with each other.

Boots of Speed x non-endemics

The one instance of a shoe company really getting into bed with esports ended, unfortunately, as a one night stand.

We're talking about South Korean shoe maker SBENU. The brand was a major sponsor of StarCraft II's StarLeague (SSL) and had a team that competed in the LoL Champions Korea league (LCK) called SBENU Sonicboom.

Beyond esports, SBENU were also sponsorship partners with Manchester United and made use of actress Chloe Grace Moretz and K-pop stars IU and AOA in their marketing and promotional material.

SBENU's foray into esports was the biggest dive into the scene from a shoe manufacturer ever. The brand has apparently ceased to exist after their LoL team was relegated from the LCK and the brand's owner, Hwang Hyo-jin, became the subject of embezzlement and fraud allegations.

Though it's been about a year since SBENU has been involved in esports, a scene which has continued to grow and swell with non-endemic brand interest, it doesn't appear that any other footwear manufacturers are looking to fill their shoes.

Nike has barely dipped its toes into the market, only offering branded merchandise through Epsilon Esports and not much else. Meanwhile, Under Armor sweaters were used for branded hoodies in a press photo for SK Gaming's CS:GO team, though it was nothing official according to the team's press director.

adidas is the one shoe brand that has been most visible in the esports scene lately, with Danish CS:GO team North having their jerseys branded with the iconic three-stripe logo. adidas France also just signed a one-year deal earlier this year with French esports org Team Vitality. However in both team's cases, neither deal apparently reaches beyond simple jersey branding.

Worse still, during the Sports Business Journal's 2017 CAA World Congress of Sports, Mark King, the president of the adidas Group's North American branch, reportedly said that they're lukewarm to the idea of esports.

The silver-lining to all this for sneakerheads is that the stance made from Mark King is apparently not a popular one within adidas itself, so this may not be the last time we hear about the possibility of a collab between adidas and esports.

Regardless of the direct intervention these shoe brands have on esports though, its sneakerheads will continue to rep their heat.

With players and fans alike going to great lengths to show their shoe culture love, we can only hope it's a matter of time before the heavy-hitters of the footwear world lace up and get their boots on the ground in the world of esports.

Grade: C — As it stands, esports' shoe obsession is a case of unrequited love. Despite the obvious interest in shoe culture from players and fans, the footwear industry continues to hold esports at arms length.

Dennis "Tarmanydyn" Gonzales is a news editor for theScore esports who enjoys whiskey, D&D and first-picking Abaddon Slardar Clinkz Medusa Oraclea P90 my Souvenir Negev Discipline Priest Pharah. You can follow him on Twitter.

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