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Nike Taps Its First Esports Player, China’s League of Legends Pro Uzi

Nike Taps Its First Esports Player, China’s League of Legends Pro Uzi

What Happened: On October 26, sportswear giant Nike sparked online buzz among the Chinese esports community thanks to its partnership with pro League of Legends player Jian Zihao (professionally known as Uzi). The collaboration marks the first time that the brand has signed a deal with an esports athlete. The announcement video featuring his voiceover racked up over 2 million views on Weibo within just one day.

Retired in 2020 due to chronic health issues, Uzi is one of the most successful League of Legends players to have emerged since the game’s debut in 2009. Despite his departure, he is still widely recognized among local esports players and enthusiasts. According to a statement, “Uzi will not only inject vitality to the Nike community, but will also inspire more young people to stick to their passions, as well as find new inspiration and creativity in sports.”

The Jing Take: Nike’s bet on the mainland’s esports market started in 2019, when the apparel corporation signed a four-year deal with the League of Legends Pro League in China, supplying every squad with sneakers, casual clothing, and eventually professional jerseys. And now, with Uzi on board, the label is doubling down on the surging esports sector. 

According to the 2022 Asian Esports Industry Development Report, China is the world’s largest esports market in terms of user scale and revenue, contributing nearly one-third of the revenue worldwide. Given this potential, many luxury groups such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Fendi, and Gucci have tapped the sector in the past three years. These houses have leveraged the esports communities in various collaborations, including sponsoring competitions, casting players in their campaigns, and even launching gaming academies. 

However, as the market matures, the growth rate of domestic esports users has significantly slowed down, dropping from 100 percent in 2017 to 5.9 percent in 2022, as the report shows. As such, though Uzi is a legendary face in the history of League of Legends, this kind of partnership is nothing new to Chinese audiences in 2022. The payoff of the endorsement will depend on how Nike can develop more compelling storytelling with the esports star.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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