Nike sponsors its first esports player

The sportswear company, Nike, are well known for their multi-million dollar sponsorship of top-level sporting stars, but the brand have recently made the surprise move to sponsor their first esports player. It was recently revealed that the League of Legends esports star, Jian “Uzi” Zihao, will be featured in a new Nike promotional campaign, and will appear alongside the basketball legend, LeBron James.


© Nike

The advertisements will feature Uzi taking part in James’ ‘Dribble&’ marketing campaign, and it marks the first time that Nike have taken such a significant interest in the esports gaming phenomenon. Whilst big money sponsorship deals of esports players and tournaments is nothing new, the fact that Nike have recently taken the plunge means that esports is now getting much closer to being viewed as a traditional sport. So what does this mean for the future of competitive gaming?

All about Nike’s new esports sponsorship

Uzi will be featured in the promotional campaign for LeBron James’ new documentary series ‘Shut Up and Dribble’. The documentary aims to showcase how many top athletes are having to face new challenges in the face of the currently fraught political climate. Although the focus of the document will look at a variety of NBA stars, the decision to include Uzi in the advertising shows how Nike are finally taking notice of esports.

As such, Uzi will be shown alongside the Chinese actor, Bai Jingting, wearing a black T-shirt bearing the phrase ‘Dribble & Carry’. Dribble refers to the fact that the basketball star, LeBron James, was derided by a US political pundit who told James to ‘just shut up and dribble’, rather than get involved in the political debate. Whereas ‘carry’ refers to the Attack Damage Carry position that Uzi occupies in his Royal Never Give Up League of Legends team.

It has yet to be revealed when this promotional footage will be aired, but by sponsoring the likes of Uzi, it shows that Nike is getting serious about esports, and it’s expected that many other leading sportswear brands could soon follow suit in snapping up the world’s leading esports stars.

Why did Nike choose Jian “Uzi” Zihao?

There are many top esports players who command huge numbers of dedicated fans through their gaming prowess, and by picking Uzi to head their new promotional campaign, it tells us some fairly interesting things about how Nike view the progress of esports.

By twinning Uzi alongside the Chinese actor, Bai Jingting, in the new adverts, it seems that Nike is serious about making a big impact on the hugely lucrative competitive gaming market in China. Whilst esports is a global phenomenon, it’s in China where things are really getting interesting. It has been estimated that the current gaming market in China is worth at least $32.5 billion, and it recently overtook the US esports market. China generates around 16% of global esports revenues, and with the nation’s government making a surprise decision to change their approach to competitive gaming and actually aim to develop and invest in esports, it’s clear that Nike’s choice to sponsor Uzi could be a very shrewd move.


© Riot Games

There is no doubting Uzi’s competitive gaming pedigree. The 21-year old esports star entered the competitive gaming scene in 2012, and since then he has helped Royal Never Give Up become one of the most feared esports organisations on the League of Legends circuit. Whilst Uzi’s temper has frequently gotten the better of him, the fact that he is the player with the most kills in professional games means that he is a good choice for a brand like Nike who only sponsor those capable of proving their sporting excellence.

The reason why sports brands are finally embracing esports

In the past few years we have seen a wide range of companies sponsoring esports teams and players. From energy drinks brands like Red Bull sponsoring Dota 2 and League of Legends tournaments, to even fast food companies like Kentucky Fried Chicken launching their own Call of Duty team, it seems that the appeal of esports is perfectly suited for brands aiming to cater to a younger demographic.

However, until now it seems that the traditional sporting world has remained largely sceptical of the competitive gaming phenomenon. Whilst standard sporting broadcasters like ESPN have recently jumped on the esports bandwagon, sportswear brands like Nike had remained seemingly immune to the pull of esports.

But in April we saw how Adidas announced a partnership with the Danish esports team, North, and so it was only a matter of time before Nike decided to join the fray. And whilst competitive gaming has often been derided for promoting a largely sedentary lifestyle, it seems that Nike’s decision to sponsor an esports player marks a huge turnaround in attitudes for this sportswear brand.