Nike Takes on Esports With ‘Gamer Exclusives’ Sneaker Drops

If sneakerheads want to score Nike’s next exclusive sneaker drop, they’ll need to start brushing up on their NBA 2K skills.

Nike and one of the most popular basketball simulation video games out there — NBA 2K20 — are collaborating on a unique sneaker drop that connects Nike’s SNKRS app with a new in-game mode giving players the chance to gain access to a group of limited-edition sneakers.

The move points to the rise of the esports and gaming culture as more than a flash in the pan and a major opportunity for brands to gain relevance with plugged-in youth and other influencers in the space.

The collection of sneakers is known as “Gamer Exclusives” or (GEs), and Nike said these shoes will be exclusive to players of the MyPLAYER Nation game mode. In MyPLAYER Nation, players create and customize their own virtual avatar to pit their skills against other players in a shared game world that mimics the schedule of the actual 2019–2020 NBA season.

Throughout the season, players will have the opportunity to access a GE sneaker by reaching specific in-game milestones. The first GE drop will be available only to players that have progressed their virtual character’s rating to surpass that of Los Angeles Lakers small forward Lebron James—arguably the best player in the league—and not likely an easy task.

However, the reward will be exclusive access to the “flooded purple” Lebron 17 basketball sneaker, featuring the NBA 2K20 logo and slogan, and a colorway that pays tribute to the Lakers’ iconic purple accents.

“The backbone of the project is a combined membership experience, supporting a shared community of gamers and sneaker fans,” Nike said. “The experience comes to life in MyPLAYER Nation, a new game mode cocreated by 2K and Nike Basketball.”

Players will only be able to access the benefits of these accomplishments by pairing their NBA 2K20 profile to their SNKRS app profile. Once connected, any GE sneakers earned will then show up on the app. Nike said it plans to release a total of 10 GEs throughout the NBA season. Nine will be accessed through milestones similar to the first, while a 10th can only be unlocked through what the brand called a “surprise Nike SNKRS cam execution.”

Although players will be required to purchase these sneakers in real life in order to obtain them, unlocking a GE in-game will also give players access to a virtual version that their characters can wear.

The SNKRS app has emerged as one of Nike’s primary focuses, allowing it the opportunity to become “personal at scale.” In the company’s most recent conference call in September, former Nike CEO Mark Parker said that Nike’s objective would be to grow the app and “amplify those experiences through partnerships.”

“The SNKRS app has truly redefined our connection with the sneaker community. It’s now in 22 countries with more room to grow in EMEA and APLA, and it grew roughly 50 percent this quarter. We’ve also begun to test a new opportunity within sneakers on high heat apparel. The early read from our members on our pilots has been very positive,” Parker said. “As I’ve said before, the Nike app is the most comprehensive one-stop-shop for Nike. It’s become the largest and fastest-growing platform in our portfolio, growing almost triple digits this quarter.”

And there’s growing evidence that the lines between the real world and the digital continue to blur, with virtual influencers like Lil Miquela garnering millions of Instagram followers, despite her ostensibly animated appearance, and Fortnite encouraging gamers to pay up for the latest skins—or styles—for their digital characters. And with brands like Carlings releasing wholly digital fashion collections, it could be only a matter of time before clothing solely produced in pixels goes fully mainstream.

Editor’s Note: This story was reported by FN sister magazine Sourcing Journal. For more, visit Sourcingjournal.com.

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