On August 15, 2019, North American esports organization FaZe Clan added the rapper Offset to its ownership group, as reported by Adam Fitch at esports Insider. This isn’t FaZe Clan’s first connection to the hip-hop community, as Lil Yachty was welcomed into the group as gaming member “FaZe Boat” in December 2018 and deemed media to call the group the “Supreme of esports.”
Now as odd as the first paragraph may read, the fusion of hip hop and sports has an extensive history, most recently with Jay-Z’s controversial partnership with the NFL to “enhance the NFL’s live game experiences and to amplify the league’s social justice efforts” (NFL News). With so many hip-hop artists trying to expand their investments alongside their interests, it’s not too surprising that they are supporting the world of gaming, as the new crop of musicians grew up during the greatest proliferation of video game options ever. In the last 10 months alone:
- Wiz Khalifa collaborates with the Pittsburgh Knights to be a creative director and lead live marketing/entertainment effort
- Drake co-owns, acts as a strategic advisor and collaborates on apparel for 100 Thieves, in addition to investing in Players’ Lounge, a gaming tournament platform for casual and amateur players
- Tory Lanez joins Luminosity Gaming’s ownership group and serves as global ambassador for the franchise
- The Weeknd invests in Overactive Media, working with the Overwatch League’s Toronto Defiant on unique joint efforts
- Diddy invests in Play VS, a company that drives esports competitions in high schools and that I’ve discussed in previous posts
Yes, there’s certainly the factor at play that these artists see an opportunity to make money, however, it’s not the only reason they get involved. They are also welcomed with open arms by franchises, games and brands that want to attract new audiences. Samsung and Hyper X have leveraged Travis Scott and Post Malone, respectively, in two high-profile examples of bringing in popular hip-hop artists to make gaming more accepted by mainstream audiences and drive affinity amongst their key demographics of teens and young adults, groups which overlap greatly with that of hip-hop listeners. Young males are the predominant audience for both gaming and hip-hop music, so when Drake and Scott joined megastar Ninja on his Fortnite stream, they shattered viewing records on Twitch and added legitimacy to the space.
Other brands that are having great success tapping into the connection between these two cultures are apparel companies: Kanye West’s Yeezy line with adidas and Drake’s OVO brand have become staples for athletes and fans at competitions; StockX (the streetwear reseller) created the first esports locker room; Nike announced it’s the official footwear partner of China’s League of Legends Pro League; and K-Swiss launched an Immortals-partnered sneaker, to name a few. These brands have already built synergies with the hip-hop community; building up the lifestyle of gamers into something aspirational, as in traditional sports where athletes often lead fashion trends. Viewers and gamers appear to greatly enjoy this evolution because for many years, the mainstream looked down upon their activity as a basement-level hobby. With the support of these music icons and major brands, that external perception is dwindling.
Our research on esports earlier this year highlighted how important gaming content – generated by non-endemic sources – is to growing the industry, and this trend seems to be building rapidly in the hip-hop space. However, the impact runs deeper than this. Brands that are willing to foster esports into a welcoming space are the ones seeing the greatest returns, and there may be no better way to do that than to integrate it into another culture that also had many detractors in its early days – rap.