With over 250 million registered players, Fortnite is unquestionably become a gaming phenomenon. The free to play battle royale style game, where up to 100 players drop from flying bus into a large island in order to gun one another down in a slightly cartoonish style in order to become the last person standing, has taken over the gaming industry. It’s no secret that the Fortnite style of game play, known as battle royale, has become ubiquitous in the gaming community, with most multiplayer game developers launching some form of the game play style on their own titles.
Fortnite is largely funded by players who, as opposed to paying anything for the game itself, pay for items that personalize their appearance (i.e., “skins”). This is a strategy that has clearly worked for Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite, which reportedly grossed $3 billion in 2018 with this model.
Epic has been running a massively successful branding and advertising operation through Fortnite, having collaborations with the likes of Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Summit Entertainment’s John Wick, the NFL, and Wendy’s.
Now, in its latest move, Epic has teamed with Nike’s Jordan Brand to bring a set of skins that have the characters wearing classic Air Jordan 1s. These virtual kicks will be offered in various color schemes, like the venerable red and black associated with the Chicago Bulls. The skins, like most in Fortnite, will be offered only for a limited time.
This collaboration between Nike and Epic is perfect on so many levels. Given the limited time offering of the skins in Fortnite, and the similar mass appeal of Jordan Brand shoes among a very dedicated type of consumer, the synergies are perfectly aligned. There is little doubt that the sneaker heads will be dropping plenty of V-Bucks (the in-game currency used in Fortnite, which can be earned over time or purchased with real world currencies) on these new skins.
Another great aspect of this collaboration is that we are seeing real world companies put branded products in virtual worlds, and capitalizing off of it. While it is not public what the split is on these virtual goods, it is in any case a win for both Epic, which is undoubtedly going to profit from the sales of the Air Jordan 1 skins, and Nike, by keeping its products relevant in new mediums in attempts to maintain one of its flagship brands, which faltered slightly in 2018.
From an intellectual property standpoint, the deal is interesting as we see not only Nike’s licensing the Jordan branding for certain use in the game, but also the generation of new virtual IP, in the form of the in-game graphical representations of the sneakers. These are the kind of deals we will undoubtedly see more and more of, as video games and eSports become ever more a part of the mainstream fabric. It will become even more interesting as the professional eSports players start having not only brand deals with companies for out-of-game endorsements, but what will invariably be in-game endorsement deals as well.
The future is bright for the eSports community, and deals like the one between Nike’s Jordan Brand and Epic’s Fortnite serve as a reminder that we are on the verge of an entirely new world of advertising and branding principles.