London creatives Lovegunn tell us how it rethought traditional sports branding to create the identity of British esports team Excel.
Esports is rising in popularity across the west, with the holding of video game tournaments becoming more widely accepted and exposed (and, indeed, lucrative).
As the sport grows in stature, it's natural that more attention is being paid to make professional gameplay look more polished and 'on-brand.' As physical sports like football can expect millions put into the marketing and general look of championships and teams, so too is changing the look of esports in general as audience donations pile up.
Hot on the heels of a stylish rebrand for the League of Legends European Championship (the LEC, previously known as the EU LCS) comes a revamped look for British esports team Excel, courtesy of Shoreditch-based creatives Lovegunn.
Excel Esports was founded by brothers Kieran and Joel in 2014, and last year became the surprise underdog entry in to the LEC, paying €10.5 million to enter the franchise. The team wanted to complement their raised platform with a new image - much like any sporting brand with a big cash infusion - and Lovegunn were called in to level up their look.
But how did Lovegunn's past work with motoring brand TVR and football giants Chelsea FC ready them for the task, if at all?
"Our past experience has given us experiences and insights into the way brands need to function and form in order to create fandom," says Lovegunn creative director Tom Love by email. "This in turn allows a brand to resonate and grow a following," he continues.
For Tom, the unique challenge of designing for Excel was to be able to understand the audience being targeted whilst at the same time also ensuring the final design was inclusive for future fans.
"Esports has gone under the radar of the mainstream media for quite some time, but as we’re seeing in Asia and the US, it’s drawing huge audience figures both on and offline," he says. "We had to look ahead and see how the industry is growing and be able for Excel to stay relevant as esports becomes a mainstream form of entertainment."
The Lovegunn project included a new logo mark, typographic style, colour palette, tagline and hashtag, and even concepts for how Excel can package their official team kits and merchandise, with players' gaming names emblazoned on the packaging (as below).
"Merch can be a big driver in revenue for esports teams," Tom explains, "and we wanted to start thinking about the end-to-end fan experience and how that can transcend from online to the physical world."
The Excel aesthetic includes a chevron graphic motif, which Tom says is indicative of 'momentum'.
"That’s what the whole rebrand was about - creating this bold vision of movement and acceleration," he tells us. "We also took influences from current tends within fashion, music and street culture to form a modern brand that allows Excel to (become a) lifestyle brand."
In other words, Excel are now more than an esports team, and its players are positioned like any other athletic hero. After all, esports stars usually start off with a solo following long before they join a team.
"The players are the stars of esport, and their following is sometimes even stronger than the team they're playing for," Tom continues.
"We want to champion the roster of talent Excel have and put them in the same light as footballers and other professional sports stars. Professional esports players undergo rigorous training programmes which most people don’t know.
"In the workshops we conducted with Excel, it became clear that the narratives of the team and individual players were of upmost importance. As such we wanted to use the rebrand to highlight the players as both individuals and as a cohesive whole."
This highlighting is done for the traditional demographic of esports followers, which Tom describes as predominantly male gamers aged 13-35 who are highly engaged with the gaming community.
"The exciting thing about this rebrand though is that it comes at a time where the esports industry is experiencing massive growth," Tom adds.
"This challenged us to create a brand capable of serving both the existing esports community as well as a new demographic and wave of fans which the entire esports industry predicts to grow in the next couple of years."
The 2020s will be an exciting time then for esports branding, and Lovegunn are clearly leading the way in this brave new world of sports marketing.