Increasingly big names from the music world are turning their attention to gaming
The past week has been a game-changing one for FaZe Clan, the pioneering esports company that’s been no stranger to the game of pop-culture disruption.
On April 10, the Los Angeles gaming and lifestyle conglomerate announced a major cash infusion from iconic entertainment entrepreneur Jimmy Iovine and a partnership with the e-commerce platform NTWRK.
Iovine’s blue-chip successes include everything from the founding of Interscope Records to the launch of Beats Electronics with Dr. Dre.
NTWRK is known for working with multinational brands such as Nike and Adidas, as well as for helping megastars like Billie Eilish get limited-edition merch to fans. The deal sees NTWRK – which was cofounded by Iovine’s son James in 2018 – secure direct-to-consumer rights for FaZe products, streetwear being the big one. FaZe is the first esports operation to team up with NTWRK.
“We’re at the birth of a new disruptive entertainment genre,” Iovine said in a statement. “FaZe Clan is a very powerful pipeline into gaming culture and their cultural impact reminds me of the early days of 90s hip hop. The combined reach of FaZe Clan and NTWRK is going to be very powerful.”
The reference to 90s hip-hop is worth noting. Right from the moment it first took root on the streets of New York, hip-hop was about a lifestyle as much as music. If you were all-in on hip-hop early on, Run-DMC was the reason that you sprang for that pair of white Adidas, the Beastie Boys were responsible for your oversized and illegally obtained VW necklace, and N.W.A was the sole reason you never left the house without your Los Angeles Raiders baseball cap.
Flash forward a few decades, and today hip-hop is not only the most consumed music genre in the music, but it’s also a way of life that’s deeply entwined with fashion (LRG, Gucci, BAPE), liquor (Cîroc, Armand de Brignac), electronics (SMS Audio, Beats), and cannabis (Eaze, Bhang).
And that’s just the high-wattage side of things. Hip-hop is so pervasive, it even has its tentacles in the pet-food market. The next time you pick up a bag of Dog for Dog food, tell them Calvin Broadus sent you.
Paving the way for upstart empires like 100 Thieves, FaZe Clan realized early on that you need more than gamers under your umbrella.
The organization started out with a small group of players on the Call of Duty battlefield, and today maintains its roots in gaming, co-owning the Atlanta FaZe, which plays in Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty League.
It also manages over 85 player-influencers in leagues such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, FIFA, and Fortnite Battle Royale.
Today, FaZe Clan remains YouTube’s most followed gaming organization, with a reach on its social-media channels (215 million fans and counting) outstripping that of NFL teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers combined. It pulls in a staggering 500 million views per month. Translated, that means a lot of people are paying attention. And when people are paying attention to someone they admire – whether it’s Drake, Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, or Taylor Swift – they often want to model their behaviour on them.
Those in the FaZe Clan family go by their gamer tag, preceded by FaZe. FaZe Clan’s FaZe Banks has 2.5 million followers on Twitter. FaZe Adapt has 2.6 million followers. FaZe brethren use their online clout for everything from pushing their favourite musicians to fundraising for children’s hospitals and COVID-19 relief.
Most importantly, they also use their social-media leverage to sell a brand. The FaZe Clan brand.
Odds are that you’re not going to be securing your own room in the FaZe mansion in the Hollywood Hills, where gamers, designers, and vloggers not only live and inspire each other, but have valuable team bonding time in the property’s billiards room, spa, home theatre, and library.
But you can feel like you’re part of the FaZe Clan dream world by springing for branded T-shirts, hoodies, and sweatpants.
Last year, FaZe Clan pulled in US$135 million, 35 per cent of which was from merchandise sales, according to industry analysts. Look for those figures to rise in a big way in the months to come.
The appeal of the FaZe Clan life doesn’t stop with the idea of getting paid obscenely well to spend your time immersed in gaming.
There’s something liberating about knowing that antiquated generations don’t understand why anyone would want to watch gaming on Twitch or YouTube—the irony being that those generations see nothing strange about spending hours watching baseball on NBC or the NFL on Fox.
To pull on apparel by 100 Thieves or FaZe Clan is to your fellow human beings known that you’re part of a culture-jamming, game-changing world. And spreading the word about that new world is where the deal with NTWRK comes in.
“NTWRK brings a wealth of product experience to the table,” FaZe Clan CEO Lee Trink told the Wrap. “They do the manufacturing and all of the back-end process of the merch. We very much continue to be brand stewards ourselves we haven’t abdicated that role, and we have all approval rights on creative aspects. It’s important that we retain control of what the brand looks like. But they’ve got a team that helps us with the design, manufacturing and a lot of the strategy around merchandising. And they also bring relationships. Jimmy’s Rolodex is second-to-none. He brings more than just capital.”
Like the FaZe Clan team, Iovine understands that sometimes audiences want to be more than passive consumers. Sometimes they want to dive headfirst into the deep end of a lifestyle.
This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight.