When something is presented as “for gamers” it typically doesn’t pique the interest of people with a souped up PC or limited edition Nintendo Switch. Years of forced pandering and inauthentic products made “for gamers” has left aficionados cynical to any newcomers.
Despite that, the global rise of esports has seen this market become too large and too lucrative to ignore. This presents non-endemic sponsors with the challenge of wooing an audience that has been conditioned to repel outsiders.
That led to mixed responses when athletic apparel manufacturer Puma debuted its new gaming sock. When the rollout first began for the footwear in December, many saw the product itself as strange and niche. As for the “gaming” label attached to it? It was likely just meant to fit it into a niche it otherwise didn’t actually have.
In reality, the gaming sock wasn’t Puma’s first attempt at creating products meant for gamers. And the socks’ features actually do have appeal for streamers and esports professionals who spend prolonged periods of time in their chair.
“There are a number of obvious differences between active gaming footwear and performance footwear designed for other activities, but the design process starts the same way…by asking how gamers use their feet,” Puma Senior Strategist Matt Shaw told WIN.gg. “Naturally gamers put less physical stress on their footwear, which means that features like cushioning and lateral support are less important. AGF addresses other performance needs, such as comfort with prolonged wear, temperature control, flexibility, and an extremely low profile so that players can, for example, sit cross-legged without taking off their shoes.”
The logic for the product is there. Anyone that has watched an esports event has seen how awkwardly some pros position themselves while playing, with many sitting cross-legged in their chairs and others bringing a foot up onto their seat. A product that can offer the comfort and support of footwear without the swampiness and limited usefulness while sitting in place makes sense for those who are in front of their screens for hours on end.
Puma didn’t just chance upon this idea, either. The gaming sock concept came from the company’s work designing its Playseat gaming chair. From there, Shaw says Puma worked with pro esports teams to make the concept a reality. Response from the pros was “overwhelmingly positive,” with their notes being incorporated into the final design.
Of course, not everyone is a streamer or professional esports talent. For most people, gaming means sitting down and clocking an hour or two of Call of Duty after work or fitting in a game of League of Legends between classes. The gaming sock is a wholly niche product, but that’s perfect in a way.
“Not every gamer will see value in [the gaming sock] but that’s okay! In order to create value for all gamers, you have to create value in many individual gaming communities,” Shaw said. “That will be the hallmark of PUMA’s presence in gaming culture.”
One niche that hasn’t been as catered to yet is esports fans looking for reasonably high-quality merchandise. Esports gear tends to have a limited lifespan, look unattractive, or both. Even institutions like Riot Games and Overwatch League have struggled to deliver for fans looking to rep their brands in public.
Puma is currently the official outfitter of Cloud9, which sees the brand appear in a variety of major esports titles. By delivering for one of esports’ most popular teams, Puma expects that the value of their products will speak for themselves. And by putting a good foot forward with Cloud9, the company might raise the bar for all of esports.
“Just think about the quality of merchandise being sold to gamers at the average con, and how quickly those tee-shirts turn into dish rags,” Shaw said. “Esports fans deserve better. Athletes, too…PUMA will provide the best fan wear and training gear on the market.“