Esports fashion with Emily Rand -- FaZe lean on Offset to build brand in Atlanta

Emily Rand for ESPN

Atlanta can be a tricky market.

The city's fans have a reputation of being indifferent toward their professional sports teams. Perhaps this is because Atlanta frequently becomes a placeholder for Southern states without pro teams until those fans find a tangible connection to another team. Still, the Atlanta faithful I've found are fiercely dedicated to their teams, their city and their state, so if you can get a buy-in from them, they'll likely be fans for life.

And putting traditional sports aside, Atlanta has as much claim to being an "esports city" as any in North America.

From Turner Broadcasting's 2016 ELeague Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament in Atlanta to the Overwatch League's Atlanta Reign and now the Call of Duty League franchise, the Atlanta Faze, Atlanta has become the professional video game hub of the Southeast. It seemed only natural that during Call of Duty franchising, Atlanta would receive a team, especially when Atlanta Esports Ventures (Cox Enterprises, Province Inc.), the owners of the Atlanta Reign, became involved.

The interesting part is the team and brand Atlanta purchased: FaZe Clan.

FaZe Clan is a product of Los Angeles, not Atlanta. Initially a Call of Duty clan founded by the trio of "CLipZ", "Housecat" (Timid) and "Resistance," FaZe was a trickshotting group. Through the years, they gained popularity on YouTube and are now one of Call of Duty's largest brands -- and one of arguably (depending on how one feels about OpTic) two brands that were allowed to keep their existing names come franchising and with good reason.

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Part of FaZe's success as a brand, in addition to their YouTube prowess, is their branding and merchandising. The organization currently features a Kappa collection and a few collaborative items with Champion, both of which were spotted at the Call of Duty League's Atlanta homestand last week.

Unlike the first collection covered in this column, the New York Excelsior's limited edition homestand collection by Mitchell & Ness, the Atlanta FaZe's apparel at their first-ever home tournament had to bridge a different gap. The NYXL's initial task was introducing a new brand to a new audience while minding an initial cultural and language barrier. FaZe, on the other hand, are trying to tie the brand to their new home in Georgia.

"FaZe is the easiest to work with," said Rocky Savio, the chief merchandising officer for the Atlanta FaZe. "They have given us a lot of runway with what we can do. Obviously we stay within the context of the FaZe: red, black, white, keeping it cool, keeping it hip."

For Savio and his team, the Atlanta homestand was an opportunity to tie the existing FaZe brand to the city itself through merchandising. This started with something as simple as rebranding the #FaZeUp red foam finger to include the "AF" logo of the Atlanta FaZe over the original FaZe Clan logo. Tying Atlanta to FaZe also took on some more complex overtures, such as an apparel collaboration with Georgia-born rapper Kiari Kendrell Cephus (Offset) of the hip-hop trio Migos. Offset is also an investor in FaZe Clan and, Savio added, "an amazing ambassador for Atlanta and esports."

"At the end of the day, I think the product is really good," Savio said. "Offset had full creative powers over it, and it came to be last week. That's his logo. He came up with that logo. He did the foil to it, and we put the twist on it. We picked the garment for it, but that's 100 percent Offset."

More: The NYXL's approach to building a cross-cultural fashion brand | More esports events put on hold due to coronavirus | The story behind Escape from Tarkov's rise

The FaZe booth was filled with the Fanatics' standard Call of Duty League collection, the FaZe's own Offset collaboration and, later that Sunday morning, a special merchandising drop from FaZe content creator and influencer Austin "Pamaj" Pamajewon. Pamaj's peach hoodie, again tying the FaZe branding to the city of Atlanta, this time through the iconic Georgia peach. The hoodies had sold out by midday, and the floor seating for every Atlanta FaZe match was peppered with yellow Pamaj hoodies.

Pamaj and the FaZe team had been advertising them prior to the homestand and through the night before the on-site launch.

"I was standing out there this morning," Savio said, "and the kids were coming in, and I started talking to them, and they're like 'I've been following it all night on my Twitter. I couldn't wait to get here. I couldn't wait to pick one up.' If you create a good product and a unique product, they will buy it. It just has to be something different. It has to be high quality."

Buy of the CDL homestand: Pamaj peach hoodie | $74.99

As mentioned previously, in addition to the Offset collection, the other big collaboration for the Atlanta FaZe at their first home event was the Pamaj peach hoodie. It sold out on-site during launch day and featured an embroidered peach on the front with Pamaj's vowelless "FKN PRFCT" tagline on the hood. Furthermore, these may have been particularly limited due to a misprinting error, according to Pamaj himself.

Admittedly, this hoodie is not to my personal taste. However, as someone who has been more than willing to drop $69.99 on a Johnny Cupcakes hoodie, this is priced perfectly for the market.