Esports fashion with Emily Rand: Puma helps Cloud9 enter new era

Cloud9's most recent collaboration with Puma looks to tie the team's past to its future with '90s- and aughts-style apparel that features a modern twist. Provided by Cloud9

"Cloud9," or simply "C9," means a lot of things to a lot of esports fans.

For most, the name calls to mind a very specific lineup: the original 2013 North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer roster of An "Balls" Le, William "Meteos" Hartman, Hai "Hai" Lam, Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi and Daerek "LemonNation" Hart.

Nearly 6½ years after their LCS debut, Sneaky is a streamer, influencer and partial owner of C9; Balls is retired; Hai and LemonNation are both with Radiance, in ownership and staff positions, respectively; and Meteos is the only player from the original lineup still actively playing.

Throughout the year, C9 has been working to bridge the gap between the old and the new, the Cloud9 that was and the one that is. From that desire sprang the org's spring collaboration with Puma, a line that embraces the affable, goofy nature of the Cloud9 League of Legends team by putting together 1990s-inspired elements with more modern apparel pieces and trends.

Nineties and early aughts style has been coming back for approximately the past year, at least in mainstream fashion, which also makes this line current in a different way.

"There is a mid-'90s flavor to it that can be seen with the windbreaker, the shorts and the tee graphics," C9 director of merchandising Adrian Gale said, "but we also have a couple of contemporary pieces like the 'one-up' hoodie and sweatpants."

This marks C9's third collaboration with Puma, which has been a team sponsor since 2019. For this collection specifically, both Cloud9 and Puma wanted a line that would market specific pieces to both men and women, styling them accordingly.

"In order to make the line meaningful, we agreed that we needed to offer unique product lines, developed for our male and female fans equally," Gale said. "Spring 2020 was our first opportunity to truly curate a product range that wasn't just graphics on T-shirts. We had the ability to develop a specialty line. We were able to use unique materials and proprietary Puma technologies like dryCELL. We were able to add those small details that help elevate the product and design from the ground up rather than just taking a stock blank tee or hoodie and add branding. It's amazing that PUMA gave us the freedom to create such a unique offering."

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According to Puma's Matt Shaw, the collection began by sending a team of Puma designers to Cloud9's California headquarters to get a sense of C9 as a brand. They shadowed both staff and players, assessing what they wore to various functions and why. They also observed C9 out of the office.

"After getting to the know the brand, we had to see Cloud9 and their fans in action, so we visited several esports tournaments and events to really understand the merchandising landscape and feel the energy and buzz in and around the venues," Shaw said. "There was a lot of inspiration to start concepting and designing. We made sure it was a collaborative process, from ideation to the final product."

"I think that it's important for our fans and consumers to understand that it takes a lot of steps, a talented crew of people and a serious amount of time to bring a complete product line like this to market," Gale added. "It can take well over a year for a proper collection to go from ideas on paper to a full line ready to sell and ship."

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The end result is colorful and fun -- a half-modern, half-retro collection that is true to C9 both past and present. More importantly, it has a women's line that is actually designed and sized for women, rather than a palette-swapped version of the men's line. There's also a variety of apparel and accessory items that are priced so that any C9 fan regardless of budget can come away with something to feel like they're a part of the C9 brand.

"We intentionally designed the collection to be colorful and playful with our graphic T-shirts and the Puma x Cloud9 Glitch women's shorts," Shaw said, "which can be styled to have that retro '80s or '90s look."

Top buy: Strategy Windbreaker, $90

This is the piece that made me want to cover this collection. That and the collection's commercial, filmed with a variety of Cloud9's players and personalities. (Watch it -- you won't be disappointed.)

My first reaction to this windbreaker was that it looks like an old 1990s Starter jacket, especially the women's style, which is a can't-miss-it sky blue. Growing up, I had a Phoenix Suns Starter jacket (I really liked Charles Barkley) and my brother had a Charlotte Hornets one (I have no idea where this came from; we both grew up in Boston). Both teams looked amazing in the Starter jacket style, which included a flat storm panel across the front, just like this Cloud9 windbreaker, and not only had bright main colors but bright accent colors as well. If there's one thing that esports teams don't lean into enough when they choose a color scheme, it's a good, bright accent color.

The trick with Cloud9's branding is that their main color is already a bright sky blue. Most of Cloud9's merchandise plays with this by either using black as the primary color and the Cloud9 blue as a true accent (along with the color white) or relies on it as a main color and uses black and white as accents. The men's windbreaker does the former while the women's does the latter. Of the two, I like the women's color scheme better and wish that they'd stuck with the bold blue for the men's as well (or offered both colors to all). That being said, I love the aesthetic, and for a collection that's bringing a heavy dose of '90s nostalgia, this is a perfect point piece.