Nike’s esports strategy focuses on three things. A region: China. A game: League of Legends. And a mission: player health.
The athletic apparel brand’s first esports ad, created by Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, packages this strategy into a 90-second energy-fueled bootcamp dubbed Camp Next Level.
In the ad, professional players for the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) in China spend time doing just about everything except actually gaming: think kickboxing, eating apples and napping. In esports as a whole, there has been an increased focus on players’ mental and physical health through fitness and nutrition. At Camp Next Level, retired League of Legends star Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao shows off a new Nike compound to a group of top players.
While the ad doesn’t mention it, this is a personal mission for Uzi. The player, widely regarded the best Attack-Damage Carry of all time (think Steph Curry or LeBron James), retired this summer. As James fights for a ring in his 17th NBA season with the Los Angeles Lakers, he seems to still have more seasons in the tank. Uzi, on the other hand, retired at the age of 23.
This may seem counterintuitive—esports players have less physical wear-and-tear on their bodies than traditional sports athletes do. But the lack of athletic outlets leads to more health problems, not fewer.
“Our goal is to inspire gamers with a nonstop entertaining film,” said Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai creative director Jeff Fang. “We don’t want to preach. And most people don’t like to be told ‘go work out.’ But gamers are incredibly competitive. Top players put in 16-hour days, six days a week—which can take a massive toll on their body. We believe strengthening their bodies and minds can help take their game to the next level.”
Last year, Nike broke into esports by signing an apparel deal with the LPL. The company also released a documentary where Uzi, then still an active player, was brought to the Nike campus to go through physical tests. The results weren’t great.
For Uzi, even at the age of 23, health problems overtook his career. He’s not an anomaly, either. The average age of a League of Legends player in 2017 was just 21 years old, according to an ESPN study. Even in the NFL, which has the youngest average age of all major American professional sports leagues, it’s 26.
Uzi is the face of Nike’s esports strategy. He appeared as part of James’ “Shut Up and Dribble” campaign, was the subject of a documentary last year, and a giant holographic version of him greets players in this ad.
His retirement oddly could make him a better Nike spokesperson. He’s a walking reminder that even if a player can dominate the top region for League of Legends esports, if they don’t take care of their out-of-game health, that success can drop in an instant.