While the majority of people over the age of 35 are likely less than inclined to think of video game play as a sport, the numbers say otherwise. In 2016, eGaming was a $493 million industry, and in 2017 (the last year for which data was available), that had jumped to $655 million. Most estimates for 2018 are around $900 million.
The term eSports can refer to a wide range of games in the competitive space, but in general the most popular ones are in the first-person shooter or multi-player online battle arena genres. These are particularly popular among Gen Zers, the up-and-coming generation that is starting to nudge millennials out of the headlines.
Which is why Tilly’s, a Southern California-based apparel and accessories retailer with a particular focus on the teenage customers, is hoping to tap into the trend via a partnership with the High School Esports League (HSEL). HSEL connects more than 1,500 high school virtual sports clubs across North America.
“HSEL harnesses students’ passion for games and gives them a chance to compete with friends at school, with teacher support, and even the chance to get recruited by colleges,” said HSEL Co-Founder & CEO Mason Mullineaux. “As a brand, they understand that this isn’t casual for many gamers – this is a big deal, and they’re stepping up in a big way to give students even more reasons to compete.”
The lifestyle retailer will donate $10,000 to HSEL’s scholarship prize pool. In addition, students from 1,200 high schools in North America have been invited to win prizes by competing in an augmented reality (AR) mobile game that is available at Tilly’s 200-plus retail locations. Those AR games can be played individually or by teams.
The competition officially kicked off a little under a week ago, with students being invited to use their smartphones to scan an AR-enabled code with the Tilly's app to play the official version of the game, which has about another week left to run. The school whose students do the best will receive a new eSports lab when the competition is complete.
The move is one of several Tilly’s has been pursuing recently to draw additional foot traffic in an era when, like many youth-focused retailers, it is seeing its sales constantly shifting online.
AR gaming has been a particular area of focus for Tilly’s, which has been partnering with AR developer Zappar since 2017 on a mobile-based, AR-centric campaign centered on increasing app downloads and driving store traffic. In 2017, for example, the two collaborated on an in-store scavenger hunt with YouTube influencer Shonduras that allowed shoppers to use the retailer's app to collect virtual coins and redeem them for prizes and discounts.
The promotion was a success – and the latest pair-up with HSEL operates on similar logic.
While a love of the competitive AR game might drive customers to Tilly’s stores, the hope is that they might pick something up while they are there.
eSports represents the next natural extension for the brand, and an opportunity to reach the thousands of kids who play in those digital leagues, not to mention the millions who watch them. And the fact that it happens to be the season to pick up summer clothes is all the better for Tilly.
In-store sales, notably, is where the retailer needs to see growth. Consumers are buying Tilly’s products online, as digital growth was up 22 percent in 2018. But in-store sales didn’t fare as well – there was growth, but at 1.4 percent, it wasn’t as much as the retailer wanted to see.
But building a digital gaming experience into a physical shopping journey could bring customers in, and might just add a lot of apps to phones – so if nothing else, Tilly’s can keep expanding those digital sales.