Branding esports: the head of Mother Design talks Andbox, Subliners and the Covid-19 impact
Mark Sloan shares insights to the visual identities for these major platforms in the esports sphere, and considers the future of the sector.
- Jenny Brewer
- 30 March 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
As traditional sports competitions are paused globally, the world of esports could provide an alternative outlet for people’s competitive spirit – and thankfully, its stratospheric rise in the past few years means it’s more than prepared for an influx of players. In New York, esports platform Andbox is the city’s first and largest esports franchise, and fields the city’s flagship teams in the international leagues, as well as hosting tournaments and events, and creating apparel collections in collaboration with designers (such as Public School). One of its teams is the New York Subliners, a professional Call of Duty league team; another is the New York Excelsior (NYXL), a professional Overwatch team. New York’s Mother Design branded all three, Andbox and its teams. Having carved itself a niche in the esports branding market, the studio’s head of design Mark Sloan has some insights to share – starting with how the current crisis might impact the sector.
“Given how Covid-19 has affected traditional sports, some people might soon get into esports who otherwise wouldn’t have,” he says. “During this crazy time we need to connect with others in a meaningful way, and I believe esports have great potential to help foster that connection in today's state of physical isolation.
“From a branding standpoint, an expanding esports universe can only mean more types of creative expression. I’m excited to see what happens when more companies and brands turn their focus to competing there.”
For Andbox, Mother Design was approached to build a new brand that would be “synonymous with esports in New York”. The studio came up with the name, a play on the word ‘sandbox’ which gamers will know refers to an open-world environment that allows players to roam freely and explore, as opposed to being guided through a pre-determined narrative. The name Andbox therefore nods to the platform’s range of disciplines, while the branding similarly needed to be flexible to those offerings, used on kit and other apparel, events (online and in video) and on print promo material. “The design system draws equal inspiration from gaming as it does from NYC,” Mark says. “It’s based on a square grid, which allows for expression and experimentation within a framework. We used the square grid to build type, a suite of logos, and an extensive motion library which will serve as the base for all future efforts. Most exciting for us is seeing how the system evolves, adapts, and grows as time marches on.”
The Subliners were also named by Mark and his team, an invented terminology that refers to subversion and New York’s underground. “Call of Duty is quite a high-pressure, fast-paced game with a vocal fan base, so we knew the name had to fit in that world.” The identity was inspired by WW1 dazzle camouflage, which used bold, contrasting colours and shapes to disorient the opponent. The logo is both a crosshair and a moving target, “a weapon and a provocation,” Mark says, while the typography is an urban interpretation of lettering found in war zones and construction zones. “We wanted to create something aggressive, but which retained a spiritual link to the identities of Andbox and NYXL.”
So what is the major difference between branding esports, compared with a traditional sports team? “I think drawing too many parallels between esports and traditional sports is a missed opportunity to do something exciting,” Mark says. “One major difference has been the ambition of our clients to do something truly exciting. They’ve been great at acknowledging the outdated formulas being used in their space, and receptive to proposals which feel unfamiliar at first.”
Vitally, the sector provides so much more potential to branch out from the expected aesthetics of sports branding, given the organisations’ otherworldly context. “Yes, they're a team, but their ‘field’ is its own visually rich world. If traditional sports teams competed on digital battlefields or in futuristic fantasy worlds, their branding would probably look quite different.”