Capturing the look and feel of being a gamer takes more than a character-printed shirt. But for years, there had yet to be a brand which would give the worldwide community their own high-end gateway. As far as this particular landscape went, players were greeted with eSports jerseys or licensed novelty merchandise as daily fits. Mysterious investor, intrapeneur and blockchain technologist “Whale Shark”, remembers the thought was baffling enough to turn into a business on November 20, 2019.
He was a long way from the usual stay at Beijing, mostly carrying his current projects and imagination with him from South Korea. It was a quiet night, with thoughts occupying the room before life would change from 7PM to 9:41PM. He sat firmly in his chair, leaning forward over his computer where every opportunity began. Digits and data were lined in black and white across the screen, but Whale Shark saw colour in his picture for a dedicated line of designer clothes for gamers. This evolved into an investment with would tunnel through a worldwide pandemic and along the evolution of games for 2021.
Instead of the typical character or cosplay item on printed shirts, E1337 would pack a slew of features to tackle every gamer’s problems in their long playthroughs. It would also do away with a certain tackiness which would give gamers an image at face-value (and create an extension with perks). From a mix of cooling and insulation to zipper pockets, each piece of clothing would also carry a mark for veterans across the world’s game lobbies. This gave a brand like E1337 more of a reason to give eSports and casual players their own threads to keep performing. In South Korea’s eSports mecca, the trend was apparent for Whale Shark to also give every kind of team another gateway with fashion. Much like jerseys for specific sports, Whale Shark’s latest venture would strive to do the same with a purpose.
CGMagazine sat remotely with Whale Shark, under the pseudonym for anonymity to discuss his latest E1337 (abbreviated as Elite) fashion line which gives gamers their own high-end fit and its reflection on the world’s growing eSports scene.
Whale Shark: I’ve always been a gamer. And what happened in September of last year is I became a major player or collector of a game called Gods Unchained, which is a TCG or trading a tradable card game based on the blockchain. It’s being run out of a studio in Australia, with a huge backing from a lot of global financial investors. But essentially, what I did was I set up the first eSports team for that game. In September last year. During the course of the journey, I was trying to look for some really nice wearables, or some really nice apparel for my team to wear while they were streaming online, and really couldn’t find anything. Because if you look at if you look at the eSports apparel market, 18 months back, you might have 100 Thieves (brand). That was really the only brand that was really pushing quality and design over anything else in the market.
Everything else was drop ship. So it was just a standard hoodie, standard t shirt, standard baseball cap, and they were just printing their logo or their design on it. So that’s really when the idea was conceived. And since 18 months ago, till now, what we’ve been doing is an ample amount of research, we’ve been doing a ridiculous amount of design work and prototyping. And then after that, a lot of sourcing for the correct suppliers out of Korea in order to deliver on really the world’s first luxury eSports apparel brand. And that really took us out to December 10th, where we had a nice soft launch. Once again, we have a bit of innovation in the marketing and the loyalty points based on the blockchain. But yeah, it took about 18 months to get this through.
CGMagazine: Why is it so hard for gamers to go out there and find some kind of apparel that speaks to them?
Whale Shark: This is the this is where the opportunity lies. So if you look at the sports market, right, eSports is a “sport” and if you look at the “sport market” you have baseball jerseys for baseball players, you have football jerseys for football players, you have Lululemon for people who enjoy doing yoga. And really the “aha” moment for us came in when we said “since eSports is gaining so much I guess since eSports is gaining so much attention. Why isn’t anyone focusing on designing apparel from the ground up for people who just enjoy gaming?” And there are several reasons why. I mean, naturally, when you game you’re most comfortable in jeans, a t-shirt or hoodie. Was it possible and I saw this a little bit as a challenge to reinvent the hoodie in order to be better acclaimed or to be better in line with the gamers lifestyle?
So just taking a hoodie as an example; what we did is we noticed a lot of the hoodies in the market. Firstly, all hoodies are usually hoodies have pockets because you want to put something in. But very few hoodies actually has zippers to zip those pockets up. Now when you’re sitting down, the chances of you dropping your keys and your wallet or anything else in your pocket is pretty high. So what we did was we develop every single range of our hoodies, every single pocket, is all zipper-based so everything has a zipper. In addition to that, what we also looked at was when you’re in a cold environment or when you’re busy playing games and you want to get something quickly out of your pocket, you know a lot of these hoodies (even if they do have zippers) is just these like tiny little tabs. We went to one of the largest manufacturers in the world of zippers and said, “Give us your most super oversized zipper that you can find and provide that to us.” So what happens is that not only do we have the ability to give gamers a peace of mind while they’re sitting down. Nothing’s going to drop out. But you got this awesome tactical, huge-ass zipper that’s easy to open and shut. And it’s also easy to find the tab.
You know, I can go into the details of the material. But I guess one other point that we did when we built out the hoodie, was that a lot of hoodies you know, as its namesake, they have a hood. But what people don’t account for is that, you know, a lot of gamers like to wear these oversized headphones. Or even when people are travelling, right, they like to wear they like to wear over the ear headphones. But when you pair that, really with a hoodie, you can’t really pull the hood over your head and the headphones at the same time. So again, what we did is we went back and we redesigned the size or the dimensions of the hoodie versus the hoodie itself. So that now not only can wear your headphones, but you can also flip your hoodie on at the same time.
In addition to that, you know, I can I can go all textile-nerd on you.
CGMagazine: Oh, please do. Please do
Whale Shark: What we did was instead of going for 100% COTTON BLEND, as you see in a lot of athletic hoodies, we went with a blend of cotton and polyester (a synthetic fabric). And after that, the reason why we did that was because; you know that stereotype behind gamers that they don’t know how to dress well, they’re always a little bit sloppy etc. We wanted really to be able to give gamers something which they could wear, they could wear it for a really long time, and it would look really good. So by adopting this proprietary blend, and weave actually of cotton and polyester, what we’re able to do is to do several types of things. The first thing is that it’s shrink resistant. So it’s not like 100% cotton hoodie where you throw it in and it loses its structure. You can put this thing (and I wouldn’t advise it to anybody. I’ve done it) into a high heat dryer, and the thing is still structured as hell. The other thing is that you need to have a very good blend of cotton and polyester. Because while you want to have the ability for breathability, at the same time, you also want to have the ability to withstand air-conditioned rooms for 12 hours or 18 hours at a time.
And they’re sitting down and their clothes are going to get creased. With a cotton and polyester blend, there’s no wrinkles. This hoodie just doesn’t wrinkle up. So you look nice all the time. The other interesting thing about this, is that because of the weave that we use. So you know, once again, cotton and polyester is great. But because of the weave that we use, the the hoodie is actually dust resistant. Basically, if you were to look inside; typically if you’re wearing a black t-shirt and you wear anything over it, very often you get all of this white lint and everything.
What we did was I had my team go to cybercafés for three months and interview hundreds of gamers in Seoul, Korea: the mecca of eSports. And really just say, “hey, what are the pain points that you have with your clothing and what would you create if you did have the choice to create a piece of clothing?” Number one, they said “I want it to be comfortable, but I want it to look good. I want it to last a very long time. I want it to be warm.” And we took all of this feedback and I think we went through about 10 prototyping sessions to get what we launched with in December 2020.
CGMagazine: Sweat comes from heat a lot as well. And with streamers and eSports gamers either in this live Coliseum or in the room, how do you create something that’s warm as people want, but then at the same time, something that doesn’t cook them alive?
Whale Shark: So it’s two things; it’s the balance between the amount of cotton versus polyester. For us, we use an 80% cotton, 20% polyester blend. So that’s the first thing. So that is the perfect balance. So that you can wear the hoodie indoors and you feel warm in the air condition. But you can go out and it’s so breathable. So let me I’ll just give you an example from my own from my because I’ve been wearing these things for for the last six months, every single day. So I’m sitting in a hotel room in Hong Kong right now. And I have my air conditioner turned down to 20 degrees Celsius, right. Wearing the hoodie perfectly, perfectly nice and warm and snug. I was outside walking today outside in Hong Kong and in Hong Kong is 23 degrees Celsius outside. Perfectly cool, right? So I think again, so the first thing it is the blend of the material and what ratio of cotton to polyester you want to use.
But the second thing, which is actually I would say it’s equally as important, is the type of weave that you use for the inner. What we did was if you use too loose of a weave, what happens is that it loses the ability to retain warmth, within the hoodie, especially you know, if you’re sitting in an air conditioned room for 12 hours. What we went for was an extremely condensed “tactical weave” so that you know, not only not only is it going to be breathable due to the 80% cotton, but because you have that tight weave, it’s still going to be able to retain body heat and keep you warm in air condition in air conditioned room. So it’s a balance between those two, the ratio of cotton to polyester and the type of weave that you use.
CGMagazine: And what were some of the challenges that came from just going through that process from trying out ten different prototypes?
Whale Shark: I guess the first thing is cut right? So you know I’m honestly I’m a very much a “suitorials” – suit, tie, three piece kind of guy. I love wearing hoodies but at the same time, how do you create a cut and design of a hoodie that is going to look as good as if you’re sitting on the stream. But if you can also you know just go out, go to the club or go to the office. How do you create a minimalistic design and cut where it just looks nice. So what we actually did was we went out to the market and bought over 50 t-shirts. And I want to say over 30 hoodies, everything ranging from the $10 hoodie to your $800 hoodie. We looked at all of the different cuts, all of the different design types. And we really settled on a cut that was slim fit, but at the same time, still remain comfortable. So all of our hoodies are actually relatively slim fit. We have about over 100 people who’ve received theirs over the last 10 days, I’ve seen some photos and man, they’re looking nice. Clement, you know, I’m the type of guy who starts something and I really do like to have constructive feedback. But the amazing thing with this is and I do tell this to everybody I speak to but you know, the amazing thing with this is that nobody has anything bad to say about the product yet. I’m waiting for it. I’m waiting for that constructive criticism so that we can build it further. But everybody loves the way that they look in it.
I guess the second thing was really finding the appropriate manufacturer. So again, there are tons of manufacturers in Korea, but who has that proprietary blend and who has a proprietary weave that we can really call tactical? And that can really enhance or match with the needs of the gamers itself. So that was a that was a challenge as well. And then after that, the third largest challenge was I’m a perfectionist. So basically looking at every single item, and making sure just that everything was you know, just buttoned up, down nice, perfect. I think we probably had it at prototype number six or seven. But those last three prototyping activities were for minor details like that, even even, like just boiling down to the to the clothing labels, the tags, the placement, things like that. So yeah, those are probably the three biggest challenges when we we’re building this out.
CGMagazine: Of course, this venture started sometime before the pandemic. Were you expecting something like that to flip your plans around?
Whale Shark: Not at all. When we started, we started in September 2020. Even going into January, we had heard about the first few cases coming out of Wuhan. I never expected COVID to reach the level that it is today. But at the end of the day, even though COVID started to ramp up, the manufacturing was delayed. But fortunately, it is a private venture and I and I’m funding it personally. So unlike other smaller companies, we never had the risk of running into financial ruin. But it did delay the launch. But at the end of the day, we knew we had a good product. We knew that the market was there. So the main thing was just as you and I talked about earlier on just to survive, just to buckle down and make sure that we get it launched. And that’s what we did.
Originally when we started this, we were just looking at South Korea. So we were thinking about, “hey, we’re gonna launch a domestic brand, easier to operate.” But what we found was when we started sending these prototypes around the world, we found that there was a demand worldwide, versus, you know, just Korea. When I’m looking at the sales data that we have since launch, I would say about 60 to 70% is actually coming in from North America and Europe and only 20 to 30% is coming in from Asia as a whole. And Asia as a whole I’m talking about Korea and China. So, you know, we were looking at smaller markets. We were never looking at doing apparel for a single team. But the opportunity just to go global as we launched, I think it was just too apparent to pass up.
CGMagazine: You talked a lot about how the hoodie does in terms of it being like one of the flagship items for E1337. Now did you have any other kind of items that you have in planning or in the pipeline?
Whale Shark: So right now we have three types of items. We have two styles of baseball caps. We have two t-shirts, and we have three types of hoodies. What we’re looking at the moment is expanding the line two long sleeve t-shirts. We are looking at windbreakers. We are looking at some very more innovative or interestingly designed hoodies that are coming in.
But guess what, guess what the number one request has been from the existing client, customer base? I don’t think you’re gonna get this.
CGMagazine: Was it the hoodies?
Whale Shark: No, it wasn’t the hoodie. Guess what the number one item that people have been asking us to produce that we haven’t we that wasn’t even on our radar? Honestly.
CGMagazine: Oh, please don’t tell me it was underwear.
Whale Shark: Yoga pants.
CGMagazine: Yoga pants?
Whale Shark: Yoga pants. I don’t know. I don’t know why. But we’ve gotten I would say probably over over 30 requests so far for “Hey, are you guys gonna do yoga pants?” and these are both based from females as well as males. I don’t even know what male yoga pants look like, right?
CGMagazine: I think they just look like yoga pants (laughs)
Whale Shark: Really? (laughs). I think what’s happening is this; So you know how, you know Razer creates some amazing gaming computers right? Proprietary awesome gaming computers, hugely specked out. But what you find is that the users of Razer gaming computers are not all Pro, you know, they’re not all pro eSports athletes, right? They are people who enjoy having that aesthetic. there are people who enjoy having that power. They are people who enjoy having that specked out beast. I think what I’m seeing from E1337 is the same thing.
So you’re seeing people who are buying the brand, not because it is built for eSports or it’s built for the eSports enthusiasts. The reason why you’re seeing it is because people are attracted to the aesthetic and very similar to the way that people are attracted to a specked out computer or a specked out mouse or specked out keyboard. People are also attracted to specked out apparel. And it’s an interesting dynamic that we’re seeing with that.
CGMagazine: There’s this kind of like gamified treatment over regular things like clothing or computers or even laptops. In your mind when you were designing just clothes for E1337. What was your kind of idea of eSports And with the “gamey” kind of feel to it, what was your kind of vision for that?
Whale Shark: If you looked at the original mood board that we had, I always had the intent to do two things. So the first thing, and I’m very glad that it’s being validated by the customer base that we’re seeing. But the first thing was, I knew that if we created the world’s best apparel, you know, not only gamers were going to like it, but anybody was going to like it. Simply because, you know, you want to have clothing that is long lasting, comfortable. and beautiful. Right? I wanted to spec out clothing like people specked out, you know, the gaming mouse, a gaming keyboard and a gaming laptop I have sitting in front of me. And that’s what we went ahead and did. The second gamification part actually comes in the aesthetic, right? A lot of the design cues that you see for E1337 and you know, if you look at the aesthetic that we have today, everything is black, right? It’s a black cap, it’s a black hoodie, it’s a black t-shirt, black, all matte black everything. What I really loved back then was looking at RGB inspired hoodies.
You know, there’s two aesthetics from gaming. When you look at gaming hardware, you see RGB. And after that, you see you see the gold minimalism. Right? What we went for is the gold minimalism first, just plain black with a little hint, with accents and gold. That really brought out not only a “minimalist” feel to it, but at the same time a high-tech modern aesthetic to the clothing itself. And the second thing is, how do you translate the aesthetic of that hardware into a series of apparel, so that it can still represent the spirit or the aesthetic that gamers are accustomed to or enjoy? You know, we’re looking at some crazy things. Some very, some very new designs, I put it that way, we’re looking at some very new designs for the ranges to follow. And once again, they’re all tech inspired. They’re all gaming inspired. They’re all cutting edge hardware inspired. So that’s the way that we gamified the process. In addition to that, what we did was we also employed (and this was we employed him way before Cyberpunk 2077 released). But we actually hired a Cyberpunk artist to design a lot of the authenticity certificates and whatnot, that are also provided to the collectors. We tried to gamify the process as much as possible. And, you know, there are other things that we do in terms of the blockchain that make it even more fun.
CGMagazine: I have been saving this topic and I know how much you love talking about blockchain. But how did that aspect factor so heavily into E1337?
Whale Shark: So if you go to Loblaws, you have loyalty points, right? Let’s say you spend $10, they’ll give you 10 loyalty points or something. Basically, if you have loyalty points, really the only thing you’re allowed to do with them is you’re just allowed to hold them, and maybe redeem for something that Loblaws says that you can redeem it for. What the team did was create a loyalty points system that is fully on the blockchain. The brand is called E1337, the loyalty point system is called “LEET” suggest 1337. And it’s almost like Bitcoin, right? It is a fully functional cryptocurrency, where if you purchase any E1337 item, we give 5% of the value back to the individual in 1337, or in this loyalty token.
We believe that the blockchain is the future. I think you can see it and I know that the regular person’s interaction with the blockchain is the bitcoin price that people see on CNBC or Bloomberg or everywhere else. But you know, what people don’t understand is that the functionality of the blockchain is going to change everything. And I wanted to use E1337 as a way to showcase that leading edge technology, what we did with elite is we integrated blockchain into two aspects of it. So the first thing is that every single person that buys a piece of E1337 clothing, they also receive what we call a non fungible token. What a non fungible token is that it is a record on the blockchain that piece of clothing is from E1337 limited and not from anywhere else. And so I can guarantee that this piece of clothing is 100% fully authentic.
What we are able to do with non fungible tokens Is that you can actually register it to the blockchain in any sort of a picture or video that you want. So what I did was I hired a very prominent Cyberpunk artist to do a series of artworks where people when they purchase an E1337, let’s say they purchase an elite hoodie, they get Cyberpunk artwork number one, which also serves as a certificate of authenticity. So you know, they not only get a certificate, but they also get a amazing piece of artwork from a prominent artist.
CGMagazine: How differently do you think blockchain works when it’s tailored in the world of video game investments?
Whale Shark: I think it is the natural and essential evolution of all gaming companies. And let me tell you why. So right now, your generation as well as the generation in front of you. So the younger generation, they’re growing up in a time where a lot of their assets are digital base, right? If I was to pull aside a 17 year old or 18 year old and say, Hey, what’s your most prized possession, it’s not going to be the teddy bear that I collected when I was three, it’s going to be a skin from Fortnite or something along those lines. The issue with digital skins or digital collectibles is that you don’t really own them because they’re locked in the platform itself. And if you wanted to sell a skin, sometimes platforms can make that very difficult for you. Now, as we move into an age of digital collectibles, where, you know, digital collectibles need to become as tangible as physical collectibles. That’s where the blockchain comes in.
Because there is now technology, which allows these game studios to say, “if you buy the skin, you really own it. You own the non fungible token. You can sell it wherever you want, you can give it away to whoever you want.” You can do whatever you want with it. And that’s really true ownership over your digital collectibles, I think is coming relatively quickly. One of the potential triple A titles that I’ve seen that has been leveraging this technology really well is Blanko’s Block Party, once again, a small studio with a very strong pedigree out of California. Every single one of their characters are NFT based. So it’s like collecting a vinyl toy. But at the same time, it’s a digital vinyl toy Blanko’s doesn’t own. I can take that Blanko’s or that vinyl toy and I can sell it anywhere I want.
You can now browse the E1337 eSports and gaming clothing line with online orders available across 2021.