When former NBA 2K League MVP Nidal “Mama Im Dat Man” Nasser finds himself in a tense match, he reminds himself that he has a secret weapon: his shorts.

Last year, Nasser signed an endorsement deal with basketball apparel brand Point3 to help design gaming shorts with towel-like fabric — called “DRYV technology” — built into them for quick and easy hand drying.

“My hands were getting sweaty from gripping the controller,” Nasser said. “Now I just quickly swipe my hand on the towel [fabric built into the shorts], and I’m good to go.”

The product served as one of Point3’s first forays into esports “performance wear” — gear that purportedly makes you better at gaming. “In the beginning, I’m not going to lie — I was skeptical,” Nasser said. “But the more I wore the shorts while playing, I realized: I am swiping my hands on this towel [fabric built into the shorts] every single day.”

But Point3’s shorts are just the tip of the iceberg. In the last few years, many companies — from major players to start-ups — have begun to dive into developing esports performance wear, and now a variety of products abound: compression sleeves to prevent muscle cramping; gamer gloves designed to help with sweaty hands; blue-light-blocking gamer glasses to reduce eyestrain; and even slipper-like esports sneakers to achieve … who knows what, from brands like Puma and K-Swiss.

And as more professional gamers begin using these products, companies are hopeful that this could be the start of the next big trend in esports fashion.

“We felt like there wasn’t a ton of thought and innovation that had gone into the performance gaming space,” said Michael Luscher, Point3’s founder and CEO, who shifted his company’s attention to esports at the start of the pandemic in early 2020. While streetwear has come naturally for esports, with items like hoodies and joggers already popular with its core demographic, Luscher believes the performance market is “still very much developing” and will be flooded with new and innovative products in the next few years, driven largely by gamers.

“Our collaboration with Nidal was really organic,” he said. “We’re now getting inbound inquiries from gamers who want to bring ideas to us, and they know it’s not for a big paycheck. It’s because they want to make some cool stuff.”

This recent surge in performance wear is no surprise to Chuck Tholl, a research associate at German Sport University Cologne. Over the past six years, Tholl and his team have been researching the physical and mental exertion of esports athletes, helping to develop optimal training and recovery programs. He notes that many professional teams have begun treating their players like traditional athletes, such as by bringing in nutritionists, physical therapists and psychologists, so performance wear is a logical next step.

And while the jury is still out on whether this gear has any true physical benefits, Tholl says there are, at the very least, positive psychological impacts.

“At this moment, there is no physiological evidence that those things — compression and what not — work,” he said. “But placebo effect is commonly discussed: If you think it’s helping you, then it may impact you. Wearing particular clothes improves your mind-set and makes you more focused.”

Many professional gamers say the gear provides subtle but noticeable benefits to their performance.

Audric “JaCkz” Jug, a “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” player for G2 Esports, says compression sleeves have become a necessity for “arm players” like himself — that is, PC gamers who rest their forearm on a table while using the mouse.

“It’s all about reducing friction,” he said. “Depending on the surface, my arm can sometimes stick to the table, but the sleeve guarantees it always feels smooth.”

Jug, who is not sponsored by any performance apparel company, has been using compression sleeves and experimenting with gaming gloves for years. Recently, he said, more and more professional gamers have begun following suit. He estimates that so far this year, at least one or two players on each team he has played against was wearing a sleeve or glove.

“Years ago, they used to ask me, ‘Why do you wear that sleeve?' ” Jug said. “Now they’re all asking me, ‘Where did you get that sleeve?' because they understand the benefits.”

For Mohamed “Revenge” Kaddoura, a “League of Legends” player for the esports organization Immortals, it all comes down to comfort. Immortals has a partnership with Point3, and Kaddoura often wears the brand’s compression sleeve and moisture-wicking sweater, especially when competing professionally in arenas, which are notorious for their frigid temperatures.

“The last thing you want is to be distracted from being sticky or being cold,” said Kaddoura. “[These products] don’t feel like I’m wearing anything … which helps me stay focused on the game.”

The same is true for Gabriel “LaXInG” Mirelez, a “Rainbow Six Siege” player for Oxygen Esports, who also emphasizes that gaming apparel positively impacts his reaction times. According to Mirelez, in the cutthroat world of professional gaming — where fractions of a second could determine whether you win or lose — players look for every edge they can get.

“Anyone who understands esports realizes that these things do make a difference,” said Mirelez, who typically wears a sleeve and blue-light-blocking glasses to alleviate eyestrain. “Every little thing contributes to your split-second decision-making and fast movements. That’s what determines really good players from the not-so-great ones.” Mirelez is an ambassador for the eyewear company Gunnar’s blue-light gaming glasses.

But while professional esports teams are taking this apparel seriously, the question remains: Will these niche products ever find mainstream success? According to Dae Hee Kwak, the director of the Center for Sport Marketing Research at the University of Michigan, esports performance wear faces an uphill battle largely because so many consumers still view video games as a relatively sedentary activity and may not see the need for specialized esports outfits.

“They’ll need to make this apparel firmly part of the subculture of esports,” said Kwak. “Once you make this gear the norm — combined with endorsement deals from famous teams — it’ll start to trickle down, and then anyone even a bit serious about gaming will want to buy $60 shorts or own multiple pairs of gloves.”

Kwak admits that this cultural shift could take a while, though there is precedent. When the sports apparel brand Under Armour was founded in 1996, Kwak says, it viewed everyday cotton T-shirts as its direct rivals. It took years of marketing for the brand to convince mainstream consumers that there was a benefit to its synthetic — and more expensive — fabric, and now it is standard fare in the fitness industry.

“They wanted to change the culture and get people to wear a polyester compression garment when they work out,” Kwak explained. “They gradually convinced their audience to buy into that idea, and Under Armour has gone from a fringe company to a major player — but it took a while.”

With esports, the generational shift could perhaps accelerate that. Breanne Harrison-Pollock, co-founder and creative director of Ateyo, one of the first companies dedicated solely to esports performance wear, has noticed these products resonate strongly with Generation Z.

“In 2017, when we said we were going to make performance apparel for gamers, everyone said we were completely crazy,” she said. “But to build clothes to sit down in is drastically different than clothes to stand up in … Anyone who is really young already identifies as a gamer and gets it, so it’s the moms and dads that we kind of have to convince.”

According to Harrison-Pollock, the hope is that one day people will naturally throw on dedicated esports clothes before they game, just as they’d wear specialized outfits for sports like basketball or tennis.

“It’ll become more integrated into everyday life, as opposed to just a streamer or esports pro who wears it,” she said.

Only time will tell whether mainstream audiences will buy into esports performance wear, but in the meantime, pros like NBA 2K League’s Nasser hope to see more products down the line to address gamers’ needs. And to the skeptics, he offers one piece of advice:

“You have to try it before you knock it,” he said with a laugh. “That’s as simply as I can put it.”

Gregory Leporati is a freelance writer and photographer covering esports, tech and travel. His recent work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Engadget and Ars Technica. Follow him on Twitter @leporparty.

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