Chinese League of Legends player Jian “Uzi” Zihao of Royal Never Give Up (RNG) just became the first esports player to be publicly sponsored by Nike. Uzi will take part in the new ‘Dribble &‘ campaign headed by Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.
According to the announcement by Nike Basketball, Uzi, along with Chinese actor Bai Jingting and James will promote James’ “Dribble &” marketing campaign in support of his upcoming documentary series “Shut Up and Dribble.” In the advertisement, Uzi wears a black T-shirt displaying the words “Dribble & Carry,” with the key word “Carry” only appearing on Uzi’s jersey.
‘Carry’ is a term used by MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 to refer to the act of carrying your team to victory, as well as with the position on a team tasked with doing so. Uzi plays on the AD (Attack Damage) Carry position for his team, RNG.
James’ “Shut Up and Dribble” documentary series is a response to a derisive comment made by conservative pundit Laura Ingraham towards the NBA superstar, publicly telling him to “just shut up and dribble” earlier in February.
According to James, the documentary series aims to provide “a powerful inside look at the changing role of athletes in our fraught cultural and political environment.” While the series will be done through the lens of the NBA and its players, the inclusion of Uzi in the advertisement signals that esports will be alongside traditional sports in its increased involvement in socio-political dialogue.
While details about the advertisement deal have yet to be publicly available, Uzi’s participation in it showcases the growing influence of esports, especially in China.
Many mainstream brands have taken the leap into the esports industry as of late, as RNG has also recently had deals with KFC and Mercedes-Benz, but Nike will be the biggest and most influential so far. The global sneaker and sports apparel company will surely lend an unmistakable air of legitimacy to the rising esports scene.
Whether this deal with Uzi is just a one-off or if Nike intends to expand further into esports, it has already opened up a cavalcade of opportunities. Player endorsements by Nike can ignite any athlete’s career and if more deals for esports players like this follow, the industry as a whole can rise to even greater heights.
(Image courtesy of Nike)