AT&T and prominent esports organization 100 Thieves join forces to launch AT&T Station, a virtual reality space located on the VRChat VR platform. The Virtual Experience is AT & T’s first foray into the metaverse and 100 Thieves’ first experience digitizing its lucrative clothing lines.
AT&T worked independently with VRChat to begin building the experience before inviting 100 Thieves to join the initiative. Since the esports organization and the telecommunications company announced their partnership in January, AT&T has featured heavily on 100 Thieves jerseys and social media and funded a training room for the Valorant first-person shooter title at the team’s headquarters in Los Angeles. According to 100 Thieves Associate Director of Account Partnerships, Kelsey Schultz, AT&T “felt it was natural to bring 100 Thieves into the product as leaders in the gaming space.”
In addition to designing the activation, AT&T provided the funding, with creative support from 100 Thieves. Representatives for both companies declined to provide specific details of their financial relationships, but the funds behind the AT&T Station experiment came directly from AT&T’s gaming budget. “By looking at some of our emerging properties, we are creating support so that we can continue to grow in this space,” said Sabina Ahmed, assistant vice president of sponsorship and experience at AT&T.
The AT&T Station experience is deeply immersive, taking the form of a series of virtual rooms surrounded by water and a star field evoking images of space. There are two levels, allowing users to set up camp around virtual hot tubs and campfires or grab a box of VR popcorn before entering a screening room featuring WarnerMedia properties such as ” The Suicide Squad “.
The 100 Thieves area of the experience is inspired by the team’s sensitivities fueled by memes and inspired by streetwear, with virtual recreations of the 100 Thieves clothing, a 100 Thieves trivia game, and a room that allows users to sort through pizza toppings in tiered rankings. “The Partnerships team worked closely with 100 Thieves internal brand, marketing, content and apparel teams to ensure the 100 Thieves were up to brand and Foundations standards. [100 Thieves clothing line] the displays were as realistic as possible, ”said Schultz.
According to Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, a member and co-owner of 100 Thieves, the demand for VR and metaverse content has increased among 100 Thieves fans in recent years. The company reacted accordingly: In November 2020, 100 Thieves allowed fans to explore a virtual version from its Fortnite Creative Mode headquarters and the team launched a custom Minecraft server to help promote a clothing line in September. While this is the first time that 100 Thieves has activated itself in virtual reality proper, Hofstetter believes it is important that users can access the experience without using VR headsets. “VR headsets tend to make me dizzy,” said Hofstetter, “so being able to explore the AT&T station without one while having a great user experience was really cool.”
From 100 Thieves’ perspective, the most unique aspect of the activation was the opportunity to display and sell the team’s clothing in a virtual space. Streetwear drops have long been an important aspect of 100 Thieves’ business strategy: in 2019, The Verge described the team as “the supreme of esport. The organization’s trendy designs take cues from major streetwear and hip-hop brands, drawing in its culture-savvy fan base. Limited-edition 100 Thieves clothing often ‘drops’ sell in a few hours.
AT&T Station designers used Unreal Engine to dress virtual mannequins in lifelike recreations of clothing from the 100 Thieves’ Foundations clothing line; Although it is not yet possible for users to use these recreations at this time, activating them gives them a pair of VRChat avatars inspired by 100 thieves in limited edition. “There are clickable links to each of the Foundation’s clothing items displayed on the AT&T station,” Schultz said. “These links lead directly to the 100 Thieves website where you can purchase the clothes.”
Getting involved in a virtual space like the AT&T station was a natural development for the telecommunications company, according to Ahmed. “We are very organic in the gaming world,” she said. “Our technology, especially on 5G and fiber, lends itself really well to a gaming experience.”
The purpose of inviting 100 thieves into space was primarily for demographic awareness. About 75 percent of VRChat users are between the ages of 18 and 34 – the target demographic of 100 thieves – according to one 2019 report by metaverse consultant Wagner James Au. While AT&T is well equipped with all of the technology needed to build the space, the company hopes to fill it by promoting the experience on 100 Thieves’ feeds and social accounts.
The AT&T station is both a one-off activation and a fully immersive experience, but it is perhaps the most exciting for the future it portends. While virtual space will remain accessible in VRChat at least until the end of 2021, for it to be truly metaversal it must be persistent, a digital space that exists indefinitely as part of a fully accessible virtual world.
Activation’s digital clothing – and the associated e-commerce opportunity – could represent the first step towards a decline in streetwear that exists entirely in the virtual space. As the barrier between physical and digital life continues to erode, an increasing number of brand partnerships will likely follow the AT&T station model.
“We are delighted to see where this takes us,” said Ahmed. “We want to make sure we kind of start here, but the world is endless and we’re excited to continue to grow this partnership. “