We’ve all been there. You’re in the middle of an intense ranked match, and you’re freezing cold. Your hands are stiff and it’s costing your team. You hastily throw on a sweatshirt during a respawn and try to get your head back in the match. Later in the series you’re burning up and sweat is threatening to run down your wrist and ruin your grip. And around we go with this struggle to stay comfortable IRL so you can keep the focus on fragging and not freezing. There has to be a better way.
As gaming and esports have grown to a $108.4 billion and $1.5 billion industry respectively, we have seen an influx of vendors trying to sell you all kinds of peripherals to enhance your gaming experience -everything from energy drinks to hardware peripherals to this…thing. And yet no one has tackled the gear closest to your body — your clothes. That is the idea behind new performance apparel startup Ateyo. Designers Rachel Feinberg and Breanne Harrison-Pollock of DAMNsel have taken their apparel expertise and worked for over a year with dozens of professionals in the esports space to understand what is missing from their gaming experience. The result is the Ateyo zip-up, the first product in a line of clothes designed specifically to “improve your game at every level”. Did they succeed? Yes and no.
“People in this community expect so much out of the game and the gameplay, but they don’t really expect that much out of their apparel. We really think that we can change that and we can make a way better product that really enhances the gameplay but also looks good at the same time.” — Ateyo Co-founder Breanne Harrison-Pollock
Let’s Break it Down
Let’s start with perhaps the most important piece and what the hoodie gets very right: the fabric. Feinberg and Harrison-Pollock have combined a 50/50 cotton/polyester blend jersey knit face with a medium pile fleece liner. The result is a sleek, understated exterior with a surprisingly soft interior. The fabric manages to contradict itself in all the right ways, being soft yet durable, insulating yet breathable, and warm on body yet cool to the touch. All of these combine to just keep you comfortable, period. Over the past week that I’ve had the product, I’ve worn it in a range of temperatures from 40 to 80 degrees and felt perfectly comfortable throughout. These sorts of blends are great for combining the softness and moisture absorption of cotton with the cool temperature and fast drying of polyester. The result is a very versatile fabric that works in a variety of situations.
As nice as the fabric feels, however, the fit leaves something to be desired. Ateyo makes a big deal about wanting to maximize cross-shoulder range of motion and does so with the addition of stretchable seams and side panels running under each arm. While the use of non-irritating flatlock seams instead of the more traditional overlock seam is certainly welcome, the stretchability of these features is limited by the complete lack of stretch of the main fleece fabric. Rather than using these strategic stretch panels I would have preferred they simply add a bit of spandex to the fabric blend to give stretch all over the garment and reduce the amount of seaming under the arms. While spandex does typically add a bit of weight and cut down on breathability, I think the trade-off would be worth it. The current lack of stretch would seem to be a problem if not for the fact that the hoodie tends to run big. While not quite loose enough to recommend that you size down by default, I would say if you are on the fence between two sizes to lean towards the smaller size.
Despite the extremely comfortable fabric, I think the product starts to lose some luster in the execution of some of its trims and advertised special features. The oversized hood was featured heavily in their initial launch materials and was designed to fit comfortably over a pair of full-size gaming headphones. A great idea to be sure, but in reality initially feels like a bit of a question mark. I expected the hood to be big, but pictures don’t really convey just how huge this hood is. While I was initially put off by what felt like a half cape hanging off of my shoulders, I eventually came around to enjoying the addition. Although it still looks a bit silly to have up without headphones, it does indeed give just the right amount of room with them on. The hood features a double layer of the sleek outer fabric, giving it plenty of cushioning and cooling to keep your ears pampered as you frag away.
However, this does raise a dilemma for some: if I’m putting my headphones next to my ears, why do I need a hood? For me personally, the answer is focus. When that hood is up, it’s blocking additional sounds around me and my peripheral vision, letting me concentrate solely on the screen in front of me. This idea of zero-distraction gaming is one that feels pervasive throughout the garment’s design, and will hopefully continue to be present in Ateyo’s future releases. I do however feel it would be a good addition to have a removable hood if only to get rid of the noticeable weight pulling at the back of the shoulders.
Moving down the garment, the zipper stands out to me as the only pure disappointment on the product. Early marketing material and indeed the hoodie’s own product page shows a solid-looking double zipper, which I thought was a fantastic addition to avoid bunching while seated. However, the final product ships with a noticeably cheap-feeling single zipper. As arguably the most noticeable trim on a full-zip jacket, it’s a real shame that Ateyo chose to make this change. I would have gladly paid an additional $5-$10 MSRP for a higher quality part. Beyond the zipper pull itself, an additional problem arises with the high neckline. The lack of a zipper garage undoes a lot of the hard work put into the comfortable fabric by causing irritation under the chin. Word of warning to all the bearded gamers out there, be careful when you pull this zipper to the top. Hopefully, Ateyo will add a fabric cover at the top for any future jackets released.
As for some of the smaller features, the baselayer-like fabric cuffs are a nice addition, but will probably work better for those of you with longer arms than mine. With the cuffs extending into my palm, I had to fold them in half and the added thickness combined with the poor seam placement on the underside of the wrist made for a less-than-ideal mouse experience. I’d like to see seam placement as a whole improved, with seams moved out from under the wrist and arms to less impactful locations. Their locations look to be due to the side stretch panels, but as discussed above I would prefer they do away with those anyways. While the seams do add some interesting design lines, the functionality is impacted.
Finally, for the chemical finishes, moisture wicking out of the box is a bit lacking. However, it was drastically improved after the first wash as was the comfort of the inner liner. This is definitely a product you will want to wash before wearing. The wicking does a good job of not only keeping sweat off of your arm and wrist but also works well for frantically wiping off your palms during a high-stakes match. Similarly, the anti-microbial finish has so far proven effective, as I have not noticed any residual odor after an embarrassing number of hours bingeing the new God of War. Washfastness is similarly good, with minimal pilling and zero shrinkage or color issues within the first five washes.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
At the end of the day, this is an extremely comfortable hoodie with some interesting gamer-targeted features that you may or may not find personally valuable, but this is certainly the first we have seen of an apparel company taking this kind of technical approach to esportswear. Some have asked, and justifiably so, “why is this relevant?”. Can’t you just wear anything to sit in front of a screen? I would argue that esports is past due for a performance apparel solution. We are seeing an arms race every year as teams add work hours, staff, and infrastructure constantly chasing that extra 1% performance. And yet we still see players every week with a pile of hand warmers on their table in a league with a $20 million buy-in. If you’ve ever watched player interviews or browsed the esports Twittersphere, you know that players both sweat like crazy and freeze to death on stage. Flawed it may be, but Ateyo’s entry into performance apparel represents a paradigm shift for esports and hopefully ignites a new standard for teams going forward.
Coming in at $88 MSRP, Ateyo’s debut offering is certainly not cheap. If you don’t think the advertised innovations will be of use to you, I would advise you to maybe pass on this iteration but to definitely keep an eye on what this company has in store moving forward. On the other hand if you are comfortable with the price of admission then I personally feel that this is a product, and more importantly a company, that is worth supporting.
Disclaimer: This article is based solely on my own opinions and observations as a textile developer with five years experience in the performance apparel industry, and is neither affiliated with nor endorsed by my employer. I received no compensation for this review, monetary or otherwise.