Our world was beginning to feel like the silver screen. A dangerous and unprecedented pandemic had begun to spread across the globe. Protests against police brutality and systemic racism packed the streets. A system meant to protect the people stood completely still. Anger and fear-filled communications channels, aiming to obliterate any empathy and compassion that attempted to blossom.
Nate Eckman, designer and co-founder for ULT sat in his Los Angeles office with a decision to make. The brand was in the middle of a full-line set for international distribution, but something just didn’t feel right.
“The style and tone of the work at that exact time felt too far removed from the intensity of what we were all experiencing,” recalled Eckman. “I needed to reset my work and transform the brand to thrive through crises.”
“When I was a kid, we would hit the ‘Reset’ button on the gaming console and try again. I wanted to reset myself, reset the brand, reset the planet and the new collection is a reflection of all those feelings and ideas.”
So, let’s hit the reset button, and follow the Reset collection back to the beginning. Let’s travel back before ULT was created, and see how we can evolve and find the strength, experience, and community to carry on.
The Staples Center had been sold-out; for a video game. It was the League of Legends World Final in 2013. SK Telecom T1 takes on Royal Club, with a $1m prize on the line. Eckman, having worked on some designs for Riot, found himself walking through the arena, as thousands of people cheered on now-legends like Faker, Piglet, and Uzi. This move from PC Bangs and small venues marked a change in the landscape for Nate, and the excitement of the event inspired him to want to delve deeper into gaming. But to go deeper—for an industry veteran—that meant uncharted territories.
“The brand started as something I felt deep within myself.”
“I’d spent ten years of my life working in the gaming industry at that point,” recalls Eckman, “gathering inspiration from so many experiences and it became more and more clear to me that I had to take my own ideas seriously and take action and that’s why I founded ULT – to have a brand platform to express myself and make a creative statement through my chosen medium of style and design.”
Streetwear was finding a foothold in Los Angeles at that time, and many members of Eckman’s creative circles were starting to explore the area. An irreverent and unapologetic world of style, streetwear allowed designers to express themselves fully, with one condition; you have to be authentic. Much like in gaming, it’s easy to spot someone who’s just trying to fit in or doesn’t understand the scene. Companies get laughed out of the room when they inevitably create something a little too “Hello, fellow kids.” Without being a part of the community, you can’t understand the community. Without understanding the community, you can’t design for the community.
“Authenticity is proven by our actions and our voice,” said Eckman regarding how he entered the scene. “Design is the final variable. My love of video games and the friendships I’ve found along the way are what continue to inspire me and inform the designs. I believe that if I can be my best then we can unlock the ultimate form of the brand. I have to trust my instincts, intuition and creative power of imagination. ”
“I have a particular vision for the brand’s sense of style and aesthetic but more than anything I believe we are advancing the culture with our work at ULT. Every choice, every action, must continuously elevate gaming as a whole.”
In 2016, Nate aimed to release the first line for ULT, with 15 items in the collection. Not only working on the design and art for the apparel, but Nate was also responsible for figuring out the manufacturing, the presentation—and now he had a team he had to take care of. The stakes were rising, and quickly. There was no longer room to be intimidated by new experiences, so he worked diligently to tackle and grow from each.
“I love puzzle games and adventure games,” said Eckman. “Growing a company and aspiring to be the greatest in the world at something is the most complex puzzle adventure game I’ve ever confronted.”
The launch party was a packed event, with many familiar faces from the gaming industry. A new experience to many, this Echo Park debut was unlike the other E3 afterparties. There were no gaming systems set up, no catering to what companies felt gamers liked. Instead, there was Eckman, someone who had the belief that gaming apparel could be less about a game, and more about the lifestyle.
For many in the room, it was the first time hearing Nate speak about how a chance encounter with an esports fan helped ionize ULT’s mission. Eckman remembered the fan wearing a printed, baby-blue nylon jersey, but saying they would be embarrassed to wear it when hanging out with their friends or to school.
Nate looked to the crowd at the launch party, “That sucks.” The gaming world agreed.
“It is nice to have your hard work recognized by powerful and influential people that you admire but the greatest feeling of all is when you learn you’ve helped inspire someone just like you in their own life. Those moments are humbling and deeply motivating.”
From that small show, news traveled. Companies began looking to be part of the brand that wanted to change gaming apparel. They, too, had begun to realize that box art on a stiff cotton tee was no longer going to cut it. Nor would a jersey that looked like you were going to go paintballing. While Nate hadn’t intended ULT to be solely for esports teams or leagues, he worked hard to be involved with both. In rooms with some of the biggest teams and leagues in the world, he shared his mission to deliver meaningful work that was true to the culture of gaming.
“My hope was that other gamers could find their own identity in the work,” stated Eckman. “I never imagined we would wind up designing for the best players, pro teams and leagues on the planet and being distributed nationally through retailers.”
The following four years saw massive growth for the team at ULT, with partnerships expanding from work with globally franchised esports leagues to legendary non-gaming brands like DC Shoes. With each partnership, the company continued to experiment and evolve, pushing the boundaries of what a lifestyle brand for gamers should be. How to create something that a gamer would be proud to wear.
“Our triangle logo is a visualization of this constant state of refinement, transcending incredible challenges and unlocking your full potential – the ultimate version of yourself, of your team.”
Being at the front of the pack comes with its share of challenges. ULT found itself in the unique position of being able to define its own win conditions. The brand was in uncharted territory, and it was up to it to lay the course for those who followed. This responsibility weighed heavy on the Eckman, realizing that his passions for the gaming community, art, and design would impact for years how the industry would follow. The last thing he wanted to do was to create a benchmark that was paper-thin; a meaningless endeavor of vanity.
ULT dedicated itself to being a company that wasn’t focused insularly. It helped pave the path for esports lines to appear in international, big-box retail brick and mortars . It challenged how gaming had been marketed to in the past, questioning everything from the “colors that gamers like” to designing pieces specifically for women—a group severely underserved in esports. It also looked to the future, making a statement that brands and the gaming community are part of the global effort to protect our world.
Nate firmly believed that ULT needed to tell a story, creating apparel that meant something. By delivering capsules that had a strong point of view, it connected more closely with his customers. A choice to not solely feature “models” in their shoots helped emphasize the diverse gaming community. It posted interviews with thought leaders and passionate gamers on its site, no matter their follower count. ULT was proving through actions that it was not just the brand working with big companies, but the brand that could represent you.
And that brings us to 2020. Into the middle of the maelstrom. ULT finds itself halfway through work on a new line with a decision to make. They hit the Reset button.
“For the new ULT line, we knew we had to design with a globally mindful perspective,” said Nate. “This year has devastated so many lives. As an artist and brand owner I had to create something that spoke to that, gamer or not. These designs are a reflection of what feels like the end of the world. This collection is meant to be a virtual embrace and convey inclusivity, beauty, comfort and hope - despite the darkness.”
With years of experience and a full team, ULT was able to go back to their beginnings and start again. Like a New Game+, choices could be made in the collection based on learnings from the past. Where some of ULT’s early designs had the slogan “Destroyer of Worlds,” Reset introduces “Creator of Worlds.” The early line’s monochrome palette has been evolved into a much more elevated treatment of color, with washes, plaids, and pearlescent tones. It truly is as if ULT went back to the beginning with all of their end-game gear for another round.
“The ULT brand stands for so much more than fashion-forward style for the modern gamer,” said Eckman. “The Reset collection represents our brand’s continued long-term dedication to the gaming community. For instance, we worked diligently on our collaborative masks with O2TODAY and utilized their cutting edge science to offer our community an incredible face mask that also gives back to 1% For the Planet – a global philanthropic organization.”
As gamers, we can make a massive impact together when we focus our energy – that’s what being ultimate is all about.
From tie-dye to electric lemon, the collection covers a wide breadth of design and trends.
“Seasonality is a behavior pattern that advances ULT by enabling us to have larger distribution,” explained Eckman. “For context, the new seasonal collection is to be available at Tillys. My hope is that we can reach more gamers out there who also identify with ULT and the sense of style and brand voice that we bring to the game.”
For those gamers looking to represent this season, Reset provides plenty of options for whatever your style is. Statement pieces like the pearlescent-logo long sleeve tee and the pullover hoodie adorned with Swarovski crystals will be popular for those looking to stand out, while less in-your-face options like the faded Creator of Worlds tee and the “Think Globally for the Future” zip-up allow you to have a more subtle look. The tie-dye looks incredibly versatile; it’s industrial tones allow the wearer to either go full grunge or to dress it up by pairing it with clean black jeans or top.
When looking at the pieces as a collection, you can see a journey of awareness. The wearer begins with a sense of self-awareness, a comfort in who they are. As the collection grows in volume, so does the message; a call to action is literally stitched into the clothing. With these messages, ULT’s logo appears less as a company’s seal, and more like an empowering rune that allows one to represent themselves and a philosophy.
And so it all circles back to Nate’s tale of encountering the esports fan that was ashamed to wear that baby blue jersey. The dates may have changed, and so may the scale of the projects, but the mission remains the same.
“What do you want people to feel when wearing ULT?” we asked again, nearly half-a-decade later.
“Pride", said Eckman.
You can get your hands on the ULT ^RESET collection on 1/1/21 at 1 pm Pacific, here: https://ultesports.com/collections/reset