From creating the first glass mouse pad to becoming the massive eSports presence it is today, SteelSeries’ history is fueled by gaming and innovation. The Danish company, responsible for the first mechanical gaming keyboard and the first MMO gaming mouse, shocked the gaming world with a complete headset redesign—the Arctis.
SteelSeries eSports teams won over $11.5 million in prize money in 2015 (the most in history) using the company’s flagship model Siberia headphones, mice and other peripherals. So why mess with a winning design?
Brian Fallon, category manager of audio for SteelSeries and creator of the Arctis told [a]listdaily why the company felt it was time for an upgrade.
“Siberia (V2 headphones) came out about nine years ago and gaming has changed a lot in that time,” Fallon explained, “[and] who gamers are is more diverse than ever. We felt it was time to take a step back and think about who our customers are and if our current products fit what they want.”
The New Look Of SteelSeries
SteelSeries’ Arctis headphones were redesigned from the inside-out, from aesthetics to materials and (of course) audio. A stark change from its Siberia line, the Arctis is low profile and minimalistic, aside from optional illumination available on the 5 and 7 models. “We wanted to keep it really slim and small; there’s no reason to have a bulky headset,” Fallon pointed out. “There’s no acoustic reason or performance reason a headset needs to be really big, it’s just a choice that’s been made by designers over time. We felt like having a slimmer design to the headset [would be] more appealing across a wide variety of people.”
“We don’t think gamers necessarily want the direction that headsets have gone lately—the big, bulky, wide, plasticy designs,” Fallon added. “[We] think gamers want something that’s a little more attractive. Headsets are the one [gaming peripheral] you actually wear on your body.”
This bold redesign marks a new era for the brand, Fallon stated, and not just for headphones. “The design of Arctis is certainly going to influence SteelSeries design going forward. We see this as being the future of our style.”
Sports Industry Inspiration
With video games entering the pro sports arena, it’s no wonder that Fallon and his team of designers turned to the athletics industry for ideas. “We actually looked at the athletic apparel industry and the kind of work they’ve been doing on different materials that are breathable, moisture-wicking and had cooling properties—that’s how we developed the air wave cushions that we have on all the Arctis headsets,” Fallon explained. “It’s a material that we sourced from a company that makes fabrics for athletics apparel.” In addition to being soft and breathable, the Arctis air wave cushions are removable and even machine washable.
The Arctis features a suspension design that eliminates pressure points and naturally adjusts to the shape of the user’s head. While Fallon and his team wanted to keep the Siberia’s suspension aspect, they took this opportunity to improve. “With the Arctis suspension we challenged our designers to think about it in a different way to see if there was some influence we could pull from outside of gaming or audio, even to come up with an even more comfortable solution to a suspension headband,” said Fallon. “The idea of taking an elastic fabric just like on a ski goggle band (something else you wear on your head for long periods of time) and then working that into the suspension—we ended up really loving that idea. It was a way to have the headset better conform to people’s heads and still be self-adjusting very easily.”
Made For ESports
In recent years, SteelSeries has consulted professional gamers to help design its products, and this was especially important when designing the Arctis, particularly when it comes to the company’s eSports presence.
“We actually have a CS:GO team that practices right here in our Chicago office so that’s really nice for me as product manager,” Fallon laughed. “All I have to do is walk downstairs and I have easy access to a pro team. We talked with them even before we started the process to ask them [what’s important to them, what’s been missing from other products, what they can do better, etc.]. Early on, we were able to get them prototypes and have them start testing, try things out and give us feedback—let us know what’s working and what’s not.”
A major change to the Arctis that Fallon is particularly proud of is the bi-directional microphone. Turns out the pros liked it, too. “A lot of that feedback was great validation to us. [While using the Arctis prototype] for the first time they didn’t have audio bleeding from each other into each other’s microphones. They could all be separate and have a really clear line of communication which is critical in those games.”
Dota 2 champion team, Evil Geniuses wore prototypes to practice with and were instantly hooked, Fallon said. “They didn’t want to give them back.”
SteelSeries currently partners with around 100 “stream team” members who act as influencers for the company’s line of peripherals. Influencer Deadpooly Plays was so excited about the Arctis that he naturally stepped into the role of spokesperson—even visiting the company’s Chicago office and filming a series of educational interviews.
“He is by far one of our most enthusiastic and excited about Arctis, and literally pitches the product to almost everyone he knows,” said SteelSeries global PR director, Tori Pugliese. “For our team, he’s been a really excellent benefit to our SteelSeries stream team. That roster is growing pretty steadily. We’ve got a number of folks who not only use the SteelSeries products that are Twitch streamers, but also help represent the brand to their own community to educate why our products outlast and outperform others.”
SteelSeries revealed that it has partnered with The Chive, as well as a few partners from the sports industry and more to be announced soon. Much like the redesign of its headphones, SteelSeries is diversifying its audience. “Gaming is a passion that we all share, but it’s not the only attribute that defines us,” Pugliese concluded. “We’ve taken that very heavily into account when designing the Arctis.”