New York City perpetually celebrates New York City.
You cannot walk into a Manhattan hotel without seeing a silkscreen canvas of 34th St. Penn Station or another random subway sign. Some lean kitsch with "I <3 NYC" or "I [apple] NYC" posters, some lean elegant with art deco trappings mimicking New York City's most widely known landmark, the Empire State Building.
This is but one side of the city: the shiny, polished, touristy side. The other sides are found in bodegas and bagel shops, or in a South Korean former esports pro singing at Muses Karaoke & Bar with some of his closest fans.
New York City means myriad things to a variety of people, and the New York Excelsior represent New York in myriad ways, from their all-South Korean lineup to their branding and multiple apparel lines.
"We're in New York. We represent a global community here," said Collette Gangemi, the vice president of consumer products and merchandising for Andbox, the NYXL's parent company. "We're super fortunate we have a huge Korean base in New York. There were probably less challenges than other cities."
The New York Excelsior were formed primarily from LW Blue, a South Korean team in Overwatch APEX known for just falling short of their potential. In coming to the Overwatch League, there was initially a bit of friction not only for the NYXL, but any team with a full South Korean lineup, in integrating those players and marketing them to the Western community, all while tying them to their geographically assigned home: New York City.
The task fell to esports creative agency Level99, which took care of video shoulder content, and Gangemi's marketing team on the apparel and merchandising side.
"Other than, really in the very beginning, a little bit of a language barrier, that was really the only challenge," Gangemi said. "Korean culture by nature is extremely fashionable, and so we are so fortunate that our roster is super fashionable. They love sneakers, they love getting free clothes and better clothes and designer clothes, so for us, we gave them what they wanted."
"Until they got here, we had no idea these guys would be rocking Gucci, Valentino, Balenciaga," Level99 CEO Saad Sarwar told OverwatchLeague.com during the team's inaugural season in 2018. "The amount of swag that drips off some of these guys is incredible."
Collaborating on the merchandising front hasn't been without its hiccups. When Gangemi and her team selected Batang -- a pre-loaded, incredibly common and basic font -- as the font type for the hangeul (Korean lettering) on NYXL's apparel, the reaction was immediate and negative.
"The one feedback I did receive, which we did correct, was the font type in Korean lettering was almost what we deem as Times Roman, which is very basic," Gangemi said. She and her team took the feedback to heart and corrected the font for all future designs with specific input from the NYXL players, who also made their displeasure known.
"They actually had a lot of input on what font I used moving forward," she said. "So even the garments that you see today in our store, they are a very specific font type that they wanted to use."
Although the NYXL did not make the Overwatch League final when the league held the championship in New York in its inaugural 2018 season, fans lined up in Brooklyn for blocks, sometimes waiting over an hour to visit the NYXL's apparel pop-up shop and meet the NYXL players in person.
"I was actually with the company only two months," Gangemi said. "In two months we were like, 'We need to create something in New York to add buzz.' We just really wanted somewhere where they could go and still interact with the team. We did a seven-hour signing. We had like three weather patterns that day. There was one day it rained, it was windy, and it was like 95 degrees. Everything that could have happened in that line happened basically."
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Gangemi gave credit to the players not only for their outgoing nature, but for their dedication to sticking around and signing nearly every garment that left the store in those days. Going forward, the NYXL experience would continue to mimic the New York experience, merging cultures while bringing fans and players closer together through fashion.
"We collaborated in the early part of our creation with the best brands," Gangemi said. "With the Undefeated's, the Champions and Nike, and that really set the stage for us where people automatically knew we were an elevated team and brand."
For their recent homestand collection, Gangemi and team partnered with Philadelphia apparel brand Mitchell & Ness. Mitchell & Ness began as a Philadelphia sporting goods store in 1904. Since then, M&N has gone through many iterations and is most well-known for its throwback jerseys, falling in line with the new branding, Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Co.
Part of their current branding involves reproducing scarce or out-of-print older jerseys, like their NBA "Hardwood Classics" line.
Looking at their NYXL collaboration, it's easy to see the nostalgia for New York's traditional sports juggernaut, the New York Yankees, in the coloring and design, particularly in the bomber jacket and short-sleeved uniform jersey. At a time of general unease about the league itself and its geography, the NYXL and Mitchell & Ness hit the perfect mix of nostalgia and promise for the future, reiterated in the design itself and their use of the NYXL logo, "Ever upward."
Top buy: The crossword puzzle t-shirt.
This t-shirt riffs on the New York Times crossword puzzle with "NYXL" in the Times' font on the front and the Excelsior slogan "Ever Upward" in the same font on the back. Each player is given a crossword clue at the bottom that corresponds to their name and number as it appears on the puzzle like "Uses Rocket Jump Primal Rage for EZ win." (Kim "Mano" Dong-gyu) or "Brings a photo of his significant other to every stage game" (Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol). As an aside, I did not know that Kim "Libero" Hae-seong had been compared to a sea otter, but now I do. This shirt has enriched my life.
More importantly, this is one of the lower-priced items in the collection. As I touched upon when looking at the LV x LoL collaboration between Louis Vuitton and League of Legends, a collection will likely have its higher-priced luxury items, but should also have something at a more accessible price point so any fan can buy in. At $35, this t-shirt is a cute, well-made and accessible item that a student could still feel okay splurging on.