Behind every writing cliché, regardless of how rote or overused, there is a grain of truth. Someone who exemplifies those exact words on the page. New York Excelsior team captain Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol is one of those rare people. It's not an exaggeration to say that when Saebyeolbe walks into a room, everyone in the room lights up, including him.
Any member of media who had the pleasure of interviewing him in the backstage warren of the Blizzard Arena in Burbank during the Overwatch League's first two years has a Saebyeolbe story. Maybe it was that he agreed to an English interview to ease the burden on then-NYXL interpreter Andrew Kim. Maybe it was when he was joking about how he liked playing Bastion because he could pick his nose while doing it, punctuated with a gesture of him picking his nose. Maybe it was that he and the rest of the NYXL would often wander into each other's interviews and answer questions that they weren't initially asked. Above all else, Saebyeolbe puts people at ease. He makes people happy.
"Being around Saebyeolbe is infectious," said Collette Gangemi, the vice president of consumer products and merchandising for Andbox, NYXL's parent company. "He's such a beautiful human in and out. He's such a warm, beautiful person. And our fan base loves him as much as our organization does and he also has amazing personal style."
Talking to Saebyeolbe face-to-face and feeling that warmth, interviewing the rest of the NYXL at a home series, or covering the Overwatch League in person is now a distant memory.
The last time I talked to Gangemi, we were at the first-ever New York Excelsior homestand event at the Hammerstein Ballroom. It was a celebration of all things New York, from the location to the marketing to the limited edition clothing collection available at the first homestand only. This was back in the first week of February, when the coronavirus pandemic was still perceived as something distant, creeping closer into our periphery day by day.
Since then, the NYXL's season was temporarily placed on hold as New York City became one of the largest outbreak hot spots. The entire Overwatch League shut down and came back as a fully online competition. Players, teams, and the league itself have had to adjust.
For the NYXL's merchandising department, surprisingly little changed, despite the majority of their initial strategy's focus on live events.
"Our strategy was always creating and manufacturing apparel for our live events and our teams but also in conjunction with that, we always had plans to do the individual athlete lines that are celebrating these athletes who are on our teams," Gangemi said.
Last November, Andbox released a capsule collection around the New York Excelsior flex support and inaugural Overwatch League season MVP, Bang "JJoNak" Seong-hyeon. Earlier this year, they launched a New York Subliners collection around two of their Call of Duty League players: Dillon "Attach" Price and Thomas "ZooMaa" Paparatto.
"COVID or no COVID, we had always planned that we were going to celebrate SBB with Andbox in the month of May," Gangemi said. "If you could have seen the happiness on his face going through the design process with the team, it's all the more reason to create something premium and special and beautiful for him. You just want to do it."
Saebyeolbe was, to use another cliché, a no-brainer when it came to having a capsule collection, especially around the rallying slogan of "Be nice," a simple straightforward command that exemplified Saebyeolbe as a player and person. All net profits of the collection were to be donated to NYC Mesh, a nonprofit bringing accessible and affordable high-speed internet to New York City -- another nod to the current pandemic and how much everyone relies on the internet as a basic service, never mind a way to play video games.
""I've always liked flowers because I feel that no matter what your age, gender, or where you're from in the world, they have a universal appeal. Cherry blossoms in particular have such a positive place in many cultures around the world, I felt like it was something that all fans would recognize and enjoy.""
Less than 24 hours after the launch, everything in the collection but the nylon joggers were sold out. Andbox announced that the collection would be available virtually for free inside Animal Crossing: New Horizons, using a different game that has allowed fans and creators to meet with each other in a virtual world.
"More than anything I'm thankful that the fans loved this collection so much," Saebyeolbe said. "It's great to see that it sold so quickly, and that it was able to support a good cause in NYC Mesh. I'm also glad that even for the fans that didn't have a chance to buy one of the pieces, they'll still be able to get the collection virtually in Animal Crossing."
Throughout the design process, Saebyeolbe infused the idea of "Be nice," his own personal style with what the designers brought to the table all around a cherry blossom spring season motif.
"When I first sat down with Andbox's design team, one of the first things we talked about from a visual perspective was incorporating flowers into my collection," Saebyeolbe said. "As we continued to meet and dive further into what the collection would look like, I realized that the cherry blossom was very important to me as a symbol and should be a big part of the collection."
From the initial ideas and sketches to final production, Saebyeolbe was involved every step of the way in helping design and perfect the collection prior to launch. The timing of the launch coincided with cherry blossom season, which was also an important, unifying visual motif that Saebyeolbe, the design team, and Gangemi all agreed upon.
"I've always liked flowers because I feel that no matter what your age, gender, or where you're from in the world, they have a universal appeal. Cherry blossoms in particular have such a positive place in many cultures around the world, I felt like it was something that all fans would recognize and enjoy."
Cherry blossoms led the design team at Andbox down another path. To round out the apparel collection, they presented Saebyeolbe with his own fragrance.
Gangemi added that they were sent samples and Saebyeolbe reviewed them with the team to decide on a final scent that tied into the rest of the collection as well as something that would appeal to any and all members of his fanbase.
"I never expected to be the first esports professional to have my own fragrance, and it wasn't something I was thinking about when we began the design process," Saebyeolbe said. He said that when the opportunity was presented, he was excited by it. "The final scent we chose was one that reminded me the most of spring, and I hope that fans feel the same way when they first experience it."
Top buy: SBB Jean Jacket $150 USD
By the accounts of everyone involved in the making of this collection, the jean jacket is where Saebyeolbe's personal style shines through the most. It also features the cherry blossom pattern embroidered on the back of the jacket, which creates a strong impression by design while worn.
"I have to say that the denim jacket is my personal favorite," Saebyeolbe said. "One of my favorite features of it is the script on the front of it, which I felt really tied the whole design of the jacket together really nicely. And of course the cherry blossom across the entire back of the jacket reflects how important that imagery is to me and the collection."