Special merch. An all-Korean roster. Slick content production. During the inaugural season of the Overwatch League, it was to the New York Excelsior that such features were ascribed. Now, however, there seems to be a new challenger to what is essentially the clout throne, bearing similar attributes to the two-time stage champions: the Toronto Defiant. With a gritty introduction video, an intimidating style, and a talented roster to boot, the Defiant have established a solid presence in the scene before even playing a match.
The primary relation between these two organization is that of their branding and apparel. The New York Excelsior recently opened their pop-up shop, which serves as both a physical and online hub for the team’s merch; meanwhile, the Defiant’s online store has launched with a plethora of sleek clothing. Each team’s merchandise bears their names and symbols, respectively, and each set of clothing seems to have been designed with modern clout culture in mind: simplistic, streamlined, brand-bearing designs meant to appeal to fans of the team and fans of good clothing alike. The intent here is obvious: the development of name-brand recognition. Both teams, in their pursuit of recognition, are making themselves into more than just teams. When you look at the Los Angeles Gladiators or at the Boston Uprising, you see an Overwatch League team; when you look at the Defiant or at the Excelsior, you can see a brand. By producing merchandise with the intent of pushing a goal of name recognition, these teams are enabling their growth to incorporate an audience that perhaps would otherwise find no interest in the League, or in any particular team.
The progression toward what is essentially gaming’s own “clout culture” has advanced rapidly with the assistance of teams such as the Defiant and Excelsior (outside of Overwatch, 100 Thieves and FaZe Clan have also made tremendous strides in the realm); however, non-competing businesses such as Ateyo have also proven to wield serious influence in the scene. With supporters such as MonteCristo, currently casting for the Overwatch League, and Doublelift, star ADC of Team Liquid’s League of Legends team, the group has advanced their name to a point of relative success, serving as a new name-brand line of apparel for gaming.
While Ateyo has been grown within the esports ecosystem, the Excelsior have tapped the outside market for assistance, working with clothing company UNDEFEATED to produce a special line of merchandise. We have seen similar tactics used by Dignitas and FaZe Clan, who partnered with Champion to put out cooperative apparel. Thus far, the Defiant have remained within the confines of their own production, not receiving any apparent outside help in making their apparel; whether this will remain is yet to be determined, but if their success holds up as a brand, we may very well see a link between the team and a name-brand clothing company in the near future to capitalize upon the current trend.
The Toronto Defiant haven’t only produced slick apparel: the introductory videos for their name and first two players – former Valiant offtank Envy and former Uprising support Neko – were the products of great production and a clear vision for the team’s future. By showing off well-known players before the fresh faces of Korean stars like Ivy and Stellar, the Defiant primed their audience to support the team before actually knowing the entire roster, they showed the known quantities before the unknown for the sake of the fans’ ignorance of Eastern talent, essentially speaking. Once again, the Defiant appear to have followed the Excelsior model here, as they too pursued an entirely Korean roster for their inaugural season. While some may be slightly disappointed that Canadian talents such as Mangachu and Crimzo have been denied a team so as to save space for Koreans, the Defiant cannot in any way be blamed for their pursuits: New York has proven that an entirely homogeneous roster of highly talented players speaking the same language yields fantastic results, while also putting on display the personalities of their previously undefined players, who had not been seen as people but as units prior to their personable introductions (i.e. “married man” Saebyeolbe).
The Toronto Defiant have thus emulated the New York Excelsior in several aspects leading up to their debut in the second season of the Overwatch League; whether or not they will emulate the NYXL’s success is yet to be seen. Fans can see them play in February of 2019.