The debut of New York Excelsior’s latest defenders.

20:00, 07 Jan 2021

One of the biggest stories coming out of this off-season is the revamp of the New York Excelsior. Committing to a step away from the norm of the past three seasons, the NYXL have shed their old robes and are committing to an entirely new direction for their fourth season. From their inaugural roster, only 2018 MVP Sung-hyeon "JJoNak" Bang maintains his position on the squad as the team’s starting flex support, and returning from 2020, Dong-wook "BiaNcA" Kim will be the team’s starting off-tank. Now the franchise sees six new players donning the blue for a chance at new stories, new opportunities to win, and new ways to prove themselves as promising or worthy players. 

What’s the verdict on this new batch of talent? How will they rack up compared to the rest of their region? It’s interesting because, for the first time in a while, the sum of New York’s parts is unknown. The Overwatch League community has been familiar with the NYXL’s players and style for the past three years, and knowing how they’ll perform is completely up in the air at this point. What are the new pieces that will bring this team together? 

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THE RUNBACK 

For the two returning players, JJoNak and BiaNcA, just because they’ve played with the team for one or more seasons, does not mean they’re in a better position than their incoming counterparts. They have a lot to prove. BiaNcA had to share playtime last season with Hong-joon "HOTBA" Choi and showcased strong to mixed results in terms of performances. So, overall, he’s shown himself to be solid, but he wasn’t really capable of showing off his prowess on heroes beyond Sigma and Zarya. Now, not only will he have to improve and adapt to the competition, but he’s the sole person New York can rely on this season as an off-tank player. It’s a gamble with BiaNcA, he’s definitely had flashes of brilliance, but of course, it’ll be difficult to see what type of peak he’ll be able to achieve.  

For JJoNak, it’s a bit of a different story. We’re looking at a player whose legacy has been sitting at the top. He was the MVP of the inaugural season because of his revolutionary support play. However, these past few years he’s falling behind, the competition has caught up and surpassed him. Like BiaNcA, he had his flashes of brilliance on his best heroes, but when it came to adapting, playing at the best in the metas that counted, JJoNak couldn’t bridge the gap. We’ll see how his game plan will change coming into this season, or if the change in coaching can bring out the best from him. 

VETERANS ON THE COMEBACK 

New York have added Seung-hyun "Ivy" Lee  and Gyeong-mu "Yakpung" Jo, the only two OWL veterans to come on to the squad this season. Ironically, both former 2019 Toronto Defiant players, but in 2020 Ivy played for the Philadelphia Fusion and Yakpung for the Contenders squad O2_Blast. These two are coming in as big boons for the Excelsior, as both are considered some of the best in their roles at the moment. Yakpung has been considered one of the best main tanks coming out of Contenders, and Ivy was widely lauded as one of the best flex damage players in the league last year, and to see both of them come in to represent New York, it’s a great sight. 

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Despite their reputations, it’ll be great to see the new narratives that come from them this year. Yakpung, even with the hype around his reentry, he has to prove himself after a considerably lacklustre debut year in the league. If his grind in Contenders truly paid off, he should have the capacity to fully become that flexible foundation for New York to play around, and who will truly be able to go toe-to-toe with some of the games top tank players. 

Even though Ivy has been coming off a successful year with the Fusion, and with a respectable reputation to boot, time will still tell if he can bring that same magic and revitalisation to a role that hasn’t been stable for New York in the past season. He’s most certainly got the skill, he was the primary starter for the Fusion in an ever-dominant system; but can the lessons he learned carry over to a new system, with new teammates, under new leadership? 

RETHINKING AND RETOOLING 

New York have elected to promote former assistant coach Ju-hyeop "WhyNot" Lee, former player for MVP Space pre-OWL and former teammate of BiaNcA, to the head coach position. Former head coach Yong-cheol "imt" Jeong, has been slid in as the Head of Data, and also welcomed former London Spitfire coach Geonyong "Sqix" Kim as an assistant coach. 

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With only three coaches, New York is once again taking a more conservative approach to their staff; it’s the same amount from the previous year, which was a staff that was notorious for never really helping to showcase New York at their absolute best come tournament time. Hopefully, with lessons learned last year, the coaches are fully committed to making these players stand out and having the proper plans to achieve their goals. In fact, WhyNot laid out the focus on what these new players bring to the table, and what the team will focus on with them, in a recent video.

Last year New York had really good scrim rates in a single meta that was around for a long time. However, when there was a sudden change in the meta our scrim results plummeted…We’re building a team around players that have a lot of potential with flexibility and willingness to make bold plays. That was the goal for the rebuild.

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- WhyNot

So far when the Overwatch League has proven to be turbulent and always evolving for every team, having a crew of moldable and explosive players to field and experiment with, seems exactly like the direction New York needs to go towards in order to really change as a team. No longer would it be playing with what you've got, or struggling to fill gaps midseason; New York are making the concentrated effort to win with a roster with the most amount of fluidity. 

Whether this all works for the coaching staff or the players, and New York have a fighting chance to really pull off a stellar season, remains to be seen. But, shedding the weight of the past and approaching this season with the ability to adapt as best in every circumstance, seems like the exact direction the NYXL needed for such a crucial revitalisation. 
 

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment 

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