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The NYXL Rebuild: JJoNak’s return and Ivy’s purpose

Jennifer "LemonKiwi" Pichette

The New York Excelsior have been at arm’s length of a championship title since the league’s inception, but have always come short before crossing the finish line. With a new year comes great changes, and the NYXL are ready for the great sprint for the number one spot.

NYXL 2021 lineup team

After coming so close numerous times, the NYXL have retooled their team in hopes they can finally climb the mountaintop (Image courtesy NYXL Twitter)

In the last weeks of 2020, the entire original roster of NYXL was released with the exception of their MVP player Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang, making room for new prospects and a fresh start. Although fans were saddened to see some big names go, these feelings can only be eclipsed by hope for the future.

The coaching staff and vision of the NYXL have also shifted since promoting Ju-hyeop “WhyNot” Lee to Head Coach in December. The fresh talent from Contenders signed to the roster since his leadership will be mentored by JJoNak and recently acquired former Philadelphia Fusion DPS Seung-hyun “Ivy” Lee, and other well-respected players. WhyNot discusses with us the impact that JJoNak has on the team, the tryout process for new talent, and how Ivy can help spark a new NYXL.

JJoNak is Here to Stay

Although fans were saddened to see the core of NYXL rebuilt, JJoNak remains with the team for his third year. WhyNot highlighted JJoNak’s fierce competitive spirit combined with high skill as some of the many reasons to keep him. “All of the players respect JJ for what he’s done and what he is still able to do when playing Overwatch.” As the first-ever OWL regular-season MVP, JJoNak has led by example. “His intense focus is very clear to all of his teammates”.

Marketability or brand was not at the forefront of criteria for the NYXL staff to consider for players. “We picked the players that we believed would make us most successful in competition,” he clarified. “There were no other factors that we considered.” This is a different approach to some other OWL teams that lean more into content creation and cultivating a large fanbase.


JJoNak was the first Overwatch League MVP during the Inaugural Season in 2018 (Photo courtesy Blizzard)

Finding the Remaining Pieces

Through many rigorous scrims, the NXYL coaching staff kept three criteria in mind: the potential skill ceiling a player could achieve, depth of hero pool, and ability to adapt to any matchup or meta. Seeking players open and welcome to feedback with an aptitude for acting individually to improve, the coaching staff was impressed with their final full Korean roster. Tryouts were given to players outside of Korea, however, these were the players that impressed the most.

In the eyes of the fans, signing a Contenders player may seem like a risk, but WhyNot spoke at length of the advantages and promise these younger players bring. “When we look at players from Contenders, we understand that we’re going to be getting players that are highly flexible and adaptable given that they are, generally, moving from team-to-team more frequently than an OWL free agent,” he said. “We’ve also found that since they’re younger in age, their mechanics and response times are slightly quicker.”

Signing an OWL free agent isn’t the obvious answer for every team. With the NYXL creating a roster that gives developing younger prospects opportunities to learn from JJoNak’s experience, WhyNot recognizes that there are benefits and drawbacks to bringing in talent who have previously competed in the Overwatch League. “They know what to expect and know how to deal with everything that comes with being a professional in one of the largest esports on the planet,” he explains. “Sometimes they’ll have gotten used to another term’s systems of training (practice, scrims, coaching) and that is not always easy to change.”

Ivy Joins the NYXL

Overwatch League rookies from the NYXL will also be able to learn from former Philadelphia Fusion Flex DPS Seung-hyun “Ivy” Lee, who joined the team in late December 2020. Fans were surprised to see Ivy and the Fusion part ways following a fourth-place finish at the OWL 2020 Grand Finals. After a successful season, the future held many possibilities for a player as talented as Ivy.

His decision to join NYXL wasn’t an easy one, but one he is very excited about. “There wasn’t one thing that made my mind up,” he explained. “It was really a mix of everything from the playstyle that WhyNot is looking for us to play to the teammates I’ll be playing with that came together in what I can just best say felt very natural, very right.”

Philadelphia fusion players team

Ivy leaves behind the Philadelphia Fusion following a fourth place finish at the OWL Grand Finals 2020 (Photo courtesy Philadelphia Fusion Instagram)

During his time on Fusion, Ivy communicated in English during games and took English lessons to improve. “It wasn’t perfect because there are always going to be unique things that happen in Overwatch that we hadn’t come up with call-outs for,“ he said. “But we always made it work somehow.”

Despite the minor challenges of communicating on a mixed roster, joining a full Korean lineup wasn’t a top priority for Ivy. “The main language the team would use during competition was definitely a factor in selecting a team but it was one of many that I considered.” Now signed to a full Korean roster, Ivy finds communicating in-game to be much easier.

A Change of Pace for NYXL

The NYXL coaching staff admired the high-tempo style that Fusion played and hoped to achieve that same pace with these players. “I wanted to build a team that could play at that tempo and make the right decisions no matter how fast we played,” said WhyNot. “[Ivy’s] success at playing at that tempo and playing well, is what impressed me the most.”

Surprisingly, Ivy’s time on Toronto Defiant with Gyeong-mu “Yakpung” Jo wasn’t a factor the coaches considered when signing them. WhyNot observed that players with an existing friendship from a previous team were sometimes more hesitant to share critical feedback. On the other hand, Ivy is comforted to play alongside Yakpung. “Yakpung’s Winston-play is really impressive and that will be a big help to me as I play.”

Ivy’s experience will be a valuable asset for the younger players, along with other mentors like Dong-wook “BiaNcA” Kim, and OWL Inaugural Season MVP JJoNak. The NYXL coaching staff are most excited about “the core mechanics of everyone” and “every player’s skill level with many different heroes” giving them plenty of options to flex to.

For NYXL’s early season, WhyNot stresses the importance of teamwork and communication. “The only thing that I am focusing on right now is making sure that our players come together as a team and work hard, practice with discipline, and share feedback with each other, as well as be honest with themselves about what they need to improve.”