In our continuing series on women in esports, we spoke with Collette Gangemi, head of merchandising and consumer product for the New York Excelsior (NYXL), the first-ever professional esports team representing the city of New York.
Prior to her role with NYXL, Collette was the head of consumer products for Red Bull, where she built the consumer products business from the ground up, including all e-commerce, design, manufacturing, licensing, and operational elements. We got a chance to chat with Gangemi about a different side of esports, her role with NYXL, and how merchandising helps fans express themselves.
After the interview, Gangemi told us, “We need more women in this sport, and any time you can kind of bring it to light, it’s super important for me personally. I want women to know that there are multiple types of jobs in this type of industry, and they probably never would have even thought of my type of role. I think it’s really important to bring this to light.”
For readers who are not familiar with NYXL, tell us about what it is.
Sure! I’m sure you know that the Overwatch League is the first esports league that is community- and city-based. So most of the teams in other leagues are from all over the world, and there’s no real sense of community or city based off these teams. In this case, the Overwatch League is city-based franchises around the world were sold, and so we are the New York Excelsior. We are the team of the tri-state area, so southern Connecticut, New York, and southern New Jersey. Obviously, we’re in the city which is the best city in the world — I know I’m biased — New York City. So collectively what we’re trying to do now is really find our fanbase and work with the New York community who loves gaming and esports. We’ve been really successful finding those fans and doing activations in these markets to kind of further game feedback, work with fans on their craft, what games they play, just building a fan base in the last year… New York is the center of the universe in fashion. Paris, too, but it’s the center of the universe and most progressiveness in sports. The most beloved sports teams in the world are based out of New York, love it or hate it. The Yankees, the Nicks, there is a lot of love/hate against those teams. There is a lot of history around New York sports, so we’re really fortunate to have this city.
This is a side of esports that many of us don't get a chance to learn about. What can you tell us about what being the head of merchandising and consumer product for NYXL entails?
I think my role is kind of rare with esports teams at this moment. I think a lot of people have put a lot of infrastructure towards team operations and events and marketing in its purest forms. And also finding teams and GMs and management of teams. The one thing everyone needs to remember is, for fans to truly love a team, consumer products are the main basis, because it’s the tangibility that they get to leave [with] or wear every day to support their favorite teams. I feel like a lot of teams are low to the game to realize that coming up with a really compelling apparel or accessories project is a huge loss overall. And we’ve capitalized on that from day one. I come from huge athletics: Converse, Adidas, DC Shoes. I was the head of consumer products for Red Bull for the last seven and a half years. So my background is pretty broad in big performance athletics. Our main job is to bring the esports consumer and the team-lover-type consumer something different in the marketplace that they don’t see in esports… the bottom line is that everyone wants to represent their own city.
You had an unconventional road to getting involved with esports. Can you give us a look at your entry into the genre?
When I started at Red Bull about seven and a half years ago, I was required to work on athletes, helmets and hats and apparel for our athletes. When I first started someone said to me, we need to make special headsets for our StarCraft athletes. And I was like, StarCraft? I came from traditional athletics and I was like, what is that? And they said, yeah, we have a whole team of esports athletes. As time went on, I made sure to educate myself on the space, coming from traditional athletics, and really started to embrace this community that was foreign to me, but also is very, very broad, fanatically supportive and represents all ethnicities, all genders, everything, which is very rare in a lot of sports cases. Then Red Bull started having massive esports events in DOTA and StarCraft, and we would create merchandise based on those events, and sell it to the consumers that came to the event. And I really thought, well, this is the future of sports. So that was about seven years ago. Segue into wanting to move on and do something different, and someone named Ben Nichol, who came to the New York Excelsior ahead of me — he was the head of esports for Red Bull — he basically called me about four months into the job and said, you need to come over here. This is the future, the leadership team here and the ownership group of Sterling and the Mets, who are some of the greatest people I’ve ever worked for and really was sold on the vision for New York, for esports. So we’ve been building from there. I’ve been here about five months, so it’s pretty new.
Tell us all about the upcoming event NYXL Shop & LAN!
So basically, when I was at the job one day, when I first started, Overwatch League made the announcement that we were going to host the finals in New York City, so I explained that I would very quickly like to find some collaborations and apparel and open a pop-up shop. We executed that vision about two months later and had our first pop-up shop at the end of July. It was unbelievably successful. Not even just from a financial standpoint, but from a fan engagement standpoint, and what we learned is that this fan is the most supportive fanatical fan of any league that I’ve seen. They waited in line for four to five hours. In some cases it rained on their heads. It was 90 degrees. We had four weather patterns happen in five hours, and 800 people each day waited in line for five hours. They got limited-edition merchandise and jerseys from Undefeated and a limited-edition Levi’s chain-stitched jacket, and we did all this collaboration with Champion and all these limited-edition special products, and it literally evaporated. We were left with nothing at the end. So you do an activation like that, you’re super successful, you understand that the fanbase is clamoring for something different. So Ben and I put our heads together and decided to take to the next level. So, instead of doing a 2,000-square-foot store, we’re doing an 8,000-square-foot store where we’re building a PC land, we’re building a full cafe, and then 4,000 feet of it is a store that is hosting all of the collaborations with the top brands around the team. So we’ve been designing apparel and accessories with these brands to launch in mid-November.
Which players should we be watching on the team?
Yeah, I mean, listen, we’ve got a player named Saebyeolbe [Park Jong-ryeol]. His personality is quite infectious. He’s an unbelievable person to spend time with. He’s just a ray of light, super happy, amazing personal style, an amazing player, and he’s an amazing team captain. The players love him. He’s very encouraging. Also JJonak [Bang Seong-hyun], “King of Mindfulness,” he’s also the league MVP. He’s kind of a silent assassin while playing the game, and very beloved as well. Those two players, in particular, are definitely ones to watch.
What esports teams are you rooting for? Which games are you watching? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @SYFYFangrrls!