In 2020, the North America League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) will have a totally new look. Evil Geniuses, one of the oldest esports brands in the world, will be returning to League of Legends for the first time since 2015. Immortals Gaming Club will also be rejoining the LCS after disbanding its original team in 2017.
New rosters aren’t the only refreshes that the league will be seeing. Golden Guardians, founded in 2018 and owned by the Golden State Warriors, is bringing something unique to the table. In December, the team tweeted a video unveiling its reimagined visual identity, including a much-praised logo inspired by the iconography of the Bay Bridge, a sword and shield, and the Warriors “W.”
“I think the idea of the ‘guardian’ is more powerful than the representation that we had (originally) come up with,” said Hunter Leigh, the Warriors’ head of esports. “We started fresh on how we wanted to embody that, and we think we got to something that keeps in the spirit of what we were doing before, but more clearly encapsulates it.”
The Guardians’ previous colors were a mirror of the Warriors brand, reflecting the pre-established legend of the basketball team. The new visual identity, featuring black and gold, takes after the Warriors’ alternate colors, which the Guardians will make its own.
“Internally, whenever we had samples in for a black version of a jersey, our players were always excited to wear it,” Leigh said. “In some ways, the black and gold isn’t departing from the Warriors all that much, but it is coming home to something that the players feel more comfortable with, and it feels more familiar for esports.”
Rebrands can be tricky territory, as esports and traditional sports teams alike have learned the hard way; preserving what people love about a team while creating something new can be a difficult balance to strike. The Guardians seem to have hit the right notes, as commenters on Twitter and Reddit largely praised the changes.
From audience surveys, the Guardians knew that its relationship to the Warriors was its main point of identification for fans. One of the rebrand’s core goals was to reinforce that link, in part by translating the championship-winning basketball team’s values into a different kind of competition.
“(The Warriors) don’t do things just to be good, they want to be great. This idea of a gold standard, the way that they approach setting the bar in traditional sports as high as it can be. That really resonated,” Leigh said.
The Guardians continued to emphasize its NBA connection during the LCS offseason. Steve Kerr, longtime head coach for the Warriors, wore one of the Guardians’ new jerseys at a press conference. The team also introduced its League of Legends roster and its first expansion during a Warriors game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Even the Guardians’ 2020 photoshoot takes inspiration from the Warriors social media, showing players who wear semi-formal clothes in lieu of the typical esports jersey or team-designed merch.
“One of the ways you don’t see esports players very often is dressed up. I think it was a really fun surprise for everybody to see those photos come out,” Leigh said. “They’re professionals that are pursuing this career as a job, and they take it seriously. And this sort of nods to that, that esports has grown up in a way.”
With a new style, all that’s left is to show it off on stage. The Guardians lost its first two matches of the spring LCS split, but the season is long and the rebrand still has many chances to shine. Historically, the team has been less than successful — it has never placed higher than 5th (out of 10) in any LCS split.
“People have ranked us pretty low in preseason power rankings, but I think what they’re going to see is that they’re wrong,” Leigh said. “Guardians fight, and they fight together, and this group is ready to get out there. We have guys that really feel like they have something to prove. I hope that all comes together into something that fans can really get drawn to quickly and identify with.”