Making of: Kings Guard Gaming Logo

With the NBA 2K League set to debut in 2018, get an in-depth look at the design process of the esports team’s mark.

Alex Kramers

Dec 11. 2017

The group-text chain yielded nearly a hundred messages over a half-year span, with Rodney Richardson’s phone perpetually humming at all hours with snapshots of hand-drawn designs and modifications to the previous round of designs from Kings Creative.

In his second collaborative effort with the organization, the RARE Design Founder and Principal – whose Mississippi-based agency executed the basketball-side rebrand prior to last season – aimed to strike a delicate balance between the abstract and literal concepts of the offshoot Kings Guard Gaming brand.

For Richardson, what set Sacramento apart was the team-wide commitment and passion for the continuously-evolving project, as the back-and-forth communication culminated in a mark that epitomizes heart and courage in a direct but strikingly symbolic manner.

“I love having that kind of relationship and camaraderie, because you can move whenever the inspiration strikes you, and there’s also a trust that we’re doing everything we can to get this right,” said Richardson. “I think that makes the end product ultimately stronger.

“We agreed from the start, that without a doubt, the identity for this organization would have to exude powerful confidence, but yet it must be authentically proud. It must also be progressively vibrant. So as we looked at (ideas), we asked, ‘How do we convey that strength, that power and that courage in the simplest way possible?’ I think where we ultimately ended up is even better than we imagined at the start.”

Only eight months prior, the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software announced the inaugural season of NBA 2K League would debut in early 2018, with each of the 17 participating franchises selecting five gamers to play a full season. Rather than rely on Artificial Intelligence, each player will be represented by an individual avatar, with ratings determined strictly by his or her skill set and practices held at a gaming studio at Golden 1 Center.

For an organization that prides itself on innovation and advancement in the technological sector, the opportunity to venture into the rapidly-ascending competitive-gaming market was a logical next step.

“Vivek is always pushing us to innovate and find ways to reach new fans and broaden our audience, and that is exactly what we believe will happen with our Kings Guard esports team,” said Ryan Montoya, Kings Chief Technology Officer.

“When the NBA made the first and biggest decision by saying we should have a 2K League, I don’t think it was ever even a question if we were doing it,” said Erica Rau, Kings Senior Vice President of Marketing. “We are explorers, we want to test waters and we want to get into new places, so of course we’re going to step into this space. That just made so much sense.”

The corresponding logo needed to serve as an extension of the Kings brand – distinctive enough to stand apart from the overarching basketball identity, while still maintaining an intrinsic connectivity to the central mantras of Sacramento pride and monarchial regality.

“Our goal was that it should feel like a family member of the Kings – as if there’s a family tree and it’s a second or third cousin,” said Rau. “The logo shouldn’t feel like it can fit in our Kings pyramid; it needs to feel separate.”

To ensure the mark would stay true to and absorb the culture of the gaming sector – bursting with vibrant colors, geometric shapes and artistic animation – the Creative team scavenged the internet for hundreds of logos from the field and tacked them on the walls inside the arena offices for inspiration.

"It was really an exploration and a deeper dive into not just the gaming space, but competitive gaming," said Ryan Brijs, Kings Senior Creative Director. "We really wanted the logo to be different and unique – to stand on its own and represent something that’s new and exciting in this cool space."

Working with the Kings eSports and Creative teams, RARE Design penciled dozens of elaborate concepts on sketch pads, focused on bringing the broader core values and characteristics of the organization to the forefront, before digitizing the most resonating ideas through Illustrator and Photoshop.

“This is a redefining or reimagining of the Sacramento Kings experience; it's the love, passion and culture of Kings basketball leading out in a real-time way in digital gaming,” said Richardson. “So that had to greatly influence the way we filtered the information of what it means to be the Kings and how to tell that story.

"When we first started talking about it, there were overtly attacking (concepts) – swords and lances – and there were other motifs that seemed royal and upstanding, whether it was crests and banners.”

But even in the earliest stages, lion graphics kept rising to the surface. Decision-makers on all sides recognized the overt strength and power conveyed through the familiar icon, which had long been an integral part of the team’s heritage and identity system, as well as represented its global aspirations.

The biggest challenge came in realizing how each design would be used in practical applications, from being printed on contrasting color backgrounds, to shown as both a high-definition TV image and a compressed thumbnail across various social channels.

But even in the earliest stages, lion graphics kept rising to the surface. Decision-makers on all sides recognized the overt strength and power conveyed through the familiar icon, which had long been an integral part of the team’s heritage and identity system, as well as represented its global aspirations.

The biggest challenge came in realizing how each design would be used in practical applications, from being printed on contrasting color backgrounds, to shown as both a high-definition TV image and a compressed thumbnail across various social channels.

“The first version was very abstract – it was only the eyes, the nose, the mouth and the crown perched above the head,” said Richardson. “It did so much so simply because there’s so much in what’s not shown, but (implied). But when you take that abstract logo – which required your mind filling in the spaces where the negative space existed – it didn’t work when you started throwing it on black or purple backgrounds because that shape did not have a container or a bounding area around it.”

The brand-builders produced several iterations with meticulous revisions to the facial features and crown proportions, before determining that although the lack of clarity felt authentic to the gaming sector, the king of the jungle needed more definition to be presentable on both light and dark palates.

“The reality is this mark has to live in a lot of different areas and in a multitude of ways,” said Richardson. “It has to embroidered, screened, printed and digitized. It has to be shown very small and very large. It has to work on black backgrounds and white backgrounds. If we don’t build an identity that conveys what this team needs and lives successfully in all those areas, then it doesn’t matter how great it looks on its main color way. It’s not successful.”

While RARE retained key aspects of the preliminary logo, the ensuing round of concepts brought the project to the opposite end of the spectrum, presenting a literal caricature that no longer communicated its core pillars of bravery and authority.

“The more animated it got, the less powerful and the less iconic it became, so we knew it had gone too far,” said Richardson. “I think that unless it’s an inherent part of the story that this mark is a living character, if you look at it and feel like he can open his mouth and start talking to you, then it’s gone too far.”

Rather than wipe the slate fully clean, Richardson utilized elements of both designs, combined with Brijs' in-house tweaks, to present a logo that’s unique and powerful, but still aesthetically harmonious with its 2K League contemporaries.

“After lots of sketching, digital designs, and lines that worked and didn’t work, we started to say, ‘This feels right,’” said Rau. “When you hold it up to our brief and to all the things we’re trying to say with this brand, we all agreed it does it the best. We had a lot of positive response on where we ended up going.”

By constructing the convex logo shape, RARE created a shield motif that added a newfound layer of protection and concurrently helped influence the gaming team moniker.

“I think when you see it, and you see it with the name ‘Kings Guard,’ there’s a sense of intimidation,” said Richardson. “There’s this strength and confidence that exude from it.”

Although the designers and Kings brass explored maintaining purple as the primary color, a black, white and gray palate brought the mark's raw power and intensity to life.

“We really wanted to keep purple for Kings – and we have accents of purple – but for me, hands down, the logo is the strongest in black,” said Rau.

To preserve a League-wide consistency, NBA 2K League offered participating teams the choice of one of two typefaces. The clean-cut, stalwart font option that seamlessly pairs with Kings identity turned out to be, according to Richardson, “a happy accident.”

“For some teams, (the font is) going to be a radical departure from their (NBA) typeface, but with the Kings, it’s very similar and fits very well,” he said. “This was a very logical step for the Kings primary identity moving into the Kings Guard gaming space. You can see that progression.”

As the NBA – the first of the four major U.S. pro sports leagues to operate an eSports league – moves into a cutting-edge frontier, the Kings – utilizing the same deep-rooted inspiration and forward-thinking mentality that guided the basketball logo rebrand – are once again at the forefront of innovation.

“We’re moving into this new realm, and the Kings organization’s desire to be ahead in that realm is tremendous,” said Richardson. “I think the intensification of the brand’s story through this new mark really proves that they continue to lead the rest of the League into this space.”


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