Meet the 18-year-old GM running the Orlando Magic's NBA 2K League team

Meet the 18-year-old GM running the Orlando Magic's NBA 2K League team

Video Games

Meet the 18-year-old GM running the Orlando Magic's NBA 2K League team

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Less than a year ago, Chris Toussaint was a high-school student who loved eSports, but he didn’t have any experience playing NBA 2K.

Now, at 18 years old, he’s the general manager of Magic Gaming in the NBA 2K League. How did Toussaint get hired by the Orlando Magic and become the youngest person working in the 2K League? By sending a cold email to Director of Magic Gaming Ryan DeVos.

“I reached out to the Magic and Ryan DeVos after I found his email by doing some research online,” Toussaint told HoopsHype. “I sent him a cold email, just like I had done so many times when I was starting out in the eSports world, and he actually responded. That led to a lunch meeting with Ryan, where I was able to talk a little bit about myself and what my aspirations are in this business. About two to three weeks later, I was at the final stages of my interview with the Magic to become the general manager of their 2K League team. Then, I was hired a few days later. This was back in October of 2017.”

The story seems crazy – and even Toussaint admits that it is pretty surreal – but it makes way more sense when you delve into his background.

While he didn’t play NBA 2K, he’s far from new to the world of eSports. In fact, he has years of traditional eSports experience on his résumé, which is what made him such an appealing GM candidate for Magic Gaming.

At 14 years old, Toussaint briefly played on a semi-pro Counter Strike team. However, he was cut from the squad and decided to turn his attention to the business side of eSports. He began volunteering as a marketing coordinator for a large eSports organization. He would cold call and cold email companies, connecting them with his organization’s business staff. This allowed him to learn the ropes and gain experience at a very young age (while also teaching him how to send an effective cold email, which would pay off later). Eventually, his time as a marketing coordinator allowed him to land jobs with larger organizations.

Around this same time, he also started managing professional Counter Strike teams that consisted of players who were “all 18 or older.” Despite the age gap between Toussaint and his players, he quickly proved that he belonged.

“They knew that I was a lot younger, but I knew my stuff, you know?” Toussaint said. “I knew what I was talking about, so they respected me. A lot of eSports players see through any BS. I just kept it 100 with them and was honest about my age, and it was fine because I knew eSports like the back of my hand. I got the job done and the team was competing at a high level, so my players liked me.”

Eventually, he was at the helm of Red Reserve, a widely respected eSports organization that had top teams in several titles.

“Red Reserve was really my first foray into the eSports business by myself,” Toussaint said. “I was part owner and Chief Operations Officer, and Red Reserve became one of the largest gaming teams in the world. After about one year, we accepted an investment opportunity out of Sweden. They purchased the majority of the company, with myself and my co-owner staying on as minority owners. That acquisition allowed us to expand into other eSports. We already had one of the best Call of Duty teams in the world competing under Red Reserve. We also had a Counter Strike team that was ranked Top-10 worldwide competing under Red Reserve. Then, we were able to expand into other eSports pretty quickly.”

Red Reserve was thriving, but Toussaint says he wanted to explore other opportunities.

“I wanted to see what else is out there,” he explained. “I learned a lot there, but with another company owning the entirety of Red Reserve and with eSports continuing to blow up, I decided to weigh my options. From there, that’s how I landed with Misfits, another professional gaming organization that is primarily based out of Florida. They have teams competing in Call of Duty, Counter Strike and League of Legends; they also own Florida Mayhem in The Overwatch League. I was working for them for about five or six months as Players and Content Manager. I was overseeing the day-to-day operations from a player perspective and developing new content. I did a lot of different things for that organization.”

That’s when Toussaint first heard that the NBA and Take-Two Interactive (the company behind 2K Games) were starting an eSports ventured called the NBA 2K League. Immediately, he thought “it sounded like a match made in heaven.” Around this time, he was wrapping up his senior year of high school early and looking to take the next step in his eSports career. This is when he sent that email to DeVos.

DeVos had previously been involved with a number of different projects within the Magic organization. He helped with their app initiative, worked on the rewards program for season ticket-holders, and facilitated the launch of Orlando’s G League affiliate.

“Chris reached out when he was with Misfits because he wanted to learn a little bit more about the 2K League in general and find out what I was working on from a Magic Gaming standpoint,” DeVos told HoopsHype. “Then, we connected more officially when Ben Spoont, the founder and CEO of Misfits, told me that Chris wanted to get into the team management side of things and passed him my way. We had a great rapport from the get-go. We really hit it off and we started working together from there.

“I oversee the team and Chris reports to me, but I’m primarily focused on the business side of things. I’m trying to leave the gaming side of things to Chris as much as possible. It is just Chris and myself right now so it is all hands on deck, but I’m mainly focused on the business partnerships, PnL management and things like that.”

Toussaint couldn’t be more excited to be involved with the 2K League and he’s determined to make the most of it.

“This is definitely the peak of my eSports career so far,” he said. “I’ve been having a lot of fun learning about the competitive, intense work environment within a professional sports organization. I can’t thank the Orlando Magic enough for this opportunity. I know that they did sort of take a risk with me since I’m only 18 years old and I’m leading a team of players who are older than me. I’m determined to show them that this risk was worth it by building them a great team that the organization and the fan base can be proud of and stand behind.”

But what about the fact that Toussaint didn’t have any experience playing NBA 2K prior to getting the job? Well, the Magic seemed to want a GM who was knowledgeable in the eSports world as a whole as opposed to just NBA 2K. That’s why someone like Chris, who had worked with players on many different titles, was so appealing.

“I didn’t play NBA 2K until I was hired by the Magic, but alongside my responsibilities working as the general manager of the Magic’s 2K League team, a big part of my job is educating the senior board and the rest of the Magic organization about other eSports titles,” Toussaint explained. “And they’ve been actively evaluating other opportunities in the eSports space because of that. And while I didn’t play 2K and had to learn really quickly, I do know basketball well. I think because of that, my experience in eSports in general and the value I can bring to the table long-term are the reasons why I’m here today.

“I’ve played just about every popular eSports title pretty heavily and at a rather high level, from Counter Strike to League of Legends to Overwatch to Smash, so I was involved in a lot of different eSports spaces. When I heard about this partnership between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, I didn’t necessarily see the 2K League as the end all be all for these NBA organizations. I really saw it as an opportunity for a lot of these organizations to get involved in the broader scope of eSports. It seems like organizations are dipping their toes in the water with the 2K League and then they may get involved in the rest of the eSports landscape. We’ve already seen some NBA owners buy or partner with teams in other eSports leagues.”

Still, because Toussaint was in charge of drafting Magic Gaming’s six players (with help from DeVos), he admitted that his lack of 2K experience did worry him initially.

“Originally, that was a concern for me; I thought I hadn’t played enough 2K and that I didn’t have a lot of time to really learn the game, like I’ve done with other eSports titles,” Toussaint said. “But, at the end of the day, I’ve worked with a lot of teams and a lot of players so I know what goes into building a championship eSports roster. I understand the process of becoming a champion – things like having a dedicated practice station, having a healthy amount of practice time and having effective practice hours so that our players are actually learning during the sessions. I’ve worked with champions and seen the hard work, dedication and patience required to get to that level. I’ve been there with my players at these tournaments. I’ve cried with them and I’ve celebrated with them. I know what goes into building a great team, leading a team and winning championships. I don’t think 2K is any different.”

As Toussaint prepared for the draft in April, he spent countless hours evaluating the 102 prospects in the talent pool and considering different strategies. He says he even “received insight from the Magic’s basketball operations staff.”

Prior to the draft, Toussaint stressed that “competitiveness” was the main quality he was looking for in his players because he felt that was necessary in order to build a winning culture.

He ultimately used his first-round pick (No. 8 overall) on a point guard named Christopher Cantrell (AKA KontruL), who is a 20-year-old from Jacksonville. The first three players off the board were all point guards and there was a lot of talk about the importance of having a strong floor general in this league. He then selected his power forward, small forward, shooting guard and center (in that order), before using his final pick on an additional power forward for depth.

“We used a few different approaches to gauge the talent of the 102 players and then we narrowed our sights on those who consistently rose to the top of our numerous draft boards,” Toussaint said after the draft. “We used a lot of the advanced analytics that were provided and zeroed in on certain prospects. We ended up securing all of the players we targeted, so we were really satisfied on draft night.”

Chris Toussaint stands behind the Magic Gaming players he drafted last month.

Just like the 2K League players, Toussaint’s housing costs are covered and he receives benefits (such as top-notch health insurance) along with his salary.

“As far as housing goes, we rented a pair of three-bedroom units for our guys and it’s been great so far,” Toussaint said. “Each guy is going through this crazy transition where they’re moving across the country and becoming a professional gamer. Fortunately, they’re all going through the same things and dealing with them together. I think that has helped improve our team’s camaraderie.”

During the 2K League’s inaugural season, there are no trades. There will be some sort of free-agency period or franchise-tag mechanism after the season, but for now, Toussaint’s work is done in terms of transactions. However, he’s also the de facto coach of Magic Gaming. He organizes the practice schedule, helps with strategy, stresses good habits and shares his eSports experiences since these players are largely new to professional gaming.

“We travel on weekends [to the New York studio for regular-season games], so the team trains four days a week – with two practice blocks per day,” Toussaint said. “They spend about six hours actually training, with 10-minute breaks each hour and one-hour breaks between the two practice blocks. I’m pretty involved when it comes to team practices, especially from a strategic standpoint. I think both Ryan and I do a great job providing input.”

As Toussaint tries to lead Magic Gaming to a successful season, he wants to share his journey.

“I’m 18 years old working for the Orlando Magic; I believe I’m one of the youngest employees to be hired by an NBA team on the management side,” Toussaint said. “I want to document this story. I’m learning so much about the world while doing something awesome that I’m passionate about. One of the things that I want to do is create my own content, capturing the best and worst moments of this journey so I can share it with the world. I want to show what eSports is like behind the scenes. People see the tournaments and prize money and all of that, but they don’t see everything else that goes into it. These guys are fierce competitors who care so much about winning, just like their NBA counterparts. I want to capture this journey, from my perspective as a manager and team coach. That’s one of my goals.”

As for his long-term goals, he wants to do big things in the eSports world. He does want to attend college (and he has looked at some schools in the Orlando area), but he’s 100 percent focused on Magic Gaming for now. Considering how much he’s accomplished in 18 years, it makes sense that he has such lofty aspirations going forward.

“I want to leave a lasting impression in the eSports industry and build something that outlives me,” Toussaint said. “I’m learning every day and positioning myself to be able to do just that. I’m meeting the right people and heading in the right direction, and I really think my time at Magic Gaming is going to be incredibly important in my overall development. I’m obviously focused on the NBA 2K League right now, but I am really interested in facilitating the growth of the eSports community here in Orlando. I want to continue to make Orlando an interesting spot for eSports by bringing more organizations and tournaments here. Los Angeles is the kind of the West Coast hub for eSports, but there’s no real eSports hub on the East Coast.”

It’s easy to forget that Toussaint is only 18 years old as he discusses his leadership role with Magic Gaming and his years of experience working for eSports organizations. Then, he’ll mention that he just did his taxes by himself for the first time and one quickly remembers that he’s still a teenager – just one who’s mature beyond his years.

Chris says that his parents, Fran Toussaint and Nicole Barozi, are extremely supportive of his career but admittedly have a hard time understanding what he does for a living.

“To be honest, my parents think I work for the NFL,” Toussaint said with a laugh. “I’ve tried explaining all of this to my parents several times, but they still don’t quite understand. They know that I’m working for a professional sports organization, that my job involves video game competitions, that I’m having fun and that I’m getting great money as well as great benefits, but they don’t know the specifics.

“When I was 14 years old, I was working as a manager for a team and I tried convincing my mom to let me fly to a tournament in Los Angeles. The organization that owned the team was going to pay for my flight and hotel, but my mom didn’t know any of the people involved so she was absolutely against it. It was like that for a while. It was a struggle trying to convince my parents to let me travel to tournaments early on. Now that I’ve been doing this for nearly five years, they’ve seen how I’ve grown as a person, that this is something I’m passionate about and that this is a legitimate career path. Now, they couldn’t be any prouder of me. They’ve supported me through a lot of trials and tribulations as I’ve tried to navigate the eSports world by myself. Maybe one day they’ll fully understand what I do, but for now I’m just going to work on getting them to say the right league. ‘It’s the NBA, not the NFL, Mom!’ But they’re happy that I’m happy, and I really appreciate their support.”

One year ago, what if someone had told Chris that soon he’d be an NBA employee who’s in charge of the Orlando Magic’s eSports team on a video game title he hadn’t played before? How would he have reacted? After thinking for a few seconds, he answers honestly.

“I would’ve told you, ‘You’re absolutely crazy,’” Toussaint said with a laugh. “There’s no way I would have believed you. I couldn’t have imagined this whatsoever. I never thought that I’d end up here.

“But the one thing about me is that I truly love eSports to my core, so regardless of what I’m doing or who I’m working for, I will always be involved in this community one way or another.”

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