Storyline: NBA 2K League

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In March, Evans became the first woman drafted into the NBA 2K League, joining not only the fray of gamers who have to prove that what they do constitutes sports, but also the bevy of women in gaming and sports at large who have to prove that they simply belong. A Chicago native who played basketball from AAU up to college and semi-pro, Evans has had to face and overcome the kind of roadblocks you’d expect from two industries that tend to treat women as outsiders.

More than five months after being drafted and with more than enough validation from her league and teammates, Evans has learned to take the hate in stride. “It’s still there. It’s going to always be there. That’s something that you can’t change,” she told The Athletic during the first round of the NBA 2K League playoffs last week. “I can’t quit or give up just because a few people who obviously have problems with themselves, they’re bothering me. I can’t let them get to me and ruin who I am and you know my goal as a 2K player. I will say one thing that keeps me moving and keeps me going is the positivity and the support outweighs the negative.”

That landscape might be changing, if at a snail’s pace, aided in part by efforts to create women-only leagues and tournaments and raise awareness about the level of vitriol women gamers face. But while women supporting women is important, siloing them away from the mainstream gaming world isn’t the answer, especially with women fans representing a growing share of esports fans. According to market researcher Interpret, 30 percent of esports watchers are women, a 6.5 percent increase from 2016. As a woman in a man’s league, Evans is experiencing these shifts first hand. “I get inboxed all the time from a lot of women that I’m an inspiration. A lot of women who play 2K now, when they get into the 2K League, they’re gonna get better to improve their games,” she said. “I get messages from a lot of guys, too, but definitely a lot of women, a lot of younger females.”

The 2019 NBA 2K League Draft marks the beginning of the second season of the NBA 2K League. The draft was held on Wednesday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York where a total of 75 players were selected for the 21 teams. Jazz Gaming selected Spencer “Ria” Wyman from Washington with the first overall pick. With Shaka “Yeah I Compete” Browne and Demar “Deedz” Butler returning for the Jazz at point guard and power forward, respectively, locking in a flexibile Center like Ria was what many people expected.

Someone put a microphone in front of her and asked her how it felt. That’s when she finally choked up. “It changes everything,” she said. “It means everything to me.” Evans became the first woman ever drafted into the NBA 2K League on Tuesday night, going in the fourth round to Warriors Gaming, which is operated by the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. A former college and semipro basketball player, Evans is now the esports league’s first female pro, one of the 126 players who will make between $33,000 to $37,000 per season, plus benefits and team housing.

Hurst’s eyes have already returned to his screen, but he continued: “I would’ve driven it right down the lane,” where an undefended basket was awaiting him, he said. Hurst is 21 years old and plays NBA 2K professionally in a league funded by the NBA on a team affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks. He moved nearly 5,000 miles last April for this job, arriving in Dallas from Reading, England. You might play video games when you get off work; this is Hurst’s work, a job that pays him a $32,000 full-time salary for the league’s five-month duration. He’s likely among the best 100 players in the world. And still, even he can’t escape something that has plagued almost anyone who has ever picked up a controller: sometimes, the game just doesn’t do what you want it to do, damn it.

Jannis Neumann may have eight Dirk Nowitzki bobbleheads perched on his desk, but he had never actually met Nowitzki. On a Thursday earlier this month, after two morning scrimmages online, that changes thanks to an interview set up by a German television station. “If someone had told me I would meet Dirk, I would have told them they’re crazy,” Neumann said. This is Neumann’s first time living in the United States after growing up in northwest Germany, near the Netherlands border. He’s one of three international players on the roster – along with Ryan de Villon, or Devillon, from Toronto, Canada, and Hurst, from England – who relocated internationally.

Donohue said the season exceeded all the league’s expectations, pointing to weekly increases in viewership on Twitch, the streaming service popular with video-game players, and a social media presence that includes more than 1.6 million followers of the league and its teams on social media platforms. The league will continue to explore ways to find even more viewers. “Right now we’re on Twitch and we’re focused on being on Twitch. We’re focused on them being our partner for a long time,” Donohue said. “We’ll do whatever we can to make sure we get our product in front of as much of the globe as possible, so we’ll talk to partners about how they can help us do that.”

Knicks Gaming are your inaugural 2018 NBA 2K League champions. It’s about as improbable of a phrase as their come-from-behind, series-clinching win during Game 2 of the best-of-three series, as New York trailed by nine points in the fourth quarter – 11 at the end of the first half – to pick up the W on Saturday. In complete contrast to their finals opposition, Knicks Gaming put together a total team effort to claim victory. All five members scored in double figures, marking the first time such a feat occurred for Knicks Gaming during their shocking playoff run. Credit first and foremost goes to Finals MVP, NateKahl, who registered 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting while playing impeccable defense on Heat Check Gaming star forward Hotshot. Two critical three-pointers down the stretch by the “stretch” power forward helped push Knicks Gaming ahead in the contest, and without NateKahl’s defense throughout the multi-series contest it’s possible the outcome could be completely different than what occurred Saturday.

Save for NateKahl’s timely threes and excellent defense, the other major component behind Knicks Gaming’s turnaround was the rebounding prowess of center G O O F Y 757. Relegated to essentially the third or fourth scoring option most nights due to recent meta changes, Goofy’s rebounding literally saved New York in the fourth quarter. In one particularly pivotal sequence of events, Goofy corralled not one, not two, but three offensive rebounds, setting the stage for what would a clutch three-pointer for Knicks Gaming to push the deficit under five points. Given iamadamthe1st’s struggles from the field (12 points, 4-of-16 shooting), Goofy’s rebounding and scoring load (18 points on 9-of-14 shooting) was the difference between a series sweep and the possibility of extending to Game 3.
1 year ago via ESPN

Many owners believe that testing the format and giving owners not invested in esports outside of the 2K League a chance to experience the industry for the first time is healthy, according to sources. However, others have been disappointed by the viewership and engagement that have led to struggle in advertising and partnership sales, sources said. The $750,000 franchise fee for the 2K League and subsequent team operating costs are minuscule compared to the level of required capital to enter the more popular esports titles. The League Championship Series required its owners to commit to a multiyear contract that would see its teams pay $10 million to $13 million in franchises fees. The Overwatch League, in its first season, required $20 million over multiple years in franchise payments — and for its second season, it has sold teams for more than $35 million, sources said.
1 year ago via ESPN

The NBA is expected to welcome franchises owned by the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves to its NBA 2K League ahead of its second season, league sources told ESPN. The four franchises will join the 17 NBA teams who participated in the inaugural NBA 2K League season, which began in May and will conclude with its first finals event on Aug. 25 in New York. The expansion price for the second season is the same as the first, $750,000 for three years of participation, according to sources.

Even though it had only been one month since the last time we spoke, Franklin’s life had continued to change in ways he never imagined and every day, he was creating incredible memories. The Sacramento Kings players who love video games quickly became friendly with the players on Kings Guard Gaming, which gave Franklin some cool stories he could tell his friends back home. “It’s crazy, man! Literally right before jumping on this phone call, I was playing Fortnite and De’Aaron Fox was just standing behind me, hanging out and watching me play,” he said. “He’s someone who has some of the most potential of any player in the NBA and here he is just being a cool, humble kid! That’s just one example. Jack Cooley has been really great to be around too. I really feel like one of the players. “

“When I was playing NBA 2K12, I consistently put in work every single day,” Franklin told HoopsHype. “Then, once I felt I was prepared and ready to face top competition, I started hitting up every Top-25 team and asking them to give me a chance. Back then, if you were on a Top-25 team, people in the 2K community knew who you were. I was just some random guy and nobody knew who I was, but I became a pest. I messaged every Top-25 team saying, ‘I know you don’t know me, but give me a chance. All I need is one tryout and I’ll show you that I’m one of the best.’ Then, I got a shot and earned a spot on the No. 3 team. Two years later, in NBA 2K14, GameBattles had a playoff with a $2,000 prize – the largest 2K prize pool in GameBattles history – and my team won that. After that, I really knew, ‘Yeah, this is for me.’ I became obsessed with it, doing anything I could push myself and become better.”

“If you told me this would happen 10 years ago, I would’ve told you that you’re crazy. Honestly, if you told me about all this two years ago, I would’ve said you’re insane,” Franklin told HoopsHype. “I’ve loved playing video games my whole life, but I wasn’t really serious about it – nothing like I am with 2K. The majority of my family goes hunting and fishing, but I’ve never enjoyed that. I always loved video games and was a natural at them. They finally stopped bringing me hunting because I’d bring my Game Boy out in the woods, and it would make all these noises and you’re supposed to be really quiet when you’re hunting (laughs). They finally got upset with me and stopped bringing me, so I guess I sort of won that war. But I always knew I wasn’t really into outdoor activities like that; I’ve always loved video games and I was always a sports fanatic, so to be able to play 2K for a living is a dream come true.”

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.”

“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.”

“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.”

Jeff Terrell: I’m thankful to be in the position I am in. We’re excited but understand this is just the beginning. We still have a long way to go and have a lot of things we can improve on. It’s surreal to be the first ever @NBA2KLeague tournament Champs! Thanks for all the support. #together

76ers Gaming Club have announced that they have signed Jeff Terrell as the head coach for their 2K League team, who will look after not only player management but also the performance of the team as well as their practice scheduled. “We are excited to name Jeff Terrell as the head coach of 76ers Gaming Club,” 76ers GC General Manager Michael Lai said. “Jeff stood out to us immediately, having both an intimate knowledge of the competitive NBA 2K scene and extensive experience coaching traditional basketball. Beyond his experience, Jeff demonstrated a thoughtful approach to the game that will put our players in a position to succeed. We are delighted to have him as our coach, and I look forward to working with him toward our goal of winning a championship.”

The Cavaliers weren’t the only Cleveland basketball team to win in thrilling fashion Tuesday. The city’s first pro esports team Cavs Legion GC did it too. In their first-ever game in the NBA 2K League, Sick (Jerry Knapp) took a pass from Hood (Brandon Caicedo) on a drive and kick and hit a game-winning three-pointer with 3.2 seconds left for a 76-63 victory over Kings Gaming. Hood, Cavs Legion’s top pick in the draft, finished the game with 41 points and 8 assists.

Magic Gaming is set to play its first games on Thursday, May 3 as part of “THE TIPOFF” tournament. All games will be streamed live on Twitch. “THE TIPOFF” tournament schedule runs May 1-5. “THE TIPOFF” will officially begin the 15-week regular season, which features both weekly games and tournaments, and concludes with the NBA 2K League Playoffs and Finals in August. All competition will take place at the NBA 2K League Studio Powered by Intel in New York City.
1 year ago via ESPN

My video game participation peaked with Goldeneye for Nintendo 64. Even so, those of us with an interest in court design awaited what NBA teams might do with their virtual floors. They could be more adventurous, and if some nutty out-of-the-box gamble resonated, perhaps they might one day incorporate it into real NBA games featuring real humans playing real basketball. ESPN obtained an exclusive first look at the finished courts. Here they are, in alphabetical order, with some instant analysis: 76ers Gaming Club. Philly may have the NBA’s best top-to-bottom art. The mix of blue, red, and clean nods to history always works. This is a little more audacious, and doesn’t quite match Philly’s usual standards. The empty paint trend mostly phased out of the NBA over the last two or three years, but as we’re going to see, it (unfortunately) returns with a vengeance in the virtual NBA. Lightly shaded logos within each 3-point arc are very much in — see Denver and New Orleans in real life — but this version is clunky. There are just too many shaded objects competing for your eye’s attention.

The headsets will be worn by both players and casters during all live gameplay throughout the course of the season, including weekly matchups, three in-season tournaments, playoffs and the NBA 2K League Finals “We want NBA 2K League players to have best-in-class equipment, and when it comes to headsets, HyperX is second to none,” NBA 2K League Managing Director Brendan Donohue said. “Communicating with teammates during play is vital for success and partnering with HyperX will allow our players to compete at their best.”

Cavs Legion Gaming Club will tip off its inaugural season in the NBA 2K League with three games on Tuesday. Cleveland’s first professional esports team begin play in the league’s first tournament by taking on Sacramento’s Kings Guard Gaming at 6 p.m. and Milwaukee’s Bucks Gaming at 7 p.m. before closing out the night against Detroit’s Pistons Gaming Team at 10 p.m. All games will be played at the NBA 2K League studio in New York City and streamed live on Twitch.

Woods, 18, is the youngest player in the league. He made the call to drop out of University of Tennessee-Martin. First-round picks will make $35,000; others will make $32,000. One million dollars in prize money will be at stake over the course of the season. The playoff pool is $600,000 with the league champion receiving $300,000. Eight teams reach the postseason. “(My parents) let me drop out to go for it and just told me to try my best. If I want to change up, I can go back to school,” Woods said. “You can always go to school, but not everybody gets the chance to be a professional gamer. I want to do this. God forbid that I have to go back, I can always go back.”

Leonsis sees the NBA as a platform, like Facebook — “the good Facebook,” he said Monday morning. And he expects 2K teams will become part of that platform, both as a revenue-generator and a content-provider, along with an owners’ NBA, WNBA and G League teams. “In the short term, it will help us in marketing and help us be more relevant to a younger audience,” Leonsis said. “It will also help us globally. The Twitches and YouTubes are unwired, and available to people around the world.”

“eSports will be a boon for traditional media,” Leonsis said. “The two drivers of revenue and fan affinity will be digital sports and digital gaming and gambling. Outside of the U.S., digital gambling is accepted. You go do digital gambling like you would go to a Starbucks … if you look at things like Draft Kings, if you put a virtual team together, you watch all of the games. You’re really interested. When casual fans bet on games, like the NCAA Tournament or the Super Bowl, the viewership stays really high.”

Now Thomallari has a salary to go with his video-game talents. Along with the other first-round selections, he will be paid $35,000 for the 17-week season. The draft went six rounds, and each team selected a starting lineup and one back-up. Players picked outside of the first round will be paid $32,000 for the season. All players will receive standard medical benefits, as well as housing in Boston paid for by the league (rather than the Celtics). “Fourteen months ago, there was no path to pro,” NBA 2K League commissioner Brendan Donohue told reporters in Boston on Friday. “To go from there to where they are now is great.”

The NBA 2K League postseason begins on August 17 and runs for two weeks. The seven teams with the best regular-season record and the winner of the final tournament are guaranteed spots. If the tournament winner already has a berth based on record, then the top eight teams will make the playoffs. The final tournament allows a team that gets hot to steal a spot away from a bubble team. The quarterfinals will be single-elimination play. The semifinals and NBA 2K League Finals will be best of three. The entire prize pool for the playoffs will be $600,000 and the NBA 2K League champion receives $300,000 of that prize. That means each player on the winning team could secure an additional $50,000 to go with their $35,000 or $32,000 salary, tournament winnings, housing, food, transportation and endorsements.

Yesterday’s draft was the first real step on that journey. It was a promising start, but just that: a start. Silver said he expects that all 30 NBA franchises will field esports teams by the third year of the gaming league — another sign that the NBA and Take-Two are in this for the long haul. But that’s a long way off. “Things aren’t going to be perfect in the beginning, but we’ve just got to get out there,” said Silver during the press conference. “We’ve got to begin operating, and we’ll learn as we’ll go.”
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August 18, 2019 | 9:06 pm EDT Update
Entering his fifth season, Richardson was involved in a five-game playoff series loss two years ago against the Sixers. There have been many other, heated games with the two teams. His biggest perception of Philadelphia as an opposing player? “The fans, man,” Josh Richardson said during Saturday’s annual Sixers Summer Shore Tour at the PigDog Beach Bar BQ in Wildwood. “The first thing you think about is how hard the fans are to opposing players. It is tough playing against that and I am excited to play on the same side of those fans.”
In looking at his new team, Richardson noted something he thought he would never see, that he will be the smallest player in the starting lineup. The rest of the projected lineup is 6-10 point guard Ben Simmons, 6-9 small forward Tobias Harris, 6-10 power forward Al Horford and 7-2 center Joel Embiid. “I have never been that ever in my life,” Richardson said about being the smallest. “This will be interesting, looking up to my teammates, talking in huddles.”
Not surprisingly, his summer has been spent working overtime on all aspects of his game. “I’ve been grinding,” he said. Smith says he has benefited from extra summer work in the weight room. The Sixers list him at 199 pounds. He said he was about 205 the last time he was weighed before the summer and now says he is 212 pounds. He hopes to become a solid rotation player. “That is the goal,” he said. “Get in the rotation and play hard and do what I do and have fun.”
August 18, 2019 | 7:41 pm EDT Update