Playing video games for a living. What was once thought to be no more than a pipe dream has become a fortunate reality for some.
The announcement of the NBA 2K League on February 9, 2017 brought these dreams to life for some, including the athletes that now fill the 20-team league.
“It is kind of like every kid’s dream being able to play games and make a career of that,” said Moshood Balogun Jr., of the NBA 2K League.
OFFICIAL: The pool of 198 players who will be eligible for Tuesday’s 2019 #NBA2KLeague Draft has been announced. In total, 74 players will be selected over 4 rounds.— NBA2KLeague (@NBA2KLeague) March 4, 2019
Watch the Draft LIVE tomorrow at 5 pm/et on @Twitch! https://t.co/X3tqV9NcuT
For players like Moshood, who is known by his gamer handle, Shockey, and Eric Ward, or also known as Yeynotgaming the 2K League has been a revelation. For many across the country and the globe, video games have become a way of life. Now as adults, the two have turned that escape from reality into a career, one that more than a few people would be envious to have.
The days of parents lecturing kids about video games being a waste of time aren’t all gone. Despite this blooming new league, misunderstandings about the sport are still commonplace.
“A lot of people, especially on the older generation especially see it as a distraction. You know you don’t get anything from that, you spent too many hours on that, put it away and read a book. That’s not really the case,” explained Moshood. “Like watching any old sports. At the end of the day, it is a game and It takes strategy, it takes hand eye coordination. Right now it’s a great time for the gaming generation.”
While onlookers may not consider eSports gamers ‘athletes’ in a traditional sense, that’s something that those in the league are challenging. As is the case with any sports or skill, practice is needed and lots of it.
Ward tells Unfiltered Access that one of the biggest misunderstandings about eSports athletes is how much work they put in. Those in the league often head to the gym, watch film and eat right in order to stay in shape, especially for a sport that requires them to stay sitting for hours at a time.
“It is kind of the same in the sense that we keep up in mental health and keeping our skills sharp,” Ward explained.
The big difference between traditional athletes and these next generation of gamers is the amount of screen time they have each and every day. In Ward’s case, he says that he spends at least six hours a day and between 50 and 60 hours per week just playing NBA 2K in order to practice.
At a minimum of six hours per day that can mean more than 2,100 hours of gaming a year, and that isn’t counting extra screen time during the six-month long season. Despite the amount of time and energy that is involved in being a 2K athlete, both Mashood and Clark agree that they still have nothing but love for the game.
NBA2KLeague prospects have to understand that they are no longer just gamers at home playing.— Erin Ashley Simon (@erinasimon) February 28, 2019
They are brands. They are professionals. They are influencers. They are potential representatives of the league.
They rep more than just themselves, more at stake.
“It is still fun for me. Prior to the 2K league coming out you were just playing it for the love of it,” said Moshood who played his first season for Brooklyn’s eSports team. “I’ve been playing it since like NBA 2K2. It is nice to see that now we are getting compensated for that. I mean love is always going to be there.”
For both men the excessive number of hours spent training is not all fun and games. At the end of the day, it is their careers on the line.
Prior to the leagues inaugural season there was a combine to test players skills and ability, not unlike other sports. As the combines and tournaments narrowed down the competition it left 102 players for 102 roster spots among the 17 teams. This means that every athlete who had gotten to that point was at least promised a spot on a team.
While the inclusion of four new teams to start this upcoming 2K season means the league is growing, it also means there are more pool spots but fewer draft spots as the season approaches.
For the league, growth is the name of the game. With platforms like Twitch leading the way for eSports, leagues like 2K are receiving enough viewership to challenge the boundaries of traditional sports.
Unlike with other sports leagues, eSports and 2K, in particular, has the ability to build a home in cities without other professional teams and attract fans from around the globe as long as they have a wifi signal. It also gives 2K athletes the ability to interact with their fans unlike any other sport prior. It is this type of access that gives the league the ability to build its brand and the notoriety of its athletes at an unparalleled level.
“It has created an environment that is welcoming for new guys to try and be like us,” said Ward. “To get better at the game or if they just turned 18 or 19 and they want to be in the league and work hard. They have seen other guys dream come true and this kind of just opened the door for them.”
“I’m glad the game kept me away from a lot of the things the world present.” – @beardabeast23 🎮— NBA2KLeague (@NBA2KLeague) February 28, 2019
👀Check out the inspiring journey of North Carolina native Michael Key turned 2019 NBA 2K League Draft hopeful.
The 2019 #NBA2KLeague Draft is on March 5 (5 pm/et, @Twitch) pic.twitter.com/AjYxNP9mas
That notoriety and the ability to step into any arena and draw a crowd has executives, NBA organizations and athletes alike all excited for what the league could look like in just a few years time. A future that Ward and Mashood both agree could mean new teams overseas and even the potential of gaming Olympic recognition.
“I think it has the opportunity to grow really far and it will make a lot of people in this league a lot of money over time,” said Ward. “I think it can really blow up with the Call of Duties and some of the games you see like Overwatch and you start seeing people come into stadiums to see 2K players play and not just the Los Angeles Lakers, so you have to like the direction it’s going in.”
Whether it is making a lot of people money or making dreams a reality, there is one thing for certain. The NBA 2K League is here to stay as the next generation of athletes grab their controllers for a shot at the pros.