They’ve got game: Virtual basketball league drafts players at Barclays

They’ve got game: Virtual basketball league drafts players at Barclays
Photo by Trey Pentecost

Video killed the basketball star!

The country’s best button-mashing virtual ballers travelled to Barclays Center arena in Prospect Heights on March 5, hoping to find a spot with the National Basketball Association’s professional e-sports league. The draft session for the video-game version of the sport, where the hopes and dreams of gamers from across the country were made — and broken — was the end-point of a months-long process that whittled down 7,000 players to 75 top-level performers.

“I’m extremely bummed out,” said New Jersey resident Justin Howell, who was ultimately not selected amid Tuesday’s draft.

The NBA 2K League, which plays out on digital courts via this year’s edition of the wildly popular sports game “NBA 2K,” kicked off its first season last year. In the league game, each gamer controls a single basketball player, playing on five-person teams that correspond with 21 of the 30 franchises that comprise the nation’s actual basketball league. The Brooklyn Nets joined the virtual roster for the League’s second season.

Players who applied for the pro-gaming league were required to play in 100 virtual games, and to win at least half of them to enter a grueling final competition, during which players were judged based on a variety of statistics, including their win percentage and general stats familiar to any basketball fans, such as points, rebounds, and assists.

Qualifying players were whittled down to 150 candidates, who stood dazzled inside the big-city arena on March 5 as they waited anxiously for their favorite teams to call their name.

“It was amazing,” said Howell. “The whole experience was really cool.”

Maryland resident Dan Davis, 19, who played for the Memphis Grizzlies NBA 2K club last year, was overjoyed to be picked once again by the Grizzlies and signed to another six-month contract, saying that the whole experience has been like something out of a dream.

“It’s definitely a surreal feeling,” he said.

Davis will join 74 other draft picks and a handful of veterans from last year’s league in moving from his home to league-sponsored digs located near the teams they represent. The new teammates will endure a training routine not unlike their pro-baller counterparts, including practices and film sessions, where they will review plays from past games to understand what works and what doesn’t, according to a rep for the league.

The 18-week 2019 season will begin April 2. The games will be streamed online for fans, and the season will conclude with a finals game on Aug. 3, during which players will strive to win more than $1 million spread out amongst four tournament prizes, according to Davis.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Game on: From left, gamers Dan Davis, Everald German, and Andrew Valle at the NBA 2K League draft.
Photo by Trey Pentecost