The NBA 2K League launched in 2018 as one of the most sure-footed entries into esports by a traditional sports league. After wrapping up two seasons and amassing 23 franchises for the third, the competition was put on hold in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Although an inevitable move, the fact the league is broadcasted from New York City, now the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, added weight to the decision. While Manhattan would host a good chunk of matches in year three, it was also the season where the NBA 2K League would begin traveling to more team markets.
“This is going to force us to shift some gears,” Mathew Makovec, general manager for Lakers Gaming told The Esports Observer. “When we come out the light at the end of the tunnel we’ll have more opportunities to get this league in front of other people, and the environments the teams are in.”
Makovec is also director of community relations for the Los Angeles Lakers, a role he’s played for 14 years across different franchises. From the outset, the avid retro game collector was a source of knowledge for the Lakers, maintaining a small team through the inaugural and sophomore seasons.
He explained that, unlike most NBA 2K League teams, the Lakers Gaming players live most of their season out of a hotel, practice from a high-speed internet facility less than an hour away, and then travel to New York for league games. Initially, the players were barely able to connect their phone to the hotel wifi, let alone six large PC towers that require up to a gigabyte of connection.
“As the league goes into online play, it needs this fast internet,” said Makovec. “The download speed is there, but the upload speed can also be a challenge if you are trying to stream, if you want to have game fidelity, game accuracy, making sure there is no cheating or dropouts.”
The league was coming back online, literally, with an exhibition tournament, hosted by Hornets Venom GT. Lakers Gaming was able to siphon some special internet from the hotel, allowing the players to get their first taste of competitive action of the year.
“We can feel a little bit of a delay compared to playing in our facility, but it’s not significant enough to where it really impacts the game for us,” said Lakers Gaming Head Coach, Kris Dellarciprete. “We’re really grateful for that, and everyone’s mood and morale is a lot higher now we’re able to practice.”
Dellarciprete could be considered part of the “original class” of competitive NBA 2K. Hailing from Springfield, Pennsylvania, he left college in 2016 and started his own marketing company. On the side, he formed a team of players that picked up some small cash prizes online, before playing for $250K USD at the Road to All Star finals, in New Orleans.
“Going into that finals game, nobody had any idea that there was a league in the works. We also didn’t know there’d be scouts,” said Dellarciprete. “That put all 10 of us in that game with a pretty big advantage over everyone else. Our names are out there at the most crucial, pivotal time.”
One of his opponents in the tournament, Artreyo Boyd, was the first to be drafted into the league, while Dellarciprete would be a second-round pick for Pistons Gaming. Despite two respectable season runs, he was not retained for a third year, a fact he, unfortunately, found out first on social media. A shot-in-the-dark email to the Lakers eventually brought him the mantle of coach, and to live in LA, for the first time.
— Lakers Gaming (@LakersGaming) April 8, 2020
He explained that, the pandemic aside, the job already brought with it entirely new challenges. As in most other esports, he’s working with kids who have never left their hometown, who may not be used to putting aside their egos, and who are suddenly representing one of the most storied organizations in U.S. basketball.
“It’s really hard to scout 2K players because you can only see what they do in Pro-AM, and a lot of that success never travels to the league. It’s not like college football or basketball. Mindset and mentality is just as important, if not more so, than talent.”
In the midst of a content void, various NBA franchises have turned to NBA 2K, with some even repurposing esports games from the last two seasons. Some teams not yet part of the esports league have placed basketball players behind the controller. Makovec said it goes back to different franchises having different histories.
“Our regional sports provider, which is Spectrum, they may have so much more from the Lakers to fill up our channels,” he said. “We may not need to explore some of this other stuff, where some teams may not have this history, they may need to get more creative with the content they have.
“In a normal world we would also be going out, filming content, meeting people, doing charity work, exploring the city,” added Dellarciprete. “Unfortunately that’s been taken away from us this year, but hopefully things can go back to normal later on in the season, at least a little bit.”
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