Warning: graphic language can be found in some of the links in this article
The NBA 2K League combine process has concluded, with 250 players out to prove they’re one of the top 102 NBA 2K players in the world and get the chance to play the game professionally.
But while it was obvious from the very beginning there weren’t enough spots for every good player to make it in, few anticipated what happened after the combine.
So let’s get a quick recap, going way back to when the league was first announced:
- The league is announced. A number of people express concerns that only well-known players on Twitter and popular YouTubers and Twitch streamers will make the league. Some outright say the process is rigged.
- Time goes on, the 17 teams hire staff members and reveal their branding.
- The rigged accusations heat up. Team manager follows a player on Twitter? That player is definitely getting drafted and it’s rigged. Players meet up with managers at official events? Those players are definitely getting drafted and it’s rigged. A player is sent team gear by a manager? That player is definitely getting drafted and it’s rigged. This goes on for months.
- Combine details are released just a few days before the combine begins and it’s stated that only the combine matters to get drafted. Not much else is explained.
- Combine ends. A total of 250 players will make the cut and be interviewed and then be further narrowed down to 102 players who will get drafted.
- The first 50 emails are sent on Feb. 27 to those who made the 250. It’s a mix of well-known and unknown players alike. Most feel good about the process.
- The final wave of emails is sent on Friday, Mar. 2. A lot of well-known players are left out of the 250 with little explanation from the league.
- There looks to be maybe something suspicious with managers possibly tampering with who makes the 250 even though it was stated the managers would have no say on who makes it in.
- The tables have turned, and it’s now well-known players who are claiming the league is rigged after they didn’t make it into the 250 even after putting up big numbers.
So a lot of people are unhappy, confused and frustrated with the process and the lack of information from the league regarding just how the 250 was selected. Accusations are being made, the league has mostly been quiet and it’s unsure where everything will go from here.
Though I don’t have all the answers, let’s break this down from every angle.
The Combine and Finding the Best Talent
The combine has come under fire since Friday. Actually, the combine has been under fire since the combine began. I’m not saying the combine was perfect, far from it in fact (and that’s another article for another day, but the first thing I would do if it is brought back is to make qualifying for it much harder than it was this year), but I think it’s a decent idea to find those unrecognized players if executed correctly.
A lot of people disagree with me on that. But here were some things that happened in 2K18:
- Some players thought the league should be made up of mostly, if not entirely, “comp” players (players who are on top Pro-Am teams and compete in community-organized leagues and tournaments like the MPBA and such).
- Some players thought that players should be judged based on their skill in 2K18, not previous versions of the game.
- 5-Out was the meta in top Pro-Am matches and competitions.
The problem is that these three things are a square, circular and triangular peg trying to be fit into three square holes. Only one of them can fit. Let me explain why.
To start off, I don’t personally believe that the top 250 players in the world are all on top Pro-Am teams. Some of the truly top players have probably fallen through the cracks and don’t get their shot or choose not to play with top Pro-Am teams. Is it up to these unknown players to make a name for and market themselves? A lot of people would say yes. But to say that all the best 250 players are on every top team would be to say the NBA 2K community has somehow perfected scouting where professional sports leagues that are more organized and better run haven’t. The best talent isn’t always recognized at the top. Tom Brady was a 6th-round draft pick, after all.
That means, with the 2K18 Pro-Am climate, you have to find a way to identify the players that aren’t on a top Pro-Am team. Even if 80% of the truly best players in the world are all on top Pro-Am teams, it’s in the league’s best interest to find the unknown 20%.
Then, some players also don’t want other players to be judged based on their achievements and stats from previous versions of the game. Fair enough. But if league matches will be played on a different build than 2K18, why even judge players based on what they’ve done in 2K18? Even if you could accurately scout players using the 5-Out in 2K18, would that scouting report translate to league play? The league wanted to see what every player could do on the build that the league is going to use, and that’s a rational decision.
Speaking of the 5-Out, let’s talk about it. Again. It does have a little bit to do with this. You can read up on its place in NBA 2K18 and the NBA 2K League here.
Another reason the combine (or any other system you could think of to find the best players) was necessary was because of the 5-Out. It’s not just boring to watch and boring to play, it makes scouting hard. When you have a player on each team using a 6’10 Point Forward (a build that won’t even be in the league) and playing iso basketball against one another with both of them trying to exploit animations to get buckets, and 8 out of the 10 players standing around and doing little, it’s hard to say with full confidence that the center standing in the corner for 20 minutes on Team A is definitely better than the center standing in the corner for 20 minutes on Team B.
I understand the competitive nature of these players and that they want to win tournaments and be at the top of the leaderboards. But the 5-Out was a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. It wasn’t fun to play, it wasn’t fun to play against, it wasn’t fun to watch and whether or not the league wanted to have a combine from the very beginning, the 5-Out would have forced them to step in and come up with a system other than “take the people from the top Pro-Am teams” to select its players.
Could Pro-Am be used to scout and select talent in, say, 2K19? Yes, but it needs a few tweaks:
- 5-Out isn’t helping anyone. Whether the developers of 2K19 make sure 5-Out is unviable or the community can come to a gentlemen’s agreement not to use it, it would be best for everybody if it was never seen again.
- Make a Pro-Am mode that only uses archetypes that the league uses so that there are no more cheesy builds. Perhaps split it into a “competitive” Pro-Am mode that uses the league build with league archetypes and a “casual” Pro-Am mode where you can use any archetype you want.
- Make it clear from the start that Pro-Am is how players will be judged and that league teams will be doing year-long scouting of these Pro-Am teams. Communicate this both through social media and the game itself so that everyone is aware of this.
- Private matchmaking. It’s a feature the community has been clamoring for for a long time and would be a boost to competitions like the MPBA.
- Come up with a better infrastructure for Pro-Am. Have a website that keeps track of stats instead of having to access them in-game. Have VODs of every game (we know they can do this because it was a feature used in the combine) that are easily uploadable so that the community doesn’t have to depend on Twitch so much. Record match histories for every team that players can view and check stats on. The current exposure of the mode is so sporadic that it’s a detriment to the community.
There are a number of ways the league can handle their scouting going forward, and it will be one of the biggest questions heading into season two and beyond. But I think it’s a debate that will have to be put on hold until the league decides how they will handle the offseason and finding new talent.
Marketability is a term that has been somewhat mocked and decided upon by some of those left out of the top 250 as not being important.
But let’s examine a core truth about the NBA 2K League:
The NBA 2K League was not formed out of the kindness of the NBA’s heart to give NBA 2K players a truly top competitive league. The NBA 2K League was formed to make money for the NBA.
Yes, the league will be fun to watch. Yes, the managers love their jobs and the league. Yes, the league’s players will have fun and have a life-changing experience.
All of the above can be true at the same time that that core truth exists.
If you want to make the league, NBA 2K isn’t just a video game anymore, it’s a business. This isn’t Pro-Am anymore where you can pick fights, say whatever you feel like and fire off any tweet you want to. Yes, you put up numbers in the combine, but are you going to hurt the league’s bottom line? That’s a serious consideration for the NBA to make. If the league has a choice between a talented player who is a liability to their image and a less-talented player who will fall in line, it’s understandable if the league wants to go with the latter. This has already been a problem in the Overwatch League which has already had multiple controversies with player comments.
The league has something to do with this problem because of their lack of clarification on what marketability actually means and where the line is drawn between marketable and unmarketable. Some things are common sense, but from here on out, it’s in every player’s best interest to err on the side of caution before sending out a tweet or broadcasting everything you do. If you treat the league like it’s your job even before you’re a player in the league, you’ve already boosted your chances of making it.
Let’s leave them out of this because they didn’t have anything to do with the draft pool. Really, they didn’t.
The relative radio silence from the managers on Twitter regarding the situation probably comes down to the league telling the managers to be careful what they say to people on Twitter so that they could contain the fire and put out the official statement from Brendan Donohue. It’s a public relations game at this point.
As far as some of the screenshots that have been released (you can see them in the WH1TExCHOCOLATE video below), that will be up to the league to decide what they want to do.
Anthony Muraco, Director of Gaming Operations for Cavs Legion GC, shouldn’t have been in MrStylez’s Twitter DMs at any point in the first place. Him messaging MrStylez doesn’t mean that he hand-picked him and put him into the 250, and we’ll get to that soon, but it’s in the league’s best interests if managers aren’t saying anything like he was to league prospects in private. If such a rule isn’t being enforced already, the league needs to make changes to that moving forward.
Roger Caneda using racial slurs on Twitter multiple times in the context that he did it came down to what Mavs GG wanted to do about it. According to multiple reports, the team decided to remove him from his post of General Manager and place him somewhere else within the organization. Whether that’s enough depends on who you ask, but Caneda may be fortunate just to still be with the team in any capacity.
Everything being said, I understand the frustration of players who didn’t make it. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Working hard toward a definitive goal just to come up empty-handed is one of life’s most frustrating realities.
At the same time, it would’ve been best for some people to have logged off of Twitter and vent their frustrations in a different way. Some players handled it well and promised they’d make it next year, and others handled it, uh, not well.
It’s okay to be frustrated, upset and confused, and in fact, the players have good reason to feel such a way, which we’ll get to when we talk about the league’s role in all of this. What’s not okay is lashing out at managers and sending death threats, which some people allegedly did. Many have already likely ruined their chances of making the league in the future with their actions and what they’ve been tweeting. There’s a thin line between an acceptable emotional response and taking it too far, and it mostly comes down to how you broadcast your frustration to others. Some composed themselves, others didn’t, and it’s likely that those who didn’t will pay for it, whether they already know it or not.
The WH1TExCHOCOLATE Video
So WH1TExCHOCOLATE has been the engine of the entire backlash machine against the league. Considered to be a top guard on NBA 2K, WH1TExCHOCOLATE did not make the final 250 despite averaging over 40 points per game in the combine and had some things to say about it. On Saturday he released a video on YouTube compiling “evidence” that the NBA 2K League is rigged. As of this publication, it has over 20,000 views. You can watch the video below:
Let’s review his points.
The statistical comparisons are the only point that makes sense to me in this video. There were players, WH1TExCHOCOLATE included, who put up monster stats but got passed on for players with much worse stats. You could maybe make an argument that the in-depth analytics said these guys putting up big numbers weren’t as good as the raw basic stats make them look. Maybe they weren’t sharing the ball and jacking up a bunch of shots. But until anyone gets access to literally any of the data that the league had it’s hard to support such an argument.
Managers and Marketability
We’ve already addressed these two things so we’ll leave those alone.
Applications and Audio Submissions
The lack of plays on audio submissions on applications was addressed by the league after the video was released. Only the top-1000 submissions were listened to.
Players Not Playing the “Right Way”
The screenshots of players who made the 250 quitting matches even after the league said dashboarding, which you can read about here, would be punished isn’t all that compelling. Speedbrook, screenshotted in the video, came to his own defense to say he wasn’t a “dashboarder,” and a couple screenshots of DevGoss quitting matches isn’t definitive proof that he dashboarded, either. Sometimes you legitimately lag out or have to quit for reasons besides saving your stats. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe DevGoss has yet commented on the matter.
The fillers argument doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So if the league has 102 people that they’ve wanted from the start, why give the community even the slightest suspicion that something may be going on by not including popular players in the 250? How does it make any sense that they would select worse players purposely to make it easier for those 102 to get drafted? If you wanted to hand-pick the 102 yourself, just put players who didn’t make it like BearDaBeast, OneThroughFive, l1lmayl1l, WH1TExCHOCOLATE and others into the 250 and then just tell those guys they didn’t make the 102 because everyone else had a better interview. Does whoever is allegedly rigging the league have a choice on the 250 but suddenly lose the choice on the 102 so they have to boost the chances of getting the players they want in into the draft? It doesn’t make any sense.
As for a leaderboard, I understand the league’s position to not have one. It was stressed that stats weren’t the only thing being taken into consideration, and a leaderboard with players who have the most points per game, assists per game, rebounds per game and so on could signal to players that those stats are everything. Going into the combine, players didn’t want their teammates to hog the ball and take 40 shots a game to inflate their own numbers, and rightfully so. A leaderboard would be counter-productive to that and lead players to believe that if they were top-10 in points, they would be drafted.
Now the screenshots are the centerpiece of his argument. Many have called it the final nail in the coffin. But ultimately, it’s probably blown out of proportion.
The idea is that Muraco pulled some strings and/or hand-picked MrStylez to be in the pool.
The first screenshot shows Muraco telling MrStylez that he made the 250 after it was announced by the league on Twitter that all emails had been sent out, even though MrStylez had yet to receive an email and had even tweeted that he didn’t receive an email. A few hours later, MrStylez posted his email confirmation that he had made the 250.
The second screenshot shows Muraco telling MrStylez “…if you aren’t taken when my pick comes around. Expect me picking you.”
The second screenshot is an old one, we can tell that by the profile picture Muraco has which doesn’t match his current one that he has used for months now. The contents of this screenshot don’t imply any sort of collusion. Before details about how the selection process would work for the draft, it was assumed that point guards like Dimez, DevGoss, oFab, and MrStylez would make it in. They’re talented and popular players with big stage game experience among them. Telling a point guard you like them and would take them is really just a way to get them to like you. Is it within the guidelines the league gave the managers? Probably not. But the conversation in and of itself doesn’t imply anything and isn’t definitive evidence of rigging.
The first screenshot is what people have mostly been using as ammo against the league. Paired with the second screenshot, and without any context, it looks to be pretty damaging at first. But according to a league source who talked to The Ballgamer, the conversation in the first screenshot happened because of a miscommunication about emails being sent. MrStylez wasn’t the only one to receive an email after 4 p.m. on Friday, as you can see on ABtheBallers account. This wasn’t an isolated incident, and you can see that both players got their emails at exactly 4:19 p.m. EST.
Muraco saying “I got you” didn’t literally mean “I got you into the 250 myself.” It was more like “I’ve been told you’re safe, don’t worry, you’re good.” You can even see in the screenshot that Muraco says he got his information from “the head,” as in he probably asked Donohue or whoever was in charge of selecting the 250 if MrStylez was in and that person told him he was and there was just a mix-up with emails. As Forbes reported, there was an issue with two email addresses and that’s why they were sent out late, with MrStylez and ABtheBaller being those two, most likely.
So it comes down to whether you believe the league sources or whether you believe the league is rigged. In these situations, it usually comes down to the most plausible scenario, and if we’re talking a couple of late emails versus system-wide corruption and rigging with dozens of complicit employees aimed to screw over a few NBA 2K players, I’ll take the late emails as being the most likely situation. Again, like I said earlier, Muraco probably shouldn’t have been talking to MrStylez like that in the first place. But let’s not blow this out of proportion.
I don’t even have a problem with WH1TExCHOCOLATE’s video and why he posted it. New information about the narrowing-down process and the miscommunication on the emails didn’t come out until after the video was posted, which is fair enough. Blind loyalty and never questioning authority are never good things, either.
What I do have a problem with is how WH1TExCHOCOLATE has handled this after the video was posted. WH1TExCHOCOLATE responded in a since-deleted tweet to the Ballgamer article, yet continued to ask managers for an explanation on the Muraco screenshots after the fact. Your evidence has been disputed, and you’re aware that it has been disputed, and instead of taking in all the new information and thinking critically to come up with a new conclusion, you decide to ignore the new facts and continue to harass managers and asking for answers that have already been given to you. This exposes your motives as personal revenge by trying to undermine the league, rather than trying to hold the league accountable for its actions and see change, as WH1TExCHOCOLATE claims. Sticking your head in the sand and countering every new fact with “I don’t believe that” or “this is just a cover-up” shows you’re not interested in any sort of discourse. Not only that, but the video has created a ravenous base of support for WH1TExCHOCOLATE that also harasses and impersonates managers, which WH1TExCHOCOLATE has actually encouraged. Few of the arguments made in his video hold up anymore, but he has ridden the wave of the initial backlash so that he can ironically continue to lead a group of people who are now blindly loyal to him and for whatever reason believe that the evidence WH1TExCHOCOLATE has put forward is somehow more indisputable than what the league and managers have put forward.
WH1TExCHOCOLATE initially promised a second video, claiming he had more evidence the league was rigged and was even in the process of editing the video. On Tuesday afternoon, however, he stated there would be no part two, as a currently anonymous source had forwarded his Periscope streams and YouTube video to the athletic department of the NJCAA school where he plays basketball. It’s a disappointing conclusion because whether you agree or disagree with anything being said, no voice in the community should be censored like that. And certainly no one should have their scholarship be at risk over a few non-threatening videos about NBA 2K.
The NBA 2K League
Despite all of the above, it has to be said that most of the blame for the current state of things involving the NBA 2K League and the NBA 2K community goes to the league itself.
At some point, the league needed to be more transparent. All you need to know about this is that not even the managers knew who was in the 250. In fact, no one knows who knew who was in the 250. Did Donohue know? Were other league employees aware? We don’t even know the chain of command in all of this or have a hint as to how things work internally within the league. Grant Paranjape tried his hardest to clear up as many details as possible regarding the combine and tried to succinctly sum things up with the hashtag, #EverythingMatters, but it shouldn’t be on him and the rest of the managers to be the source of so much information.
The post from Donohue communicated through the league’s website after the backlash had already started was too little, too late. Why wasn’t the process explained before the combine started? What were all of these advanced statistics that were being tracked? What company was collecting them and analyzing them? Do they have basketball analytics experience? We’ll probably never know the answers to any of this either. The fact that the league would use stats to cut down the pool to 1,000 before checking applications was never communicated to anyone, either
When you leave so many things unknown, it’s human nature for us to try and fill in the blanks. You can’t leave people in the dark for so long and expect them to roll with everything. This league is important to a lot of people and the end result just left hundreds if not thousands of people completely confused as to why anything happened. That’s why the league has its first PR crisis right now.
And when your managers are being barraged with hundreds of questions every single day on Twitter because the players have no idea what’s going on, that should be a sign to you that you need to open up a bit more. The fact of the matter is the managers were left to fend for themselves and had to answer to everyone when they themselves were also left in the dark about a lot of the details. It’s telling that the fact that Take-Two and the NBA would be picking the 250 was never announced by the league, but was in fact first learned of in a reply to a tweet by Paranjape.
Brian Mazique of Forbes is of the opinion that “transparency isn’t owed” regarding the whole situation. But just because you can keep things from the public doesn’t mean you should. Even if “applicants are very rarely made aware of every detail involved in the selection process for jobs,” this isn’t some accounting firm sorting through 10 applicants. This is one of the most unique job opportunities in the world and will be a life-changing experience for everyone involved. Players feel scorned because just about every step of the way, it wasn’t entirely clear what the right way to do things was. Then when you’re rejected and given no indication about what you did wrong, you’re left to wonder for an entire year what you could’ve done better.
Who knows, maybe the league did get the truly best of the best. Maybe the advanced stats do say a guy averaging 16/4/4 is still better than a guy averaging 40 a game. Maybe the league really valued the applications and chose who they felt had the most basketball and NBA 2K IQ. Maybe marketability had something to do with some of the names who didn’t get in. I don’t buy any of that right now, and I’m of the opinion that there really were some unforgivable snubs, but I’m willing to see who makes the 102 and how they do in the league before making a final judgment. It just seems right now that the league may have over-thought things with all the analytics and didn’t execute this process properly.
Is the league rigged? No, it’s not. But the league did mess up here. I’m sympathetic to all those who didn’t make it. I feel that most of the reactions from players are due to a bit of shock at how everything happened as well as the lack of communication from the league on what would be happening.
And will we ever know why players like BearDaBeast and WH1TExCHOCOLATE didn’t make the 250? Probably not. All we’ll get from the league is that they used analytics and collected data and so on. And either way, it’s pretty hard to tell every individual who didn’t make it why they didn’t make it. You can chalk that up to it’s just physically impossible to tell thousands of people why they were rejected, but the league also bit off more than it could chew in its first year of operation with this entire qualification and combine process. Things like that are going to happen, of course, because building a new esports league from scratch is an immensely complicated and challenging task, and these processes will be smoothed out and built upon as time goes on. But it seems to me that the league vastly underestimated what needed to be done and relied on the fact that the NBA 2K League is a new and cool event and thought they could do whatever they wanted, which has, of course, turned out to not be true.
So there’s a bitter taste left in the mouths of many, but the league will go on. If the league product is damaged in the first season because it turns out the league really did mess up the combine process and didn’t get the truly best of the best, it will be vindication somewhat for those who didn’t make it this year.
But if the league can review its processes and learn from its first year, then the league will be here to stay. Don’t do so many things on the fly and keep your fans and potential player base more informed on what’s going on and the league can put out a truly great product that we can all enjoy while not leaving so many people frustrated. It’s up to them at this point to decide what must be done in the future, and they may have a whole year to do it.
Congratulations to the 250 players who made the cut and good luck in your interviews. We will be eagerly anticipating the next steps to all this.
Agree? Disagree? What do you think about the most controversial situation the league has faced to date? Let us know on Twitter at @DIMER2K!