Disclaimer: this article represents the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of DIMER.
By Justin M. Jacobson, Esq.
As the second season of the NBA 2K League enters its final weeks, the excitement for the upcoming release of NBA 2K20 has caused many aspiring professional gamers to begin planning how to best pursue a career in the NBA 2K League.
While there is no sure-fire path to a spot in the league, there are a variety of important things of which a gamer should be aware. Similar to the last two years, there will be prerequisites established by the league and an official combine.
The recruitment process starts at the retail game level, and one of the biggest on-going debates has been between which gaming console is the preferred gaming system: Xbox or PlayStation.
While both systems provide their own benefits, in recent years there has been a large shift of the top competitive 2K players to Xbox. Many more of the top competitive NBA 2K players have an Xbox and do not own a PlayStation than vice versa. In an effort to consolidate the competitive landscape and ensure that all the top players consistently play each other, it may be advantageous for individuals attempting to make the league to play on just one console, Xbox.
In addition to attempting to unify the different consoles to ensure that the best players consistently play against each other, many current NBA 2K League employees and personnel solely compete on Xbox. This includes Heat Check Gaming General Manager and Head Coach, Derric “FamousEnough” Franklin, who had previously stated, “I don’t have a PS4 [Playstation 4].” While it isn’t necessary, it is advantageous for a prospect to start developing relationships with the key decision-makers at different NBA 2K League franchises, as this may benefit the gamer in the long-term by having the opportunity to interact with some of these individuals on a personal level.
Building on this point, the level of talent that a prospect competes against is important. While there is no official NBA 2K “minor” league or any other talent developmental system in place, many unaffiliated, independent competitive or “comp” leagues have been organized and operated by third-party individuals within the 2K community. Some of these leagues have operated for several years and some were created/are run by individuals who currently work with existing NBA 2K League franchises.
These organized “comp” leagues provide participating gamers with the ability to establish their own teams and compete against others. In many cases, these leagues also award prizes to the league winners, compile player statistics and present player awards to their top participants.
While there has been a recent increase in the formation of unaffiliated Pro-Am leagues, a select few have risen to the top and established themselves as ones that many current NBA 2K League professionals as well as current franchise personnel actively partake in or have participated in the past.
One of these independent competitive leagues is the MPBA. The MPBA, in addition to other leagues such as WR Pro-Am League and Militia Gaming League, has evolved into the scouting grounds for many of the top NBA 2K talent evaluators. During the first season of the NBA 2K League, 15 of the first 17 players selected in the first round had actively participated in the MPBA league prior to being drafted.
While participation in these “comp” leagues is not required in order to be drafted to the NBA 2K League, as some individuals who are currently competing in the league never participated in any of these competitions, the ability to consistently play and succeed against other players who are as serious and dedicated to the game as the prospect is a benefit that cannot easily be replicated.
In particular, participants in these “comp” leagues play against other individuals who are adept at defensive rotations and “baiting” bad passes as well as handling intense full-court defensive pressure. These leagues also present opportunities for the gamers to begin familiarizing themselves with other top competitors in an effort to study film to better learn their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.
Additionally, the fact that many of these Pro-Am matchups are live streamed enables the NBA 2K League team personnel to re-watch and properly scout a gamer competing against other comparable talent.
In fact, many NBA 2K League team representatives have mentioned that they follow these Pro-Am league games. For example, Cody Parrent, director of esports operations for Pacers Gaming, previously mentioned that “2K19 Comp games are going to be FUN to
watch,” and then later posts links to watch a “big Pro-Am match up.” In addition, Franklin commented about observing the various “comp” leagues, including the “MPBA, 2K Tournaments, and WR.” Likewise, Anthony Muraco, the director of gaming operations for Cavs Legion GC, reinforced this premise and stated that he was “[p]umped to watch these [MPBA] tournaments this off season.”
While a gamer competing against the best is important, how an individual presents themselves is also very relevant. In this context, a league prospect should be aware of their “marketability,” which includes both their individual personality as well as their attitude and public actions.
Considering the importance of social media and live streaming in esports, a competitor’s proper use of these platforms is important and influential. Whether it is during a live stream or on social media, a player must be cognizant of what they are saying and how they are saying it, as negative or otherwise vulgar or derogatory language can have negative consequences. A 2K prospect should aim to keep any public content child-friendly as the NBA 2K League potential viewers include younger children. Additionally, while streaming or on social media, a player should avoid cursing or other inappropriate behavior.
Besides acting professionally with other competitors and any league or team representatives, a player should be aware of how they interact with their teammates.
While it is normal for competitive individuals to have disagreements, the way that a gamer handles and responds to these disparities is vital to a competitor’s draft “stock.” As Parrent stated on Twitter “… be a good teammate.” Furthermore, Muraco mentions that being able to “handle criticism” is essential for success in the NBA 2K League as well as agreeing that “[f]laming teammates and [other] non-professional behavior is unacceptable. The 6 people drafted together need to become a cohesive unit. The days of disbanding teams over disagreements [are] over.”
Ultimately, a potential NBA 2K League professional must be aware of how they handle criticism, as they will be subject to public critique from their teammates and coaches as well as from fans and media.
In addition to player’s public statements on stream and on social media, whether the gamer is personable and engaging is another important factor to consider.
An individual’s ability to showcase their unique personality and story is vital, as the more engaging the gamer’s personality, the more fans tend to gravitate towards them. This can be accomplished through the creation of unique personality-driven content, such as vlogs, gameplay highlight clips or anything else that demonstrates the individual’s creativity as well as highlights the player’s extensive understanding of community engagement and professionalism. As with any individual, skillfully engaging with their viewers and fans is an ability that is honed over time through practice.
Furthermore, a prospect preparing for the upcoming NBA 2K season should be aware of the type of “MyCareer” player that they create. Even though the official player archetypes for season three of the NBA 2K League have not been announced, the prior two season’s archetypes, including the standard height and weight attributes, may be a good guide for prospects.
Last season, Muraco mentioned that “if you really want to make the league next year[,] stop relying on ankle breakers on a 6’ 10” Power Forward and start practicing [on] a 6’3”” created player.” Competing against other top players while utilizing a player whose metrics are similar to the ones standardized for the combine and the league, may assist in providing a more accurate gauge of a prospect’s actual talent and skill as opposed to judging an individual’s gameplay with a player build that is “not based on league build performance.”
Finally, another important consideration for a prospect is the position that they play and qualify for in the combine and throughout NBA 2K20. Last year’s combine required a competitor to successfully complete a minimum of 40 games in just one particular position to qualify for the player draft pool. However, many prospects attempted to qualify in a variety of different positions. While it is certainly critical to be highly skillful in one specific player position, a gamer that can showcase their versatility and ability to play and succeed in a multitude of positions is extremely valuable.
In fact, Franklin further reinforced this by stating that “[n]obody on HCG (Heat Check Gaming) is playing their original drafted positions.” In response to a Tweet from a previous 2K League scout that mentioned “teams will be looking for versatile players [which means…] being comfortable in multiple positions on the floor is a huge asset.“
This is also true as many current league professionals, including those drafted in the higher rounds, played and succeeded in positions that they were not originally drafted for. In particular, this is highly beneficial because as the NBA 2K League season progresses, teams start devising specific gameplans to stop a particular player or build. Being able to adapt and change a player’s gameplay is essential to success.
Versatility is also beneficial for unique situations, like the archetype ban system at this season’s Turn tournament. Additionally, similar to season one, if a patch or other in-game change to the player’s attributes occurs, it may change the meta of the game and require individuals to compete with different archetypes or from a different position than they are normally playing in order to succeed.
Overall, there are many things a prospect can do to put themselves in the best position to be drafted by the league. It is ideal to try and compete against the best and to present the most professional public image that the player can. Being a good teammate is a critical attribute for a prospect as well as developing versatile gameplay skills so that the gamer can adapt and play whatever role or position that a team needs them to in order for the franchise to be successful.