Sai “Cyclonic” Sriraman got his start early.
“I was one of those guys who wanted to be a little different with everything, the overachiever,” he told DIMER. One day, he randomly clicked on Windows MovieMaker and started messing around. “I started doing my presentations in that instead of Powerpoint, so I was the one guy who liked to show movies.”
His introduction to NBA 2K was similarly an early one, but his introduction to the 2K community came later. At first, Cyclonic played Crew and Blacktop. During the 2K14 cycle, a friend started a YouTube channel focused on 2K, for which Cyclonic began creating content. Another friend, Spitefultae, introduced him to the competitive community around 2K16, and he soon stumbled onto Twitter.
Cyclonic dove into the community and soon began taking on design work for community members, Park and Pro-Am players alike. He mostly worked with Park players initially, and gained some exposure by working with content creators HankDaTank and Shakedown. When he started doing Pro-Am work, he focused on logos and esports banners, which paid off in spades once the league was announced.
“At the beginning, my work wasn’t the most high-quality, and I’m happy to admit that,” he laughed. He thinks that after he started doing esports work, however, people started to come to him for the quality of his work rather than the speed and efficiency with which he designed.
While he integrated himself into the community, he was pursuing far broader things outside of 2K and Twitter. Cyclonic did his designing while working toward a degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois.
“I’m maintaining designing somewhat as an escape from engineering,” Cyclonic said, noting that although he loves engineering, he just needs a break from it every so often. “But there’s a certain bond of creativity between them in terms of pure critical thinking and problem solving.”
His critical thinking and problem solving have helped shape iBall Empire, which began as a Park clan around the time the NBA 2K League was announced, with leader Brandon “ToXsiK” Raudenbush (now a veteran NBA 2K League player with Magic Gaming) just a streamer. With numerous NBA 2K League players in the organization, iBall is regarded as the most—if not the only—authentic NBA 2K esports organization in the 2K community. Cyclonic runs the creative team behind iBall, developing the organization’s brand and marketing push (the group already has a deal with Sector Six).
“Cyclonic is about as good as it gets when it comes to designing within the 2K community,” ToXsiK said. “He’s one of the most professional people I’ve worked with and iBall wouldn’t be where it’s at today without his hard work. I’m lucky to have him.”
It was FearGlizzy, another iBall Empire leader, and fellow graphic designer Merlaut, who introduced the idea of league design work to Cyclonic. The two secured positions with Mavs Gaming in early 2018. Cyclonic began to hypothesize team graphics work, buoyed by the fact that he had already designed the Twitter headers of a large number of players in the league.
Mavs Gaming wound up being the team to launch Cyclonic, too. Then-general manager Roger Caneda reached out to Cyclonic for a social media graphics revamp. Later in the season, after Cyclonic produced an iBall Empire highlight mixtape, Cavs Legion Content and Marketing Manager Halina “BlondeVenom” Malik and GM Anthony Muraco contracted Cyclonic to do two videos for the Legion. While Cyclonic had known Muraco previously, a little boost from ToXsiK, then one of the Legion’s six players, certainly didn’t hurt.
“I think Cyclonic brings much needed expertise and skill to the design community for NBA 2K,” Muraco said. “We have worked with him on several projects and he always delivers quality work in a timely manner. We need more people like him in the 2K community helping push great content.”
Muraco was one of several people who advised Cyclonic to make a graphics resume. When the NBA 2K League’s first season ended in late August, Cyclonic had a second surge of player headers. After finishing the player work, Cyclonic, ready to try his luck, finally posted his design resume on Twitter.
Kept this on the DL for a while, but things moved to the final stage yesterday. Happy to announce I’m gonna be working with the graphics department in the NBA / 2K League on a few projects. And I really have the community to thank for it, pushing me out there like crazy.
Days after the resume went up, Cyclonic got an email from the NBA’s graphics team; his contract was finalized in January. The NBA 2K League’s first request was a clear vote of confidence: Cyclonic was tasked with designing a timeline marking the league’s second anniversary.
Now, Cyclonic gets two or three graphics requests from the league per week. He’s designed the league’s schedule reveal, tournament graphics, trade graphics, and much more.
“They run a lot of their social media and promotional graphics through me,” he said. The league has added several designers as part of its expanded staff in 2019, including FearGlizzy, Cyclonic’s fellow iBall team lead. But he’s still one of the league’s most recognizable designers, and one who’s quick, consistent and efficient, just like he always has been.
As an NBA 2K League designer, and thus a contracted NBA designer, Cyclonic has come a long way since the Windows MovieMaker days. During university, Cyclonic had a summer internship at Rolls-Royce, and he now works full-time at an aerospace engineering company.
“Most of my life I’ve been putting into engineering since that’s also a big passion of mine,” he said. “It’s been really a blessing, and amazing, that I’ve taken designing as far as I have, I never expected to get this far.”