On Tuesday, Bucks Gaming officially kicks off its inaugural season.
Yes, you read that correctly. The NBA now has an eSports league, in which the Bucks and 17 other NBA franchises field teams to compete against each other in the video game NBA 2K.
Bucks Gaming will play its first-ever games in the NBA 2K League today during "The Tipoff," which runs from May 1-5. Bucks Gaming’s first matchup in the group stage of the tournament is at 4 p.m. CT today against Pistons GT and can be streamed live on Twitch.
According to the Bucks, "The Tipoff" tournament features all 17 teams in the NBA 2K League that have been placed into four groups. After pool play, the top two teams from each group will advance to the single-elimination playoff rounds of the tournament on May 5, with the top four teams taking home a piece of the $100,000 prize pool. After facing off against Pistons GT, Bucks Gaming will finish up group play by taking on Cavs Legion GC and Kings Guard Gaming today at approximately 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. CT, respectively.
"The Tipoff" marks the official start of the NBA 2K League’s 15-week regular season, which will feature both weekly games and tournaments, and concludes with the NBA 2K League Playoffs and Finals in August. All competition will take place at the NBA 2K League Studio Powered by Intel in New York City, the Bucks said. "The Tipoff" is the first of three tournaments that will be played throughout the season.
There are probably a million questions running through your head. Let’s attempt to answer a few.
Is this actually a thing?
Yes, this is very real and the Bucks are serious about this endeavor. Bucks co-owner Wes Edens has helped lead the charge of creating the team. It should also be noted that eSports is expected to be a $1 billion industry by 2019. Now, I have your attention!
How does it work?
Each team is composed of six gamers and each gamer controls their own player, or avatar, within the game that they have created. In the 2K game, each gamer plays a position – point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center – just as you would in real basketball (the sixth man is an extra player in case of injury, or if a player needs to be substituted for some reason).
The games are played through a PC, but using Alienware software the gamers can use the controller (Xbox, Play Station or third party) of their choice. Each weekend the Bucks Gaming team will fly to New York, where they will compete in tournaments and a 14-game regular season against the rest of the league for up to $1 million. In New York, there is a virtual arena that’s been created for the gamers to compete in and where fans can watch on Twitch.tv. In that arena, the "home team" will be control the advertising just like in a real NBA game.
How did these players get on Bucks gaming?
When the NBA put out the call for potential gamers to join the 2K league, they had thousands of responses. Of that group, they found the best 72,000. Based on various statistics, the NBA selected the best 250 of the 72,000. Those 250 gamers went through background checks, personality tests and IQ test to help whittle the 250 down to the 102 gamers who would get drafted.
"These guys are the 1-percent, the upper-elite players within a video game," said team manager Andrew Buck.
Who are these guys?
Almost everyone has played or plays video games; what separates these guys from me playing video games in my mom’s basement?
"I think there is a lot of tangibles," Buck said. "One would be your mechanics, so their ability to translate their hand-eye coordination to the controller. Two would be communication, so how they are interacting with their teammates. I look at it like your mental sports like chess, bowling or darts. What is your capacity to handle adversity and overcome and make in-game adjustments, so how quickly you can make adjustments?
"Three, they are putting a lot of time into this. If you look at League of Legends, it is 16-hour days. These guys, we aren’t doing that to them. We treat them like professionals, so we want to make sure they are active and have a balanced lifestyle, so those are important aspects to Bucks Gaming."
After being drafted the gamers, who come from all across the country, moved to Milwaukee, where they will live for the next six months in luxury apartments paid for by the Bucks. First-round draft picks receive $35,000 for the duration of their six-month contract, while the rest of the players receive $32,000. They also get health care and benefits.
"Yeah, it’s like you are in the NBA just playing with a stick," said sixth man Jovan Tenner, who was working as a security guard at a power plant in Houston before being drafted. "It’s crazy. … Man, I couldn’t believe it. When I first heard it, I couldn’t believe it. I’m really gonna get paid to do what I love to do. Not a lot of people get to do that."
The Bucks are in the process of finishing a brand-new practice facility at which the team will train. Similar to a regular athlete, the gamers spend the majority of their day practicing, getting feedback from coaches and watching film to break down their strengths and weaknesses.
"It is tough at times," said Jacob Walls, the team’s point guard, of having to focus for long durations during practice. "Sometimes you’ve got to adjust to it because at home you control an hour here, an hour there. Now, you just got to get through it.
"It is definitely a lot more mental. Spend six hours straight. At the end, you just need to take your mind off of it. Do some other things."
What keeps playing a video game interesting for six hours?
"The debate is whether these guys are athletes are not. I think that is irrelevant to these guys," Buck said. "To these guys, it is competition. It is playing at the elite level and finding ways to execute different strategies."
Added small forward Mark Hampton Jr., "We play one-on-one quick matches and things like that. It gets pretty competitive in the practice facility. Defensively, we matching up. It’s a lot of trash talk. We keep it within the game."
What do they tell people who ask them what their profession is?
"Me and the guys on the team have been talking about when people ask us what we do; we don’t know the proper way to answer it yet," Walls said. "It is a weird conversation. … I have tried different things: professional gamer, I told somebody I work at the NBA – I didn’t even mention gaming. I’ve got to work on that."
Apparently, there are still some questions that need to be answered.