Nestled on the suite level of Barclays Center, another Brooklyn-based team is training for their upcoming season next month. In a room filled with monitors and video game controllers, the Nets Gaming Crew’s (NetsGC) training schedule resembles that of what the Brooklyn Nets or New York Liberty might go through on a given day.
They practice five days a week, they go over game film and they go through practice drills. The difference is that Nets Gaming Crew is doing this all on a specialized version of the popular video game NBA 2K.
That’s because NetsGC competes in the NBA 2K League, a joint Esports league venture between the National Basketball Association and Take-Two Interactive. The now five-year-old league boasts teams affiliated with 22 NBA teams, including the Brooklyn Nets, and two clubs based outside of North America.
Like Esports as a whole, the 2K League has seen growth since its inception. During the pandemic, for instance, league broadcasts on the streaming platform Twitch, increased by 69% from the year before.
“It’s grown a lot. To put it in perspective, I’ve been gaming since I was a kid,” said NetsGC’s Connor “Shotz” Rodrigues, a 26-year-old who has been in the league since it started. “We all used to talk about, my guys, my friends…man what if there was ever a league one day. Not even a league, but anything. A tournament and now seeing it — that was about 10 years ago I’m talking about — so now the growth is just crazy. I would have never guessed this, so it’s hard for me to predict where it would go next. Because I really don’t know cause it’s grown so much. … It’s more normal to people I feel like. How much (more) normal it’s getting for everyone, gaming in general.”
Esports has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise and continues to grow across the United States and globally. Investments in the Esports industry were up to $4.5 billion in 2018 and Insider Intelligence estimates there will be 29.6 million monthly esports viewers in 2022.
The Meteoric rise of the 2K league and the NBA’s involvement will only aid in the growth of Esports with consumers.
“I think it’s huge,” said Alexander “Steez” Bernstein, who played for the 76ers Gaming Crew for four seasons before being drafted by the Nets this season. “I think it’s huge for the gaming community and just Esports in general because not only are we seeing NBA teams join the 2K League, but now we’re just having gaming organizations as well. … I think it’s no secret that Esports is growing and it’s a billion-dollar industry now, but I think it just takes that leap of faith from some organizations and from some people to realize that Esports is taking over and eventually it’s going to be right there with traditional sports.
“And I think that’s something great that the 2K league does. When the NBA season is coming the NBA 2K league is starting, so it’s like you can get basketball year-round.”
While NBA 2K may be all fun and games to some, it’s serious business for the Nets Gaming Crew. The team practices six to seven hours a day at their Barclays Center facility and operates similarly to any other basketball team.
They have five players playing different positions that have to communicate and execute the game plan that their coach and general manager Ivan “OG KING CURT” Curtiss draws up. Now in his fourth year at the helm, Curtiss has learned one important lesson when it’s come to constructing a team.
“Talent is just one aspect of it, but you start to dig a little deeper into who the person is beyond the video game,” Curtiss said. “I think that becomes a lot more important at the end of the day, because I’m sitting here doing an interview with you and the players have to do the same thing. They live on a schedule when they come in and everything like that. I think it’s finding out as much as you can about the player.
“A lot of them can play, but it’s like really who are you when you’re not playing the game.”
For a lot of kids growing up, video games were a part of their childhood, but so was the constant chiding from a parent that they couldn’t play video games forever. The NBA 2K League and the Nets Gaming Crew certainly are working to put that old adage to bed.
And when it comes to the next generation of 2K players, 23-year-old rookie Shun “Streetz” Brown’s story is one that will surely resonate with many people.
“Growing up, my generation we used to stay up playing Call of Duty,” said Shun “Streetz” Brown said. “There’d be nights where you’d stay up and go to school not even going to sleep. As I got older, I always have been a basketball fan, so I just used to play quick match. … My mom she didn’t care. I was grateful to have a cool mom.”