The inaugural NBA 2K league draft is finally upon us.Mavs Gaming, the Dallas Mavericks’ offshoot and one of 17 teams participating in the NBA’s foray into esports, prepares.
The conference room with clear walls, high barstools and tables are set. Phone calls are being placed to potential prospects as they are taken through final questions and mental tests. Game tape is being analyzed to form in-depth player profiles heading into the draft.
Everything from offensive schemes, positional needs and personalities are being judged as they prepare to make the first overall pick. As for who can actually be drafted, that process started at the beginning of the year.
Back in January, hopefuls across the globe competed on their video game console of choice. They had to earn 50 wins in the NBA 2K18 Pro-Am game mode to qualify.
72,600 made the cut.
In February, that pool entered a combine where they would once again compete for a chance to be drafted. In the allotted window, each player needed to compete in a minimum of 40 games. After the month of February, it was time for the NBA to narrow down the 72,600 players to a total of 250.
After individual interviews, the NBA trimmed the pool down to an official 102 players eligible to be selected at Madison Square Garden in New York on April 4.
In the six-round draft, Mavs Gaming will serve as the bookends, owning the first and last overall picks. Much like the NBA draft come June, the top pick could set the course of the organization for years to come.
“We have the top pick in the draft so we are going to get one of the best players in the world,” head coach Jonah Edwards said with confidence.
Each prospect enters the draft playing a specific position: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. Each team must select a different position with each of their draft picks. Basically, they can’t draft two players at the same position until the last round of the draft when they pick their sixth man.
Over the past week, Edwards has spent time interviewing all 102 prospects over the phone looking to find players that fit the culture they are trying to build.
“I come from the scene so I already know a lot of these guys personally. I still want to get a feel for how they respond under pressure, being in front of a camera,” Edwards said.
“Not only do we have to be around these guys everyday, we are going to live with these guys. We want people that are somewhat personal and professional. On top of that, you have guys who are former athletes or have good leadership qualities. Those are huge bonuses,” Edwards continued.
Once the team is assembled, they will move into their own gaming housing here in Dallas. For six months – the length of a season – the team will live and work together on a daily basis.
Like professional NBA players, NBA2K players will work on their craft daily to become the best player they can be. They’ll have daily visits to the gym as the organization has already researched the positive impact that good physical shape has on the mental state.
One of the more common misconceptions of esports gamers is the stereotype of an overweight person eating junk food in their parent’s basement. That simply isn’t the case. Many professional gamers are sharp and in shape.
In fact, Mavs Gaming has already been in talks with meal prep companies as they focus on the right diets for their players. On top of that, their most recent hire is a team psychologist that will serve as a mental skills coach under the Dallas Mavericks’ director of psychology, Don Kalkstein.
If there is an opportunity to be a step ahead of the game, Mavs Gaming is taking it.
One massive step is the new 20,000-square foot esports facility going up in Deep Ellum. It will not only serve as the hub for Mavs Gaming, but provides an avenue for them to interact with the community and welcome people in to play video games.
After getting the approval from Mark Cuban, you knew it wasn’t going to be just another facility.
The state-of-the-art space will house a private practice area for the players to use. It also features a player’s lounge, locker room, personal offices for upper management, and two full production studios for podcasts, video productions, interviews and more.
It’s going to have a full-blown esports stage to allow players to experience a setting similar to what they will be competing in during the regular season. Spectators will be able to come watch upcoming esports events hosted in Dallas.
Even though each game will be broadcast through a streaming service, the hope is that someday the new facility in Deep Ellum could host actual games where fans can come watch … similar to a Dallas Mavericks game.
For the community, it will provide people the opportunity to come in and get a taste of what the esports world feels like.
There will be stations for people in the community to come in and play video games for themselves, even non-sports games. The goal is to create a relaxing environment for anyone to play for fun or work on their craft. There will even be soundproof, isolated pods for people to build their personal brand by streaming content on Twitch.
When it is completely finished, Mavs Gaming will use the space for community events on a regular basis. Phase one of the build is supposed to be complete by the end of May.
The 2K league regular season will look a little different than an actual NBA season.
For each regular season game, the team will fly to New York where the league will have a studio in place to host the games. But even though each team will play at the same physical site, there will be virtual home and away games as each franchise has fully customizable courts that display the team’s logo along with their sponsors on the floor and around the arena.
For instance, HyperX is one of the team’s sponsors, so you can expect their logo to be around the virtual arena. The virtual and physical players will wear custom jerseys that fans can purchase as well.
The Mavs Gaming logo was revealed back in December after a thorough design process that involved upper management, the NBA and Mark Cuban himself. With esports being one of the fastest growing industries in the world, Cuban believes Mavs Gaming can be a huge success.
“I’m excited. I think esports is going to be a big business and I think 2K and Mavs Gaming can be a big player,” Cuban said.
So when the systems are on, controllers in hand and the lights are bright, just how similar is it to a real basketball game?
It might surprise you.
Much like Rick Carlisle, Jonah Edwards will try to build chemistry within his team, prepare them for their next opponent by setting up offensive schemes, reviewing film and more.
“Obviously, he is a G.O.A.T, though, so it is different,” Edwards said when comparing him and Carlisle. “He is amazing. It’s hard to compare myself to someone that has as much experience as he does.”
Edwards has yet to sit down with Carlisle, but they have requested a sit down with the coaching staff to pick their brains on in the ins and outs of running a basketball team.
Even though you can’t run many plays in 2K, there are offensive and defensive schemes Edwards is shifting through. But with the draft on the horizon, it’s hard to set anything in stone until he has his whole roster intact.
“We have sets. You can’t run a lot of plays. But we have some stuff that will work,” Edwards said. “A lot of out-of-bounds plays that often end up with a bucket. It’s hard to know right now without knowing my personnel.”
As for the pre-draft process, there isn’t much difference from the NBA.
“Every player they ask for, I have some type of report on them,” Chuck Tarrant said.
Tarrant is a full-time draft analyst for Mavs Gaming. He’s been hard at work reviewing game tape on all 102 players over the past couple of weeks and creating individual scouting reports on each prospect.
“I give each player three games. Two of their best games and one bad one to see their weaknesses,” Tarrant said.
As crazy as it might sound to scout a video game, they actually look for the same stuff in the tape as the Dallas Mavericks will for the NBA draft in June.
“We have a list of shooting guards. We have to decide if he can play off-ball defense. How does it look when he’s in the pick and roll? Can he hedge properly? Does he bait on cuts to the lane? Does he pick up and rotate? It goes that deep sometimes,” coach Edwards said.
Sometimes, it even goes as deep as which hand they dribble with the most.
“Can he dribble with his left hand or right hand in game? Some guys can’t. I know that seems weird but some guys can’t. They have to go right every time,” Edwards said.
Edwards even created an analytics system to track advanced stats like reaction times and on-ball defense to help scout players over the course of 20-40 games.
As for the players themselves, the possibilities are endless for their personal brands. In addition to having stations in the new facility to stream their own video game content for viewers to see, they’ll be able to customize their 2K characters with their own splitting image.
“You will be able to scan your own face into the game,” Tarrant said.
The players will be paid a salary based on where they are selected in the draft for the six months of the official 2K league season.
“$35,000 for first-round picks for six months,” Edwards said. “$32,000 for rounds two through six.”
Included in the six-month salary is free lodging in the gaming housing, meals, airfare and more. In addition to their base salary, there’s also over a million dollar prize pool at play.
“You can make over $100,000 in six months if you win,” Edwards said.
Players can even ink endorsement deals with outside companies. One of the top prospects in the draft has already been in talks with Jordan Brand.
So what makes someone a top prospect in the NBA2K?
It’s all about the skills with the sticks. When each prospect joins a match, they will all be given equally rated, computer generated players when they lock in their position.
The customization and coaching comes into play with the selection of positional arch types. Arch types refer to the builds players pick for their in-game avatar. Examples include playmaker, defender, slasher and more.
Each player selects two arch types that determine what their player specializes in. For example, a center picking an arch type such as “3PT shooting” will make him a stretch five, but his ability to rebound and play defense will take a hit.
This is where coaching schemes and matching up against other teams comes into play.
For Edwards and the organization, the turnaround will be a quick one. The season is set to start just a month after the draft. Once teams navigate through the regulalr season, the eight-team playoff will tip off sometime in August.
The goal of course, is bringing another championship to the city of Dallas.
To some, a championship in a video game league wouldn’t matter, but don’t tell that to the millions of people helping esports grow at an astronomical rate.
With leagues such as MLS and NHL up next on the esports horizon, the inaugural season of the NBA2K league will help set the foundation and synergy between professional sports franchises and the esports world.
The Dallas Mavericks have one of the most loyal fanbases in all of sports and Mavs Gaming looks to add a new dimension to the definition of being an MFFL.