BARCLAYS CENTER – The 2019 NBA 2K League Draft is at 5 p.m. tonight at Barclays Center, and if you have no idea what that is, you’re probably NOT a millennial who grew up assuming the persona of Michael Jordan, LeBron James or Russell Westbrook on a Nintendo, PlayStation or X-Box.
If you ARE aware of the National Basketball Association’s hyperfocus on E-Sports, you may also know about the Brooklyn NetsGC (for Gaming Crew) and their new general manager and coach, Ivan Curtiss—though Curtiss, who goes by the Twitter handle OG King Curt, is not exactly your typical 21st Century gamer.
“The ‘OG’ part is that I’m an older figure in the NBA 2K community,” Curtiss explained recently in a telephone interview. “I’m 40 years old—older than your average gamer.”
The NBA 2K League season— a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, creators of the 2K gaming platform—runs from early May to mid-August. Played at the NBA 2K League Studios in Long Island City, competition has expanded from 17 NBA franchises last year, the league’s first year of existence, to 21 for the upcoming season, including the expansion NetsGC entry.
All games are live-streamed on Twitch, a channel for E-Sports and other live and archived events that has an average of 15 million unique viewers per day—almost twice as much as the top 10 channels on cable TV.
To speak with Curtiss is to take a walk down gaming’s Memory Lane, as he recounts his connection to the platform and to basketball. He has admirable credentials in 2K, starting in 1999 when the game was launched – just before the 2000 millennium. Affable, and with a deep baritone voice, Curtiss reveals that basketball is in his bloodstream, both real and on the screen.
In 2015, he was an assistant varsity coach with the Huber Heights Wayne High School boys’ team that won the Ohio state title. He’s got the chops to put together a winning combination of players on the court; now he’s tasked with doing the same for the Nets’ new virtual edition.
He’s working with Nick Gartelle, a 20-something gamer who this month will be named NetsGC Business Operations Coordinator, to help the Nets take their inaugural step in the NBA’s fledgling league. Lending zest to the picture is the fact that the first-ever 2K League winner was the entry from the New York Knicks, Nets fans’ mortal enemies.
Already, Curtiss and Gartelle have tweaked their local rivals, making a crafty selection in an expansion draft the 2K League held last September. When Knicks Gaming inexplicably left Nate Kahl, last year’s tournament MVP, unprotected, the newly minted NetsGC swooped in to not only add a talented player to their roster, but also weaken one of their chief rivals.
A Nets gaming debut at this moment makes a lot of sense. The team is doing well on the actual hardwoods, and are poised for a post-season berth for the first time since 2015. Curtiss is hopeful that their success, and the fan interest it’s generating, will blend with the growing popularity of E-Sports, which is projected to have as many as 500 million viewers by 2021.
“Kids from 6–7 years old all the way up…it’s unlimited who plays 2K,” he said, hip to the potential of his players as NetsGC brand ambassadors to fans young and old. “If we can get our players out there and let the younger generation know [that] this is in front of them, then ultimately that will seep into the parents, [who] are the ones buying things.”
The catch, of course, is that the audience for E-Sports is entirely different than the one for live competitive sports, leaving many older sports fans scratching their heads.
How It Works
The “players” are gamers who operate each position in a five-on-five virtual game. Each of the live players has a cam on him or her—allowing viewers to both watch on screen and account for gamers’ emotions as they compete.
The league, overseen by Managing Director Brendan Donohue, defines the roles and abilities of each of the virtual athletes, while each team is responsible for drafting—just like in the actual NBA—players who compete virtually.
Each player has a controller and up to five different “archetypes” they can use on the court. Think of a range from Victor Oladipo—the versatile shooting and point guard for the Indiana Pacers—to Luca Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks’ prized rookie who has already proven he’s an outstanding scorer, but not a stellar defender.
According to Curtiss, each virtual player typically has dual archetypes; they might be primarily a defender but also have the range to hit from outside—the “three and D” player best typified by Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors. Or it could be a center with rebounding and defensive prowess, like Serge Ibaka, now patrolling the paint for the Toronto Raptors.
There’s a huge difference between the retail version of NBA 2K and what gamers will use for the NBA 2K League. On the off-the-shelf version, gamers can control and vary players’ attributes—e.g., a combo entity with Shaquille O’Neal size and Isaiah Thomas quickness. But, as Curtiss explains, attributes like height and weight and arm length are pre-set by the league based upon agreed-upon standards, which makes for a level gaming field.
Besides Kahl, the NetsGC have signed Moshood “Shockey” Balogun Jr. as part of their expansion draft effort. Tonight, the Nets will look to fill four additional roster spots, and—given his extensive background with the sport—their new GM has a good idea of what he’s looking for. Curtiss has an encyclopedic knowledge of many of the gamers hoping to be drafted, as well as the coaching acumen to put the right team together.
“My role is to be a players’ coach because I have to trust what these players can do,” he said. “I know what it takes to win—and how teams fight through adversity on a day-to-day basis.”
If OG King Curt and his team can accomplish that on a regular basis, many of the Nets faithful will happily jump on the NetsGC virtual bandwagon.
Additional reporting by William Brenner