ATLANTA — The NBA 2K League launched in the spring of 2018 and Hawks Talon GC, the Atlanta Hawks affiliate in the league, joined as an expansion team for the 2019 season. With esports, and even more specifically, esports syndicated with a professional sports league being so new, we spoke to Hawks Talon GC head coach Wesley Acuff and two key players — Connor “DAT BOY SHOTZ” Rodrigues and Jonathan “JAY A FOOL” Jefferson — on what the experience has been like and what challenges have came up along the journey. The names in quotations are the monikers, gamertags, usernames, whatever you choose to call them, that the players use to compete online via PS4 or XBOX One.
Acuff, who helped put together the Talon roster, spoke on the day to day operations of the club.
“We’re usually in around 11 in the morning...and practice for (about) six to eight hours, depending on what kind of scrimmages we can line up,” Acuff said.
He is also the GM of the team, and brought on board a scout, Lawrence West, to assist in the talent evaluation process. Acuff, who originally tried competing in the league, qualifying as one of the top 250 players in the world in 2018, ended up coaching Talon after electing to focus more on his family rather than playing the game.
“The challenges are very similar to any other sport,” said Acuff. “Come up with strategy, come up with plays...manage six different players and skill sets.”
A fact some fans may not be aware of is that NBA 2K League players must live and practice in the city they are drafted in, with little or no regard to their current location factored in during the draft.
“The biggest challenge for me being on an esports team is being away from home. I’m from California and living in Atlanta, I am far away from home”, said Rodrigues.
After practicing in their team’s city during the week, the team travels to New York for regular season matches, and sometimes other places for tournaments.
“Going on the road definitely helps team chemistry because you are with your team a lot of the time,” said Rodrigues. “We, as a team, this season have already been to Los Angeles and Miami to practice and also went to New York City, Las Vegas, and Orlando to compete.”
After playing in Portland with Blazer 5 Gaming in the inaugural season, Talon GC selected Rodrigues with the first pick of the expansion draft this spring.
“Being drafted to Atlanta was very exciting,” Rodrigues said. “This journey (with Talon) has matured me as a person and showed me the bigger picture of things instead of just caring about the win-loss record.”
Rodrigues currently leads Talon GC in scoring with almost 18 points per game, and the leads the team in steals (2.6 per game) despite having an offensive archetype. For those who aren’t aware, when creating a MyPlayer on the NBA 2K franchise, you have the option of selecting two of several different player archetypes.
Some of the archetypes are offense, and some are defense. Leading the team in steals using two offensive archetypes like Rodrigues does is truly just pure instinct and skill within the game. He also has a three-point-percentage north of 52% for the season. Here are some clips from one of his stand-out performances earlier this season:
Jefferson spoke on the biggest challenges he’s faced since making it into the NBA 2K League as well.
“Being away from family and meshing with new teammates,” Jefferson said. “Being able to take the hard times with the good times.”
In reality, this is a job that leaves the employees away from home for up to half of the year and, while the NBA furnishes housing and medical benefits during the season — along with a salary upwards of $37,000 for the six-month period — it comes with it’s own set of challenges like anything else. Jefferson, a Houston native, says the best part of being part of the league is “getting paid to do something I love and meeting so many of the people I’ve been playing with for years...meeting a lot of new people that I consider family now.”
“All the people I’ve met and places I’ve been,” said Rodrigues in echoing the sentiment of Jefferson. “The league allowed me to live in two different cities so far (Portland, Atlanta) and visit numerous places I probably wouldn’t have visited. Also, the friendships I’ve made with teammates and other players in the league are very valuable to me.”
Both players spoke to their desire to keep playing in the league as long as they can, and their passion to continue doing what they love.
“Right now, I’m focused on being the best player I can,” said Rodrigues. “Hopefully, the league is around for years to come.”
With esports on the rise globally, it appears to be here to stay in some form. While only 126 of a potential ~7,000 competitors made the league this year, for those who were able to reach the top of the mountain, the reward has been well worth the commitment it takes to be one of the best 2K players in the world.
You can watch Talon GC on Twitch (channel linked) on Wednesday at 9:00 pm ET when they take on 76ers GC, and/or Thursday evening at 7 pm ET when they face off against Magic Gaming. All of the games are available via Twitch, as well on the NBA 2K League YouTube channel. Hawks Talon GC currently sit 17th out of 21 teams in the league after a tough stretch over the past couple weeks, but still has a slight chance to crack the top eight and make the playoffs with very strong play to finish the season.