If ever a sport was made for these strange times, e-sports and NBA 2K League is it.
When the Timberwolves’ 2K affiliate T-Wolves Gaming won the league title last summer, it did so in front of a foghorn-blowing, cowbell-banging live audience at a New York City-area television studio.
Their 2020 season, scheduled to start last week, has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic like every other North American pro sports league while those playing were suspended. But games go on, with isolated competitors separated by hundreds of miles, not by 6 mere social-distancing feet.
T-Wolves Gaming split into two three-player teams and competed for $25,000 in a “NBA 2K Three for All Showdown” 3-on-3 online competition. Televised on the league’s Twitch and YouTube channels, the games included WNBA players, top female and G League players as well as social-media influencers.
It ends Friday, the same day the NBA and the NBA Players Association tip off a 16-man tournament featuring NBA players.
Participants include top-seeded Kevin Durant, second-seeded Trae Young, fourth-seeded Donovan Mitchell, fifth-seeded Devin Booker, and seventh-seeded Zach LaVine and 11th-seeded DeMarcus Cousins.
They’ll compete for the next 12 days in video game competitions televised on ESPN and ESPN2, as well as via ESPN and NBA apps and their social-media channels. The NBA stars will play for $100,000 that will be donated to coronavirus relief efforts. Durant and Derrick Jones Jr., the 16th seed, play first, at 6:30 p.m. Friday on ESPN.
“The majority of what we do as gamers is at home, unless it’s at the professional level,” T-Wolves Gaming point guard Michael “BearDaBeast23” Key said. “Everybody is in their house right now. They can tune in to the streams. And we’re right at home. This couldn’t be better for us.”
The one-off Three for All Showdown that features top NBA 2K and the aforementioned other players compete in a playground pickup game mode of the NBA 2K retail game. Separately, NBA stars play each other in a bracketed tournament.
Key, 28, played Timberwolves star combo guard D’Angelo Russell before he was traded to Minnesota. He also has developed a friendship with avid 2K player Josh Okogie, the Wolves’ second-year guard.
He and T-Wolves-Gaming center JoJo “DrJoJo30” Oetjen talked with Wolves players Karl-Anthony Towns and Jarrett Culver — big 2K fans both — about coming to the T-Wolves Gaming studio in the skyway across from Target Center, but the pandemic interrupted their plans.
Durant and Cousins being in the NBA player tournament is “awesome to see,” said Oetjen, 22. “I’m sure we’ll be watching. It’s awesome to see ESPN do that and push e-sports. Hopefully, one day they get Bear and me out there playing against them in 2K League.”
So who’d win?
“We’d win,” Oetjen said.
Added Key: “Easily.”