They go by names like The Playa and TuckerLocksUp, and they have crazy basketball skills. But not on the court, on the computer.
The six players are members of the new Pacers Gaming squad, and they’re preparing for their first game May 1. It’s a tip-off tournament followed by a 16-game regular season and playoffs.
The Indiana Pacers are one of 17 NBA teams to field a gaming squad in this inaugural NBA 2K League gaming season. The goal is to have all NBA teams participating within three years.
Before dismissing this as some sort of fun-and-games publicity stunt, think again. It’s serious business.
A draft was held April 21. To qualify, invitees had to have won at least 50 games in pro-am competition. There were 72,000 who qualified. Those players were randomly matched against one another in competition, and the NBA ultimately chose the top 102 players for the draft.
The Pacers gaming team consists of two players from New York, two from California, and one each from Washington and the United Kingdom, all of whom have moved here for the May-to-August season.
Players are paid by the NBA, and first-round picks earn $35,000. The others pocket $32,000. Not too shabby for playing a computer game. But wait, there’s more. They also receive housing and health care benefits, and they’re eligible to sign their own endorsements.
A $1 million prize pool awaits the winning team of the playoffs. That’s covered by sponsors such as Dell, Intel Corp. and Alienware. Sponsors for Pacers Gaming include DXRacer and HyperX, with a few more expected to come on board soon, said Kelly Krauskopf, senior vice president of Pacers Sports & Entertainment and president of Pacers Gaming.
“If you look at the next generation of sports fans who are all digitally connected, and I’m a business that wants to reach that sector, I need to be where they are,” she said.
Pacers Gaming is coached by Cody Parrent, a 27-year-old Hoosier native who has a degree in marketing and an MBA from the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. He traveled across the country gaming and co-founded the NBA 2k Lab, which provided data analytics to subscribers to improve their gaming skills.
He scouted players from across the world in preparation for the draft, and helped design the Pacers Gaming practice space in the Pacers St. Vincent Center training facility adjacent to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“The goal is to connect with a younger audience, fans of esports who don’t follow a traditional NBA team … ,” Parrent said.
Rick Fuson, president and chief operating officer of PS&E, agreed.
“We’ve got to find ways to build fans,” he said. “If they’re going to like basketball by playing this game, we’re hoping they’ll want to be at the game or watch it on TV.”
Gaming league players play assigned positions just like their NBA brethren. For instance, The Playa is a small forward and TuckerLocksUp is a center. They can mold their likeness on the computer screen to play to their strengths.
Matchups during the regular season are to be played at a central location convenient to both teams and will have limited seating. Games can be viewed online at Twitch.tv.