TORONTO — While the Raptors are well past the draft lottery stage, MLSE's Shane Talbot was keeping a close eye on bouncing ping-pong balls Tuesday.
As Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment's esports manager, Talbot will assemble the Raptors Uprising GC (Gaming Club) at the inaugural NBA 2K League draft on April 4 at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden's Lobby.
Toronto is one of 17 NBA franchises taking part in the new esports league that will tip off in May. Each team will draft six gamers from a talent pool that survived qualifying play.
Tuesday's non-weighted draft lottery lottery in New York placed Toronto in the middle of the pack with the 11th selection. Dallas (Mavs Gaming) will pick first with Boston (Celtics Crossover Gaming), Utah (Jazz Gaming), Sacramento (Kings Guard Gaming) and Detroit (Pistons GT) filling out the top five.
Talbot was happy with the outcome.
"To be honest it's exactly where we wanted to be — middle of the pack, given it's a serpentine draft," he said in an interview.
The order of picks reverses after each round. So Dallas will have the first overall pick, the last pick of the second round, the first pick of the third round and so on.
"I'm more comfortable being in the middle of the pack," Talbot said.
The 102 draft candidates have been contacted by the league but not all have signed their contracts yet. Once all the paperwork is done, the final list will be made public.
Talbot has a pretty good handle already of who's out there.
"We're looking at 102 of the best players in the world from a combine of 72,000, so even the 102nd best player in that pool is exceptionally talented and I think could be part of a winning team," Talbot said.
As in real-life drafts, there are some blue-chip players available — with beauty in the eye of the beholder.
Dat Boy Dimez has been seen by many as a consensus No. 1 just ahead of FabVybz. GFGCompete and TimelyCook have also figured in the cream of the crop talk.
Talbot says the list includes several Canadians, with at least two from the Toronto area.
Each NBA 2K esports team will field gamers who will control their own avatar — rather than NBA players — in a five-on-five game. The virtual season, will run from May through August.
The gamers will be paid a "guaranteed, competitive salary" and will get benefits including housing.
Talbot and MLSE have said that its gamers will serve as team ambassadors, so character as well as gaming skills will be taken into account. Talbot says he expects to be able to speak to some if not all of the available players.
And most already have a gaming track record, a lot of which is available on the Internet.
"So I'll go back and watch a lot of that stuff in order to be able get a gauge on how they are with their team, how they are in-game," he said. "Mainly I want to see how they are when they're losing, to be honest. The mental fortitude they have when things aren't going well."
The NBA 2K League is a joint venture between the NBA and Take Two Interactive, publishers of NBA 2K.
In advance of the draft, Raptors Uprising and WorldGaming have announced a $20,000 NBA 2K tournament.
On March 25, Real Sports Bar & Grill in Toronto will host MLSE's first LAN tournament and viewing party. Teams of three will face off for $10,000 CAD in cash, plus the chance to join the official practice squad of Raptors Uprising GC.
Raptors Uprising GC, using WorldGaming's esports tournament platform, will also host an online three-versus-three NBA 2K18 tournament that will run from early April through May, culminating in a $10,000 grand final.
Both events are open to players 14 and older on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
WorldGaming, no stranger to holding NBA 2K events, believes the MLSE tournament model is a sound one. It complements the league initiative while using its infrastructure to partner with teams and help them draw in more gamers.
"Certainly our goal is to do more," said WorldGaming CEO Wim Stocks.
The gaming organization has already combined with the Philadelphia Flyers on the Snider Cup tournament, which drew more than 4,000 entries.
For more information on the Toronto tournament, visit:
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
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