NBA league with global ambition offers gamers chance of pro contract

London (AFP) –


Harry Hurst's parents thought he was wasting valuable time by playing basketball games on his computer. Little did they realise it would lead to his big break in eSports in the United States.

The 21-year-old British gamer -- who plays as HazzaUK2K -- was drafted to play for Mavs Gaming (Dallas Mavericks) in 2018, which earned him $32,000 plus living costs for six months in Dallas and meant weekly trips to New York to compete.

The professional NBA 2K League mirrors the NBA -- with a regular season, playoffs and a draft, in which franchises vie to secure the stars of tomorrow.

Each of the teams have six players, who compete as unique characters in five-on-five play.

The league launched last year with 17 teams, all operated by NBA franchises-- Knicks Gaming were crowned the inaugural winners in August, earning a prizepot of $300,000 -- and is expanding to 21 teams for the coming season.

Hurst, who has not been retained by the Mavs and so awaits this year's draft to see if he will be picked for a second season, admits he did not play basketball seriously on court, mucking around with friends, and half-heartedly on his computer.

"Essentially, the thought of joining the NBA organisation and playing under their name and moving to another country in such a short time span is something you dream about and now is a reality," Hurst said before last week's NBA game in London between the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards.

"I want to compete with the best, enjoy different cultures, mixing with other people, eating different food," he added. "It is not just about the game itself, it is about opening new windows in your life."

The league's first international qualifying event is taking place in Hong Kong early next month and will identify elite players from the Asia-Pacific region who will be eligible for the 2019 draft.

"Our goal is for the NBA 2K League to be a truly global league, with players and teams from around the world," said league managing director Brendan Donohue.

"Nine international players competed in our inaugural season and our hope is that number will grow every year."

- 'Head held high' -

Hurst's former room-mate in Dallas, Ryan "Dayfri" Conger, has moved to Washington after being snapped up by the Wizards District Gaming team.

One of Conger's new teammates, Johnathon "Demon JT" Fields, was almost at the point of "hanging it up" and going back to college after falling short twice in basketball gaming tournaments.

However, when he saw the league was being launched last year he decided to have one last go and persistence paid off as he was one of the 17 first draft picks, which came with a wage of $35,000.

"The first B grade I ever received was in sophomore year," said the 25-year-old, who is also a dab hand at the piano and has had to suspend his studies in psychology and business.

"I came down to get a look in and give it my all and said to myself 'if I fail I can go out with my head held high'.

"I have been there one year and it worked out and I have been retained," added Fields, who trains up to 12 hours a day.

Conger, who is taking night classes for his degree in kinesiology, says that although the careers are precarious, there are benefits.

"When I was a kid my father was mad at getting up to go to work, though he likes it now (aeronautical engineering)," said the 21-year-old.

"I wake up and get to say I am going to play video games and being paid for it."