Straight out of college, the NBA hired me to edit videos that transformed competitive gamers into champion athletes.
Loud cheers thundered across the 2K League Studio floor. The audience had gotten to their feet. They stomped their high-top sneakers into the ground and banged their fists against leather gaming chairs. It was the type of atmosphere you’d expect at a rock concert — not a crowd of gamers watching virtual basketball on a screen. If you listened closely you could make out the tapping of thumbs on joysticks from the center stage, where the final players were locked into their consoles. Each tap, a force of their skillful digits. Each tap, a step closer to half a million dollars and a place in eSports history.
The source of the excitement was clear. Amidst the roars of a hyped studio, one team surged towards a comeback.
“Hey Leon, it looks like these motherf*****s might actually do it. We need the season recap in the server before the broadcast ends. Got it?”
Behind the scenes I was putting the finishing touches to the NBA 2K League’s season recap video. As the league’s video editor I had everything ready to go, except for the footage from the best-of-three championship games. When it looked like the tournament was about to end, I would add the final highlights. Then the production team would send it out to the world for the 50,000 people live-streaming the broadcast on Twitch.
But the championship was ending much quicker than expected. Nobody had predicted this comeback, except for the team playing with belief in their eyes and ice in their veins. If they won, I had to start the video again— replacing highlights from one team with the other’s. Time moved in both fast and slow motion as I tapped my fingers on the keyboard. I skimmed through footage, looking for cheers from the crowd, first bumps from the coaches, but most importantly emotions from the players. Tap tap tap. Another score. Tap tap tap. Another new video clip. This was my zone. But as capable as I had gotten over the summer, I didn’t know if I’d finish in time.
22-years-old and working on the big stage in New York City. I’d never had this many people relying on me. Then again, neither did the teams that were out on stage. We had something in common. Six months ago this group of barely-adults were nobodies. Now they were somebodies, fighting for the biggest moment of their lives. Tap, tap, tap. Another score. Tap, tap tap, my fingers raced away.
In 2018 the NBA broke the internet when it announced its first major venture into eSports. They launched the NBA 2K League, an official gaming competition which attracted players from around the world. In the NBA 2K game you control a virtual avatar on a digital court, imitating what actual NBA players do — you can pass, dribble, and shoot. The same principles and strategies of ‘live’ basketball apply here; everything from team outfits to ball physics has been digitally replicated. Players who wanted to join the league, qualified through online tournaments and the top performers were invited to a combine where they were whittled down to a final 104. Then they were drafted into teams and competed in weekend matches during the summer for over a million dollars in prize money. Fans flocked to Twitch, a streaming platform for gamers, to watch the league’s weekly games.
When I was contacted to be the inaugural season’s video editor — a job description that involved cutting together show content and highlight reels — eSports possessed a small but growing place in the collective consciousness. While I’d heard about 2K, video games were not my thing. My background was in New York’s fashion industry. But I was also graduating from college in a couple of months, and looking for work. I was offered the role through a friend recruiting for the league’s content creation team. After learning about the its historical significance I accepted the position. Then came the question — how do you make people playing video games exciting?
My first test came at the league’s draft day, where I was assigned to cut a recap video. On April 4, the 104 players who made it through to the end gathered at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Guardian. Throughout the day, 17 team managers would call their names one by one. In that sense it was just like the ‘real’ NBA draft where the admin of picking teams becomes a spectacle. The theater stage was flooded with lights and hundreds of cameras were poised to capture the action. A familiar bald head bobbed past me into the VIP area. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, had arrived.
If you’ve ever watched the NBA Draft on TV you’ll know that glitz and glamour are part of the occasion. Mr Silver wore his signature pinstripe suit, adding a level of decorum to the venue. The draftees hadn’t missed the memo either. As they began to arrive they looked like real NBA athletes, rocking up in bright jackets and bold sneakers. The 2018 2K League class looked the part, no doubt. But there was something missing in them that was present in their 7-foot counterparts. Underneath the flannel, you sensed that they still thought of themselves as shy video game players who one day stumbled upon the ultimate cheat code. While I offloaded footage from our cameramen, I tried to figure out how to put together a video that captured the gravity of this historic event — and how I would sustain this for a 17-week season. Looking around at the timid gamers, I began having doubts that this could be done.
Moments later, the draft began and managers called the players out on stage. As soon as they finished shaking hands and stepped down, our stealthy producer pulled the draftees aside to the press area and interviewed them. Some were used to the attention. Artreyo Boyd (aka “Dimez,”) the number one pick taken by Mavs Gaming, was already famous in the 2K community. His resume boasted of several 2K accolades including the 2018 All-Star weekend tournament, with some referring to him as the ‘LeBron of NBA 2K’ . He certainly acted like it, speaking on camera with the poise that you’d expect from a seasoned veteran. Others were just grateful for the opportunity. Celtics Gaming player Albano Thomallari (aka “o’Fab,”) described how a couple months prior he was living in his parents’ basement. He had spent the past few years playing video games everyday in the hope that the rapidly growing eSports industry would one day mean that he could turn his passion into a career. It had paid off. His face lit up when his name was called out as the second overall pick.
Then something amazing happened. Tilton Curry (aka “xTFr3sHxX,” or “T-Fresh”) was one of the last players selected in the draft. When his name was called out at pick 82 by 76ers GC, he broke down in tears. But he wasn’t upset at being picked late; these were tears of joy. After hours of waiting, his moment had finally come. In his interview he said straight into the camera that for all of his life he had felt like a failure. Now he had something to be proud of. Something that would inspire his kids.
This was it. This was how we’d make the NBA 2K League exciting. Not fancy gameplay or eSports trivia — it was about the characters; these underdogs who wanted to take their chance and prove themselves to the world. The league was about narratives. Now we just had to find them.
The first competitive video game tournament took place in 1972 at Stanford University. A small group of students played a primitive computer game called Spacewars, where players control spaceships in 2D space and try to attack each while avoiding collisions with nearby stars. A student named Bruce Baumgart experienced the first eSports high when he won the competition. His prize was a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine.
Since then, gaming tournaments have gotten bigger and more competitive. The popularity of fighting games in the 90’s like Street Fighter and Marvel vs Capcom sparked a level of intensity that matched the boxing ring. Local and regional tournaments hosted epic battles that began popping up all across the US. When bandwidth improved, gaming entered the internet age, and new online modes meant that players could face off against each other regardless of where they lived. The AMD Professional Gamers League saw 1400 players take part in their 1998 online Quake tournament (an early medieval first-person-shooter). The prize pools had gotten bigger too — first place took home $7500 and an AMD computer.
Jump forward two decades and advancements in technology have led to improvements in every facet of gaming; from hyper-realistic graphics, to more seamless competition mechanics. It has also made watching these tournaments more accessible — Twitch now boasts over 100 million monthly viewers across its gaming streams. For the top players of this massive community, eSports is not only a livelihood but a lucrative venture. The highest prize money for an eSports event happened recently at the 2019 Dota 2 tournament, which offered a whopping $30 mil prize pool; the 5-member first-placed team took home $15 mil, or $3 mil each. Add to that, the amount that popular players make from sponsorships — Tyler ‘Ninja’ Bevins, the blue-haired face of millennial gamers, is reported to make more than $500,000 per month from his various channels.
It’s this lucrative industry that the NBA wants to tap into with its 2K League. When Adam Silver announced the competition at a press conference in partnership with Take-Two interactive, you could see the logic behind the decision. The game itself is incredibly popular, with total sales of the NBA 2K franchise reaching 90 million and ensuring an established fanbase. Of course the NBA also knows a thing or two about running a successful sports league.
A few months after the 2K League Draft, I graduated from college. I moved out of the dorms of Morningside Heights into an East Village studio apartment, ready to enjoy the liberties of post-grad life. No more classes or exams. I was free, or at least I thought I was. The packing tape was barely off my IKEA futon before I was in a cab headed to the new 2K League Studio to start editing videos for “The Tip-Off,” the league’s preseason tournament.
For their part, the NBA had knocked it out of the park. The two-storey, 7000 square-foot studio in Long Island City is as dramatic as any sports stadium. Red and blue neon lights circle an elevated stage of leather chairs, where the players sit. In the center, a console of cameras and screens show the gameplay as well as the players’ faces, which you can see from the 120 seats placed on the outer perimeter. When the lights are out it looks more like a theater than a sports venue — you could imagine Shakespeare being performed here. On the second level are a couple of practice stations and green rooms for the players to relax in before each game. And next to that that, the production area; a dark, cold open space where producers and media engineers worked during the broadcasts. It needed to be dark because of all the screens. And cold as the AC was on full blast to counteract the heat from the machinery. I found my little desk at the back with the content creation team. This small corner would be my home every weekend for the next three months.
To anyone else this might seem depressing, but I was used to it. Dark rooms are the video editor’s natural habitat. They remove distraction and allow us to concentrate on editing footage. This was especially important in a job which expected quick turnarounds. Our motley content crew, made up of individuals who came from everywhere in media production, learned throughout the season to stay on our toes. As soon as we heard the whispers of a story in the green rooms, our producer (a journalist by trade) would investigate alongside one of our cameramen (who came from documentary backgrounds). Then the footage would be rushed back to me and I’d piece the video together into a behind-the-scenes segment or highlights reel.
The first day of the preseason tournament began with the broadcast playing the draft recap video I had edited. Judging by the cheers in the room, I had successfully captured the excitement of the event. The player interviews introduced us to what would become some of the big names of the season. Speaking of which, as the players trickled in I was amazed at what three months in the NBA system had done for them. Compared to the nervous kids from the draft, they were different people. They came kitted in official team gear and stood several inches taller; being part of a group had validated them. Now they were easygoing, confident men hanging in the green room.
How they behaved onstage was a different story. As the players walked on, it was like they were going to war. In a way they were — not only were they readying to battle the opposition, but they were out to prove their doubters wrong. All dispersions of how seriously people would take eSports were cast aside though, as the players showed that they meant business. While the crowd cheered them on, the players had tunnel vision; locked into their screens and controlling their digital avatars with precision. They were motionless, except for when they scored or performed a particularly impressive play, after which they would stand up and roar. ‘Trash talk’ as it is colloquially known is found in many competitive sports. The eSports version of this includes declaring that you are “getting glitchy” (which means you are on a hot streak) and taunting your opponents’ weak play (it never gets personal as a player assured me). At one point I heard a loud banging noise. When I looked down at the stage, I realized that it was the sound of players slamming on their chairs to intimidate the oppositions. This was everything you wanted in sports; adrenaline, nerves, and raucous energy.
But one man was louder than them all. And he wasn’t even playing. T-Fresh, the man who had cried at the draft, was the sixth man. Like his NBA counterparts this meant he was there to substitute off the bench in case another player went down with an injury. This was unlikely to happen in a virtual game, so his role was mainly ceremonial. This didn’t get T-Fresh down and he remained upbeat. He even made the sixth man role his own, cheering on his teammates in a booming voice that carried throughout the studio. I made sure this made it into the highlight videos.
His team, 76ers GC, went on to win the preseason tournament. How much T-Freshy’s support had to do with their success is uncertain. It didn’t hurt that the team was stacked with talent. Their sharpshooters in Newdini and ZDS played an excellent foil to point guard Radiant, who had ‘Curry-esque’ ball-handling ability. Stoic defender iFeast was a nightmare for opposition offenses, and courageous captain Steez was the center and a bedrock of reliability. The team functioned as a single unit and a refreshing lack of ego’s meant that they all liked each other. As I edited the tournament highlights video, I found a clip of Radiant — awarded player of the final — saying into the camera, “we got the job done, I want to thank my teammates though.” It was the perfect sound bite to play over a shot of a united team lifting up the trophy. The story of the 2K League’s preseason tournament was the story of the 76ers — the family team.
Things were heating up going into the regular season. All of a sudden it was summer in New York City, and the East Village came to life with young men and women in summer shirts and dresses. I spent the weekdays at picnics with my post-grad friends, who were making the most of their last free months before starting jobs in consulting and finance. Those summer days were serene. Sure, the streets stunk of rotting trash, but nobody seemed to mind because the sun was out. And when it was too hot to be outside, I could retreat to my second home on the weekends — the cold, dark 2K League studio with AC blasting at me from every angle.
Appropriately, Blazer5 Gaming emerged as the early dominant team. The Portland-based side was in hot form, burning to an eight-game winning streak that put them at the top of the ladder. Their gameplan was simple — crush the opposition with relentless aggression, which they could achieve with a juggernaut lineup of offensively-minded individuals. Quieter personalities in Grant Monster, LavishPhenom, and Dat Boy Shotz, were all excellent players who hunkered down and let their gameplay do the talking. Then you had someone like Mama Im Dat Man, a fiery point guard who never missed a chance to stand up and shout — he treated trash talk like it was an artform.
Their most important player however, was team captain Dayne Downey (aka “OneWildWalnut.”) If you wanted a poster child for the league, he was it. Tall, eloquent, and handsome; the California-native even played Division 2 basketball in college, which he would return to once the season ended. I lost count at the number of times I saw his face over the summer in promotional content that I cut for the league. To cap it off, OneWildWalnut was one of the most talented players to ever step onto the virtual court — he ended the season as the league’s highest scoring center.
In a highly anticipated matchup, Blazer5 Gaming met 76ers GC in round five of the season. It was number one playing number two — the setup for an incredible story. Our producer wanted to capitalize on the drama and create a hype video to introduce the match. So they filmed the two captains, OneWildWalnut and Steez, staring each other down, and then trash talking each other. Because this was all done the morning of the match, I didn’t have much time to put it together. I looked to boxing videos for inspiration, using fast cuts, battle music, and bass-heavy sound effects. As ridiculous as it sounds, it felt like the teams were about to get into the ring. Tempers were heated and the captains barely spoke as they eyed each other off. Two captains, two centers, two phenomenal players.
The game lived up to the hype, with both teams playing phenomenally and looking at times like they would run away with it. But Blazer5 was too good in the end, winning 77–69. Their aggressive style and unrelenting pressure proved too much for 76ers GC. The season had taken a turn; the new narrative was of the juggernauts that were Blazer5 Gaming.
I never imagined that I’d become a video editor. I went to college to write, but in my senior year I was offered an editing internship at a fashion agency in Tribeca. My weekends were spent assisting senior video editors, learning how to stitch fashion content together in ways that were ‘hip’ and stylish. It ended up being an exciting but challenging career path, since editing was mostly about having good taste and the only way to acquire this taste was through experience. I spent countless hours in the editing room, organizing runway footage from New York fashion shows, and developing my editing muscle. Soon I was good enough to take on my own assignments.
For the 2K League, style was thrown out the window. We were working on such short deadlines that there wasn’t time to craft polished pieces. One of my tasks was to cut a highlights video of the Friday and Saturday matches, ready for the following morning’s broadcast. An assistant editor and I would work into the early hours of the morning, deciding on the storyline of each game (who were the big scorers, what were the momentum shifts, which team won). Then we’d review the gameplay footage, placed into the server by Rob (a member of production team in charge of live replays.) We’d match the video game clips with reaction shots caught by our cameramen, and combine the virtual and physical footage in our editing program. This meant we had to learn the players’ names so we could identify which clips were important. I became so familiar with the characters in our storylines — OneWildWalnut, Steez, T-Fresh — that although I never interacted with them in person, they felt like friends and family.
I finally understood why we hired cameramen with documentary backgrounds. At first I found it strange that our shooters were hardened guys who filmed protests and political rallies. But when the season started I realized that shooting live sports was like being in the field. You had to be quick on your feet, responding to games as they were happening. The momentum of a match could shift in an instant and then you’d have to adapt, switch camera angle, and focus on a different player and team. To our cameramen’s credit we got some phenomenal footage — amazing candid shots of players throwing their fists into the air which went straight into the highlight reels. When the games ended, our camera guys filmed interviews of the winning teams in the press area. The raw emotion from these provided a much needed human element to our videos.
The final touch was to add soundbites from the 2K League commentators who gave a play-by-play analysis on each game. Scott Cole and Jamie “Dirk” Diaz Ruiz, two experienced songbirds of the eSports circuit were every bit as good as commentators of conventional sports. In a second they could switch from casual conversation to the sonorous dialogue of professional sports-calling; authoritative statements on match play, assured hot-takes, and thunderous reactions at a dunk or three-pointer. Their dramatic voices gave a cinematic feel to our highlight reels.
All of these elements put together condensed a whole day of matches into three minutes, catching up viewers on the happenings and story arcs of the league. By the time my assistant editor and I were done, night had become morning. A couple of hours later I’d be back in the studio getting ready to do this whole process again, which meant that caffeine quickly became my best friend. Weekend overnighters were a new staple of adult life and although I started to feel myself burning out, I pushed through knowing that there would be respite on the weekdays.
Throughout the season we collected a lot of footage that didn’t fit into established storylines but gave an interesting insight into the world of the 2K League. “Game Day” was a series we created that showed the players taking us through their match day routines (not too different from my routine, usually consisting of hot coffee and listening to the latest Halsey track). “Behind the Screens” explored eSports culture — players explained topics like gaming terminology (a “dot” is an assist, and “green” means to shoot accurately). While these extra series didn’t come to any meaningful conclusion at seasons end, I like to think that they added nuance and backstory to the larger narratives that we were creating.
Halfway in, we thought the inaugural 2K League season would go one of two ways. Either good-guy 76ers GC would lift the trophy at season’s end, or perennial rivals juggernaut Blazer5 Gaming would be the champions. The two teams sat firmly at the top of the ladder and easily defeated their competitors. But then during “The Ticket” — a midseason tournament in which the winning team was guaranteed a spot in the playoffs — a new story emerged. Knicks Gaming were ranked 16th at the time, and had little chance of making it into the top eight to quality for the final week of the season. They were an underdog if you ever saw one. Nobody considered them a real threat, yet through determination and a desire to prove themselves, the local team proved to be the league’s Cinderella and won the tournament and their ticket to the playoffs.
Unconventional in their path to success, the Knicks were also led by an unconventional leader. While the 76ers and Blazer5 were both captained by traditionally stoic men in OneWildWalnut and Steez, the Knicks had found themselves with a different personality at the helm. Adam Kudeimati (aka “Iamadamthe1st”) was a small, light-framed New Jersey-ite who like many urban youth, applied gel to his hair, wore oversized tees, and walked around with a vlogging camera attached to his hip. Outside of NBA 2K, he ran a YouTube channel where he documented his daily life accompanied to trap music. In many circles he would have been the ‘it’ kid.
Not at the Knicks though. The team was made up of IdrisDaGoat6 (a loud forward from South Carolina), Goofy757 (a confident center from Virginia), and Yeynotgaming and NateKahl (both calm, composed defenders from Wisconsin.) Iamadamthe1st’s East Coast pizazz was a foreign language to a team that came from the South and Midwest, and his leadership didn’t translate. Behind the scenes there were also rumors that the team’s strong personalities clashed, and a poor group dynamic bled into weak performances on the court.
At some point though, perhaps through maturity, the team put their differences aside. During The Ticket, Iamadamthe1st seemed less distracted by hair products and more focussed on winning games. His untraditional leadership style started to pay dividends once he was able to back up his eccentricity with talent. Inspired, the team began to respect each other despite their differences — the way that a team based in New York is supposed to get along. When Knicks GC won the tournament final from nowhere, beating heavy favorites Celtics Gaming, IdrisDaGoat6 lifted the trophy on one side while Iamadamthe1st lifted it from the other. The strong personalities were still loud, but now they were loud together.
By the time of the playoffs in August I was exhausted. In the weeks leading up to the event, our content team was tasked with creating eight hype videos for each of the qualifying teams. This was easy enough for 76ers GC, Blazer5 Gaming, and Knicks Gaming who we had been keeping an eye on all season. But five other teams had made it to the final week, and we were less familiar with their stories. We brought on a couple more editors to spread the workload and what had started as a small motley crew in a dark room became a content factory, working 14 hour days to trawl through three months of footage.
While I was physically tired, it was the emotional aspect that drained me the most. After an exciting few months, I was entering into what I came to refer to as my post-grad malaise. The rest of my friends had started their 9–5 jobs with their 9–5 salaries, and because of my weird schedule I barely saw them anymore. I felt lonely in the dark studio where days stretched on end. It was official, I had burned out. I lost confidence in myself as I realized that life was not the warm bliss that summer had teased it to be, but a series of long work days that ended with me recovering in bed.
In this numb state of consciousness I blinked, and suddenly the playoffs were under way. Even my dire state couldn’t dampen the electric energy inside the 2K League Studio. Additional seating was installed to accommodate the eager crowds, yet seating still went over capacity. The first round of the playoffs was knockout style, and the biggest game was between Blazer5 and Knicks Gaming. Two of the major storylines of the season came face-to-face and only one would be allowed to continue. It was the Juggernauts against Cinderella; OneWildWalnut’s bravado against Iamadamthe1st’s iconoclastic brilliance. The heavily favored Blazer5 took a commanding lead which they maintained into the final quarter, and it looked like it was over for the Knicks. But then in a way that was symbolic of their season, the came back and knocked Blazer5 out of the playoffs. It just goes to show that as much as you can prepare for it, life doesn’t always go according to plan. A message you didn’t have to tell the Knicks twice who continued to prove doubters wrong when they defeated Cavs Legion Gaming in the semifinal and found themselves in the championships.
On the other side of the bracket, 76ers GC was knocked out too. All season long, T-Freshy’s roars from the sidelines were a comfort to my isolated state. Now I had to say goodbye to one of the faces I had grown most accustomed to. The team that knocked them out were their polar opposites. If 76ers GC were the family team, then Heat Check Gaming were the villains of the 2K League’s first season. They brought the fire, both on and off the court. An all-Latin lineup of passionate personalities had gotten them into some controversy,; a couple of matches had nearly ended in physical fights. Their best player was Hotshot, a high-scoring point guard who the team based their gameplan around. By playing a manned up game style, the team could isolate him with a lone defender, which Hotshot could take advantage of and consistently score 50 points per game.
It all made for a very entertaining story. In the championship promo video I cut between footage of Knicks Gamings’ inspiring play, and Heat Check’s aggressive characters, contrasting how different these two sides were. And so the final chapter was set. The passionate men from Miami were to play the local underdogs for the inaugural 2K League title.
On the eve of the championship, the entire 2K League community gathered in the city that never sleeps. The players probably found it difficult to get any shut-eye too, because the next day they would be competing for $300k and the season trophy. We can all relate to this feeling; the night before an important exam, our hearts race as it tries to catch up with the millions of thoughts that go through our minds — entertaining both the heartbreak of rejection and the tantalizing prospect of success.
I also could not sleep. In fact, it had been days since I last slept. Aside from a couple brief moments when I closed my eyes in between games, I was glued to my computer, editing the remaining highlight and promo videos. There was just one last hurdle going into the big day. At the end of the broadcast, as the winning team lifted up the trophy, the production team wanted to cut to a recap video of the entire season. The final moments of glory would be contextualized by the arduous journey that got us there. This was easy enough as I could just pull storylines from the highlight reels I had made during the season. Except I was obviously missing any footage of the final game, whose winner at this point was TBA.
Which meant that I would be cutting together the final part of the season recap as it was happening. And it had to be done in the small window of time during the trophy ceremony, before the stream went off air.
Buzzing on the final drips of summer’s iced coffee, I watched the 2K League Studio fill up throughout the morning. Important stakeholders from the NBA and the eSports industry showed up, including Adam Silver who had his own seat in the corporate box. Players from the league flew in on their own dime to watch their peers compete for the ultimate prize. It was amazing to see how much they had grown in confidence since I edited their draft day video. Looking back I realized what a different time that was. I was still in school, less stressed, and had a community around me. While I’d lost mine, the 2K League had found theirs.
Once everyone was seated, the two teams stepped on stage for the final best-of-three series. Dramatic music played on their entrance. The players looked focussed. No messing around. Get to the controllers. If there was ever a time to experience a gamers’ high, then that time was now.
The first game started with both teams scoring in short bursts. Clearly they were nervous, despite their faces saying otherwise. Eventually they loosened up though and stiff body language gave way to the passionate roars which we were used to. I kept an eye on the scores and on the server, as Rob the replay guy started transferring me clips for my recap video. By then I had done this a thousand times. I could sense the flow of digital information through ethernet cables, which I’d manipulate into a storyline with the flick of a finger. Except it was still too close to know which team would win, and so any storyline I edited could change in an instant. Our cameramen darted back and forth with reaction footage which I began putting together.
The Knicks won the first game 69–66, a thrilling contest that came down to the wire. In my head I cheered, because while piecing together the first game highlights, I realized that the Knicks Gaming story was my story. We were both underdogs, thrust into the spotlight with enormous pressure on us. It was true, that summer I had gone from an inexperienced college kid to a vital cog in the media team. Like Iamadamthe1st, and IdrisDaGoat6, and Goofy757, and Yeynotgaming, and NateKahl, I would fight to prove myself capable. No, exceptional.
The second game proved that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. Heat Check Gaming, frustrated by the wasted opportunities of game one, came back with a vengeance. Anger burned through their souls and into their fingers as their aggression dominated the virtual courts; the players tapped the controllers in ways that allowed them to go ‘green’ and get ‘glitchy.’ Knicks Gaming had no answer to their overwhelming play. Hotshot got to his feet, shouting that he was coming for the trophy. I put together clips of Heat Check Gaming’s triumphant dunks, as it became clear that the second game was theirs.
Until it wasn’t.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, NateKahl intercepted a pass intended for Hotshot and lobbed it to IdrisDaGoat6 halfway down the court, who scored against the tide. It was an incredible play — not just because of the pressure of the situation, but to intercept against Hotshot required immense technical skill. Heat Check was still up by nine with hardly any time left, but NateKahl had found something extra inside himself. He blocked another pass intended for Hotshot, then prevented a Hotshot drive to the basket. All of a sudden the Knicks were down by just four with all the momentum on their side.
Of all people, I should have known that you never write off Knicks Gaming. Hadn’t they shown time and time again that they could stand up to the heat? Here they were coming back from what looked like a done and dusted game, and I was screwed. I had been so certain that Heat Check Gaming would win that I hadn’t even started looking at the highlight clips of the Knicks.
“Hey Leon, it looks like these motherf*****s might actually do it. We need the season recap in the server before the broadcast ends. Got it?”
Darn right I got it. Not that ‘getting it’ would make any difference. I was racing against the game clock as the Knicks got closer to ending the tournament. I moved my fingers at breakneck speed, looking through Knicks Gaming footage for scores and reactions. I could’ve used a drink by then — that would come later at the end of season wrap party. Now I had to focus on the story that was unfolding at the breakneck speed of realtime.
It was my turn to be the underdog — the young college grad who had somehow navigated his way into being part of eSports history. I had no right to be there in that room of professionals who were twice my age, but had I not lived up to the task? I had also grown a lot that summer, improving my skills as a video editor and storyteller while dealing with the pressures of adulthood. This new-found confidence propelled me and like NateKahl I began to get my ‘glitch’ on. I shred my burnout and flew with the digital wind. I processed files like a supercomputer and as the Knicks fought for the lead, I played catch up as well.
The buzzer rang. The Knicks had won, 74–71 proving once and for all that they were the undisputed champions. They jumped and cheered as they became historymakers, immortalizing leaps of joy into the record books. I saw this all in the footage later, but I was still racing to put together the last of the final highlights. I hit the export button, transferring the recap video into the server. My heart was racing. Had I made it in time? As the Knicks lifted the trophy, I watched with anticipation as the broadcast cut — to my opening shot of the New York skyline. Thank god, I had done it. I nearly cried when the image of the city that never sleeps, popped up on the Twitch stream. The city that pushed you to your limits until you were at the lowest of lows, from which I had found the highest of highs. As the recap video played, I rewatched a summer spent creating storylines, while storylines were created and lived. A summer well spent.
If you had told me going into my final year of college that the months following graduation would revolve around an eSports league, I would not have believed you. I would not have believed that millions of people would witness the stories I edited, and that they would be broadcast on the internet and into history. Only in a city like New York could someone write a story so outlandish.
The stories that happen around us are constant and evolving. We just don’t notice them while we’re living them. Human beings are servants to their emotions and heartbeats and the sweat that drips from their skin. But take a step back and observe, maybe with the help of a video editor, the rich tapestry of a life lived. No matter what that life is, there is always meaning to be found.
The secret to a successful season of 2K League edits was to find stories where nobody else could see them; not even the people who the stories were about. The OneWildWalnuts, the Steezes, the T-Freshies and the Iamadamthe1sts, probably saw themselves as regular people living regular lives. Not me though — I witnessed the growth and development of a group of kids into men, who made bonds and connections that would last a lifetime. Knicks Gaming had won the championship in a fitting end to their Cinderella narrative, but it could have easily have been Blazer5 or the 76ers or Heat Check Gaming, or any one of the other 13 teams.
Through their experiences I had found my own story of perseverance and resilience. Life was about to get a lot more interesting, but I had a bit more confidence going forward.
And that’s how you make an eSports league exciting.