The Power up explores how professional sports leagues and esports leagues are working together: 'It starts with me'

Jonathan Lee
·4-min read

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At first glance, traditional sports and esports seem to have little in common. But as The Power Up’s host Jennifer “Narz” Vargas explains, sports leagues have been collaborating closely with game franchises after witnessing the booming growth of esports.

One of those leagues is the National Basketball Association (NBA). OG King Curt is the GM and coach of the Nets Gaming Crew, the official NBA 2K esports team of the Brooklyn Nets. His love of both basketball and video games began early.

“I started playing Atari then Nintendo then Sega Genesis,” Curt told In The Know. “I always had a love for sports games.”

When NBA 2K was released, Curt eagerly began competing in the game’s budding amateur circuit. Eventually, he met Toijuin “LT” Fairley, who is currently the head coach of the Mavs Gaming Crew. The two of them started their own NBA 2K league, the My Players Basketball Association (MPBA).

As for how Curt got hired by the Nets, he attributed it to his experience as a trailblazer in the competitive NBA 2K scene and as a real-life coach.

“I think just overall with that just having experience and knowledge about the players and the landscape allowed me to get an interview with the Nets Gaming Crew,” Curt said.

As both a gamer and an athlete, Curt saw working in the NBA 2K League as a natural and logical fit.

“When I wasn’t competing or practicing [in basketball], I could still compete on the game,” Curt explained.

Nowadays, it’s also becoming more popular to see athletes who start a side career as streamers. Legendary MMA phenom Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has been streaming on Twitch for years already. Even Bronny James, the 16-year-old son of LeBron James, is a content creator for FaZe Clan.

WNBA champion Aerial Powers is a shooting guard for the Minnesota Lynx and also a brand ambassador for Team Liquid, one of the oldest and most prestigious teams in western esports. Powers grew up in a physically active family, and as with many young athletes today, gaming was always part of her life.

“The controller was always there, believe it or not,” Powers told In The Know. “The only thing was when I started streaming on Twitch about a year ago, that’s when people really really started noticing. If you’re a part of my family, you knew I was a gamer from the beginning, when there was a Nintendo 64. There’s always been a game.”

Powers also talked about two similarities between the WNBA and esports. First, she noted the importance of communication. Whether you’re playing basketball or Apex Legends, a team that can’t communicate also can’t coordinate, and a team that can’t coordinate is doomed to fail.

The other factor? Adrenaline rush of intense competition.

“I’ve been in some tournaments lately that has my blood and heart pumping like it would be if I’m on the actual court,” Powers said.

Streaming is still an obscure venture for many people, even among some of Powers’ own friends. But for Powers, it’s been fulfilling work that also helps her stay close to her followers.

“It became a way for my fans that might not have been at the game or never had a chance to talk to me to kinda vibe with me off the camera, off basketball, and just talk,” she said.

As the chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at Team Liquid, Powers also shoulders a responsibility that should really include everyone. Streaming still remains a predominantly white male space. For Powers, changing that begins with herself.

“It starts with me, right?” Powers said. “It starts with seeing females like me. Seeing more women in leadership positions and positions of power. You know, you don’t have to only be a gamer. You can be a graphic designer… You can be a music artist. You can also be a team owner, right?”

Achieving this goal requires equity, which means organizations have a lot of catching up to do and provide streamers of color with the same opportunities that have been given to white streamers.

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