TORONTO – It comes with 10 gaming stations, six bedrooms, ping-pong and a pool table, not to mention big-screen TVs galore and a spacious deck complete with a barbecue and hot tub.
But depending on your definition, there is more work than play in the well-appointed house that serves as home to the six members of the Raptors Uprising GC (Gaming Club), who carry the gaming colours of the Raptors in the NBA 2K League.
Toronto’s Yusuf (Yusuf_Scarbz) Abdulla and American teammates Christopher (Detoxys) Doyle, Kenneth (Kenny) Hailey, Seanquai (KingQuai614) Harris, Trevion (All Hail Trey) Hendrix and Joshua (TsJosh) McKenna spend six to eight hours a day perfecting their craft in the high-tech basement.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment opened the Raptors Uprising home/HQ for the first time to media Thursday.
“I never really had roommates so it’s a different experience. Exciting. Big house. Love it,” said the 25-year-old Abdulla. “I love my teammates, they’re like my brothers. Amazing experience.”
The NBA has gone all-in on the fledgling esports circuit, a partnership with Take-Two Interactive, which manufactures the hoops video game.
“From the NBA standpoint, this is our fourth league,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said prior to the NBA 2K League’s inaugural draft in early April, referencing the NBA, WNBA and G League.
“This is the fourth league in our family and that’s exactly as we’re treating it — one more professional league,” Silver added.
The Raptors are one of 17 NBA teams to take part in Year 1 of the esports league, commuting to New York on weekends to play virtual games in a studio before a live audience and those watching on the popular Twitch gaming channel. It’s five-versus-five with each gamer controlling his own player.
The 102 gamers in the league were drawn from a pool of more than 72,000 who entered qualifying. They play a special build of the game that ensures each team uses virtual players with essentially the same skill sets.
Raptors Uprising stands 15th with a 2-5 record going into this week’s game against seventh-place Wizards District Gaming (3-3). The Toronto gamers, however, insist their record, which includes three overtime losses against top teams, doesn’t tell the whole story.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself but I do feel like we have an opportunity to close out this season with a big run and climb back into playoff contention,” said Shane Talbot, esports manager for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.
That would mean a top-eight finish in the 14-game regular season, which includes several mid-season tournaments. Blazers Gaming currently top the standings at 6-0.
Talbot said MLSE looked long and hard for a suitable residence before settling on this house, a spacious rental tucked down a quiet residential street — its location on a need-to-know basis.
In the basement, a long table is decked out with top-of-the-line gaming computers and chairs under a lighting system that can go from laboratory-white to nightclub-cool. A neon Raptors Uprising sign dominates one wall with an adjacent sitting area and TV used to review footage of rival teams.
“As a lifelong gamer, this is my dream setup,” said Talbot.
The gamers say their chemistry is good on and off the virtual court.
“We have so much space so we don’t get in each other’s way,” said Hailey, a 28-year-old from Memphis who was the team’s top draft pick at No. 11 overall. “But at the same time, you are living with six guys. So it does feel like a college dorm experience.”
Upstairs, the kitchen looks like it doesn’t get much use. Women, it appears, are not allowed.
The residence, billed as the Bell Fibe House, is a triumph of sponsorship. There are Bell charging units and a Coors Light beer fridge. A giant NBA 2K18 poster occupies the wall near the pool table. The bathroom doors carry the logo for Axe body spray while Canadian Tire provided the deck furniture.
And the gaming centre, with its Alienware computers, DXRacer gaming chairs and HyperX headphones, looks like someone went on a spending spree at Best Buy.
No couch potatoes, the gamers also regularly work out at a gym that offers everything from acupuncture to massage therapy.
They have taken different paths to get here.
McKenna, a 22-year-old native of Decatur, Ga., was studying sports management at Georgia State. Doyle, a 20-year-old from Hampton Falls, N.H., was at the University of New Hampshire. Hendrix, 21, was working at steak house in Arkansas. Harris, a 24-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, was homeless for a while. Hailey was working for AT&T as a distribution co-ordinator until he quit his job to game professionally.
All played for their high school basketball teams, with Doyle a top-rated New Hampshire prospect before suffering an injury. MLSE is paying them a salary as well as taking care of their room and board.
Hailey and Doyle were all former members of an elite NBA 2K Pro-Am team called Still Trill that won the US$250,000 grand prize in last year’s NBA 2K17 all-star tournament.
Hailey used his $50,000 prize money to pay off his 2012 Camaro while Doyle upgraded his PC gaming system.
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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version attributed a quote to Seanquai Harris instead of Kenneth Hailey.