The Madison Square Garden Company expands its reach into the esports universe in the first season of a new league created by the NBA. It can feel like the real deal.
Each morning, Monday through Friday, a group of six athletes — the Knicks Gaming squad — gather in a midtown office building and slip behind the sliding doors of a narrow, windowless room, customized to fit their needs. Here, the young men, in front of a 55-inch TV, work through a basketball ritual, scouting their opponents, scrutinizing game video, looking for an edge.
“Check that out,” says one player. “They ran a double screen for the point guard.”
“You gotta know when to push the tempo, but always stay in control,” their coach tells them.
Through all the familiar trappings of a club in full prep mode, something novel has unfolded here over the last few months — the inaugural season in the NBA’s 2K League that has taken shape in 17 NBA cities. (Four more teams will join the league next season.)
And on Saturday, Knicks Gaming, riding a string of upsets, will compete in the league’s first-ever championship Finals.
For The Madison Square Garden Company, the venture provides an opportunity to expand its presence into the esports industry that is booming around the globe. Last summer, the company took a major stride when it acquired controlling interest in Counter Logic Gaming, one of the premier esports organizations.
Knicks Gaming — which also goes by KNX Gaming — is part of an ambitious enterprise from the NBA and provides another link between MSG and Chase and Squarespace, marketing partners of the new team. As the team evolves, MSG plans on connecting to fans in part through Knicks Gaming digital and social channels — including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch — which all come with the @KnicksGaming handle.
There is a New York feel to KNX. The logo, borrowing from the Knicks’ orange and blue, features a cityscape of rooftops carved into the lettering. The six-man roster includes a player from New Jersey and another from New York.
“Throwing Dots” And Coming Together
For the uninitiated, expunge any idea that this all comes down to flicking switches on a video console. These players are athletes in a sport that draws on basketball instincts, agility and teamwork. The players are their own avatars on screen and have to synchronize with their teammates. Watch them and you will soon forget that the action is playing out on a screen.
Ranging from 20 to 26 years old, the players come with nicknames and game personas and their own wide followings on social media. Dayvon Curry — AKA GOOFY757 — was the club’s first round draft pick. A 21-year-old from Virginia, he is a power forward. By his own assessment, he has grown into a team player, now taking pride in the passing game, or as he puts it “throwing dots.” His teammates, including Marc Rodriguez or xKPMR, from the Bronx, say they have all been pushed to meet the demands of a group effort.
Their grooming has largely fallen to Kyle Rudy, their coach. He is 24 and carries himself with the serenity of a seasoned pro.
“These are six guys who all come from different backgrounds,” he says, “so getting them to understand one another has been an interesting process. It’s been cool to watch them grow.”
Approaching the end of a three-month regular season, KNX won a crucial tournament in July, guaranteeing themselves a berth in the NBA 2K playoffs. Taking a page from the 1999 New York Knicks, they have catapulted themselves from an 8th seed position into the championship round.
With the league carried online on Twitch.tv, expansion plans are in motion. Those around the sport, including Kristin Bernert, an MSG executive and the Knicks Gaming general manger, envision dramatic growth.
“Data shows that if you play basketball, you’re more likely to come to an NBA game,” said Bernert. “In time you’ll see another trend. The more you play the video game, the more you’ll watch the NBA, and vice versa.”
About The Madison Square Garden Company
The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences. The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; and The Chicago Theatre. Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: the New York Knicks (NBA) and the New York Rangers (NHL); two development league teams – the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and esports teams through Counter Logic Gaming, a leading North American esports organization, and Knicks Gaming, MSG’s NBA 2K League franchise. In addition, the Company features the popular original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces New England’s preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO Group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, Beauty & Essex and Vandal. More information is available at www.themadisonsquaregardencompany.com