Even as it gathers both history and popularity, esports is a new phenomenon. There are simply no official blueprints for how to set up a successful, fair, and entertaining esports tournament.
The Overwatch League, for example, has already been criticized for selling its franchised teams to the highest bidders rather than allowing established teams the chance to qualify organically.
The forthcoming NBA 2K League promised fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn a sport on one of its teams through an open tryout system. The carrot dangling at the end of the line was a chance to become a professional NBA 2K League player.
A chance for all to compete
Initially, this seemed like a very fair and innovative approach. There were certain provisos asked of players, such as the creation of a SoundCloud profile for oversight by decision-makers. Candidates also had to have “clean” social media profiles.
Provided players met these digital qualifications, their performances at the NBA’s specially arranged Draft Combine would determine whether they would be among the 250 players selected to move forward in the process.
Qualifying for the combine took place in January. Players needed to amass 50 wins during that period to gain entry. The 250 players were then slated to undergo further assessment, reducing the number down to the final 102 players. These players would then enter a draft, and the teams taking part in the tournament would select their professional players.
Massive number of applicants
That announcement, combined with the first truly open tryout, saw an incredible 72,000 applicants earning the 50 required wins in January.
During last month’s combine, the thousands of players spent hours upon hours competing. They honed their stats and improved their skills. Many took time away from work to chase the dream of becoming professional esports players. There are unconfirmed reports that some people even quit jobs to try out for the new league.
After many thousands of games, the selectors — officials from the NBA, NBA 2K League, Genji Esports, as well as representatives of an analytics company — narrowed the field to 250.
They employed an algorithm (the details of which are not yet public knowledge) that allowed the selectors to compare many different aspects of a player’s performance in the combine against other competitors. Actual managers of the NBA 2K League teams were said not have any input in this selection process.
When the NBA sent the emails announcing the 250 players going forward, things quickly turned sour.
A biased selection process?
Not long after these emails, a number of popular NBA 2K players and streamers complained the selection process was rigged.
Chief among his complaints were:
- Many players selected in the 250 showed inferior statistics compared to players not selected.
- Thousands of players’ SoundCloud profiles had not been viewed or listened to at all. (It has since been confirmed by the selectors that only the top 1,000 players out of 72,000 had their profiles reviewed).
- White Chocolate claims player performance at the combine was immaterial, and their marketability was more important.
- He also alleges players who made the list used dubious playing techniques, such as “stat padding” and “dashboarding.”
- White Chocolate claims many of the 250 are simply fillers. He suggests they will be easily cut when the pool shrinks to 102.
- He also states the lack of a leaderboard, which was in place for 2016 and 2017 esports events for the same game, shows a clear lack of transparency and fairness.
The kicker accusation
The final piece of evidence offered by White Chocolate of a rigged selection process is perhaps most intriguing.
At 11 a.m. last Friday, multiple sources confirmed they sent out 250 emails to the chosen players.
At 11:57 a.m., one of the world’s top NBA 2K players, MrStylez, took to Twitter to confirm he had not been selected. Yet a few hours after sending the emails, Anthony Muraco, a manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2K team, the Cavs Legion, sent a message to MrStylez, stating, “you’re in” and “you’re in the last group of emails.”
A short time later, MrStylez (and one other unnamed player) received confirmation that both were indeed selected despite the NBA sending the 250 emails earlier in the day.
In light of this timeline, many overlooked players are complaining the whole system was rigged. Organizers deny this accusation. But there is already talk of snubbed players looking at their legal rights regarding fairness and transparency.
Whatever the outcome, this marks an inauspicious start for the NBA 2K League. We’ll see how the fallout from this story develops over the coming weeks and months.