Here Dat Boy Shotz (Connor Rodrigues) plays NBA 2K. From Leemore, California, Rodrigues essentially runs the offense of Hawks Talon GC, a team of six e-sport athletes living in Atlanta who professionally play the NBA 2K video game.

Atlanta Hawks NBA 2K pro e-sport athletes will be treated by Northside

A grown man from Los Angeles shot up from his seat to yell “AND ONE” at six grown men from Atlanta. He’d drawn a foul during the basketball game and now gets a chance to score another crucial point.

Few things elicit the passion of sports, even if it’s a video game played by e-sports athletes who get paid well. That was what happened Wednesday night in a game between Lakers Gaming and Hawks Talon Gaming Club, the NBA 2K League affiliate team of the Atlanta Hawks.

The Atlanta team announced Thursday morning that their players will be getting specialized medical treatment from Northside Hospital’s new program geared toward these unique professional athletes.

READ | Atlanta among WalletHub’s top 5 cities for gamers

The 2K league, which is in part run by the NBA, began in 2018. The league is a play at trying to engage the next generation of sports fans, many of whom are more interested in e-sports than traditional sports. Atlanta was one of the four expansion teams this year, bringing the league total to 21.

“Collaborating with elite e-sports teams, such as the Hawks Talon GC, to maximize player performance while minimizing injury is an innovative way to apply our sports medicine and performance expertise in the care of athletes on the new frontier of sports,” said Dr. Vonda Wright, head of the Northside Hospital Sports Medicine Network. 

Other Atlanta e-sports teams have been in the program since March.

READ | Fulton hospital’s sports program treats video gamers like athletes

NBA 2K is a basketball video game that updates annually to mirror player stats from real life. 

What can an e-sport athlete earn for performing at a high level?

All players are signed to six-month contracts, with first-round draft picks being paid a base salary of $37,000 and all other players being paid a $35,000 base salary, according to the league. And there’s about $1 million of prize pool money floating around every season.

The Atlanta players live for free in one of Atlanta’s hottest addresses: Atlantic Station. They are flown out weekly to New York (flight, room, meals covered by the league) to play their opponents in front of a massive video production team with a “sideline” reporter and other regulars of real NBA games.

Yes, the life-changing innovation of the internet that made it so humanity didn’t have to be in the same location to communicate or share information has led to six dudes leaving Atlantic Station every week and taking an airplane to New York to play a video game that is streamed live.

READ | Seriously? Some make a living playing video games

The players can also make money with endorsements and by monetizing a stream of people watching them play on their own. Sounds odd? Well, the Braves charge $75 for fans to watch batting practice before the game.

They players also receive a retirement package in addition to their medical insurance, which will now include the Northside program. 

Hawks Talon Gaming Crew poses for a photo after the game against Warriors Gaming Squad during Week 7 of the NBA 2K League regular season on May 30, 2019 at the NBA 2K Studio in Long Island City, New York. [Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Photo: Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

“It is paramount for us to have a partner focused on our players’ health and wellness as we strive for each member of Hawks Talon to consistently perform at their best,” Hawks Talon’s head coach Wesley Acuff. 

The hospital’s goal is to prevent and treat injuries while also improving overall health with things like nutritional education. 

There’s also the stress that comes from a team depending on you as a player and knowing that thousands are watching online.

READ | City’s esports team gets a name - Atlanta Reign

For example, more than 30,000 people on YouTube and 229,000 on steaming service Twitch watched part of the five-hour stream Wednesday that included the Talon game. Sitting at 5-5 on the season, the Atlanta team played the 1-9 Lakers on Wednesday. 

The announcers say mind-boggling things, like when they refer to the NBA as “the other league” before the game: “Like their counterparts in the other league, this is not the year that the Lakers hoped for.” (The real-life Lakers finished 37-45 this season.)

“He’s such an emotional player,” the announcer said of a Talon player as the pixels move across the screen, “I think getting him early buckets …”

There were announcer’s emotions rising and falling with the game. There are close-up shots of the players during a timeout or raising their hands in frustration. 

Still not convinced this is an Atlanta sports team? They lost to the Lakers 54-48, giving them more losses than wins so far on the season.

Here’s the Atlanta roster:

Head Coach Wesley Acuff

Dat Boy Shotz (Connor Rodrigues)

Arsonal (XXSTL2LAXX)

MrStylez (Drew Valle)

Rando (Randolph Moreno)

Jay A Fool (Jonathan Jefferson)

XXSTL2LAXX (Mark Hampton Jr.)

Ivan Curtiss: Basketball background prepared him for NBA 2K League

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