One thing you have to understand about the NBA 2K League — the official competitive gaming affiliation spearheaded by Take-Two Interactive and the NBA itself — is that it’s way more than just a game; it’s an actual sport. The mental preparation, the hand-to-eye coordination that comes with handling a digital baller from a video game controller and even having the energy to bring a sense of braggadocio to the live experience is not something that just anybody can do. The players that make up the 21 teams in the league deserve every bit of praise for their in-game skills — the $1.2 million prize pool for the 2019 season is a good incentive, too! — and it was reflected last night (March 5) for almost five hours at the official 2019 NBA 2K League Draft event.

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Going down at the Barclays Center in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, the 2019 Draft brought forth a sea of different emotions. The players, all 198 of them, were understandably nerve-wracked by the idea that only 74 would make the cut. Over the span of four rounds, players were selected by teams including Jazz Gaming, Warriors Gaming Squad, Kings Guard Gaming, Pistons GT (from Pacers Gaming), Mavs Gaming, Bucks Gaming, Grizz Gaming, Celtics Crossover Gaming, Magic Gaming, Warriors Gaming Squad (from Lakers Gaming), T-Wolves Gaming, NetsGC, Hawks Talon GC, Mavs Gaming (from Wizards District Gaming), Raptors Uprising GC, Pistons GT, Bucks Gaming (from Blazer5 Gaming), Cavs Legion GC, 76ers GC, Heat Check Gaming and Knicks Gaming, with each team taking their picks until each had a solid six-player squad. Those selected during last night’s draft will join the 52 other players from last season that were retained or selected in the prior Expansion Draft.

We got a chance to chop it up with the league’s Managing Director Brendan Donohue, who summed up the development of this special competition series to just overall growth. See what he had to say below:

“I think the biggest change we’re seeing [with NBA 2K League] is how our league is going more global, whether it’s our players or the fans. We saw international players selected today, our first-ever woman selected today — the excitement of where that’s all going to take us in terms of fans across the world is really inspiring. A young girl could be watching and think the NBA 2K League could be a realistic step in the future. That’s a huge deal! It’s just growth — this is a story of growth, and that’s what we’re focused on for season 2.”

— Brendan Donohue, NBA 2K League Managing Director

The lady making history is Chiquita Evans, who became the first woman drafted into the league last night after being picked during the Fourth Round by Warriors Gaming Squad, melanin-poppin’ with fresh dreadlocks and all. Other standouts included first overall pick Spencer “Ria” Wyman (Jazz Gaming) and second-to-last pick in the First Round Lytel “Lotty” Martin (Heat Check Gaming), who put his career as a police officer in Mount Vernon, NY on hold for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

There were signs of disappointment in the faces of those that didn’t make it, mainly due to sitting around for hours just to have a dream deferred, but they still congratulated those that did make it with genuine praise and a few even left determined to work harder for next year.

Each team will have four opportunities throughout the season to win prize money, including “THE TIPOFF” tournament ($120,000 prize pool), “THE TURN” tournament ($180,000 prize pool), “THE TICKET” tournament ($180,000 prize pool) and finally the 2019 NBA 2K League Playoffs (total prize pool of $720,000, with the champions receiving $360,000 of that). Every player will get a base salary just for competing, with retained players from last season getting $37,000, first-round selections from this year’s draft getting $35,000, and later round picks getting $33,000. As a result of each player actually moving to the region they were selected by for training purposes, they’ll also get a compensation package that includes paid housing, relocation expenses, medical insurance and a retirement plan. Like we said before, this is the real deal!

Take a look below at a full photo recap of the 2019 NBA 2K League Draft, and stay tuned for the “TIFF-OFF” game to go down on Tuesday, April 2.

Images: NBAE / Getty