Invitations are out to 23 Canadian gamers with seven spots open for FIBA Esports Open

·3 min read

TORONTO — The invitations are out. Twenty-three NBA 2K gamers are getting a chance to represent Canada at the FIBA Esports Open next month.

Shane Talbot, who oversaw Raptors Uprising GC's perfect NBA 2K League regular season this year, is in charge of the recruitment interviews. As manager of Canada's team, he will choose its seven members including two reserves.

"It's a huge honour," said Talbot.

The first FIBA Esports event was held in June with 114 video gamers from 17 national federations across five regional conferences. The second edition features an expanded field of 38 national teams in six regional conferences with play scheduled over three weekends. 

"This is a huge step forward for professional NBA 2K," said Talbot, esports manager at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. "Obviously what we know is that the talent that's being showcased in the NBA 2K League and in general at this high level of competition is really elite. It is highly entertaining.

"But when national programs and FIBA (the governing body of world basketball) embrace the game, it lends a level of credibility ... I think that's huge for establishing ourselves as a legitimate esport."

Canada will face Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico and the U.S. in the North and Central American conference Dec. 19-20. It marks the first esports competition for Canada Basketball.

Rosters have to be submitted by the end of the month.

While the Canadian team will have little time together, Talbot says top NBA 2K gamers are adaptable and able to pick up speed fast.

NBA 2K League players from the 2020 season include Sten (Sav) Valge-Saar of Lakers Gaming, Yusuf (Yusuf_Scarbz) Abdulla of Kings Guard Gaming, Meyhar (AuthenticAfrican) Ahmed-Hassan of Grizz Gaming, Daniel (DT) Tlais of Magic Gaming, Destiny (JoshJay) Idugboe of Cavs Legion GC and Brock (EhTruth) Nikolakakos of Knicks Gaming.

Former NBA 2K League players include Thomas (Speedbrook) Genaj (Celtics Crossover Gaming) and Ryan (Devillon) de Villon (Mavs Gaming).

Canadians Tyler (Highkeyy) Stone, Abdul (GOLDSTRAP) Hassan, Ahmed (isoair) Abdullahi, Abdollah (Dunnoee) Arab and Muse (Burnurr) Muse qualified for the draft pool for Season 4 of the NBA 2K League in 2021 by virtue of their play at the recent "Scout The North" regional tournament.

Stone was named tournament MVP.

While the FIBA Esports competition is being played remotely, Talbot says he is looking at whether he can get his players together during the event.

The tournament conferences were set up according to geographical conditions and server distributions.

Play began last weekend with Australia, the Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia winning the Southeast Asia/Oceania, Africa and Middle East conferences, respectively. Europe conference play is set for Dec. 12-13 with South America competition Dec. 19-20. 

Argentina (South America), Italy (Europe), Saudi Arabia (Middle East), Australia (Oceania) and the Philippines (Southeast Asia) were the conference winners in the first FIBA Esports event.

The conference winners will not play each other.

Clearly some regions are ahead of others when it comes to the esports game. While the Europe conference features 18 teams, Africa had just two and one was much better than the other. The Ivory Coast hammered Gabon in every game with lopsided scores like 61-19 and 61-14.

Raptors Uprising star point guard Kenneth (Kenny Got Work) Hailey, the NBA 2K League MVP last season, will be working against Talbot this time. 

"We're proud of Kenny for getting selected to the U.S. team," said Talbot. "It will be bittersweet when we face him."

"I think Team Canada is going to be a contender and we're going to give Kenny and his teammates a run for their money," he added.

The FIBA event will use the pro-am version of the NBA 2K game, which has more range and flexibility in player archetypes than the NBA 2K League build. 

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press