By Zach Goins
August 17, 2020
After a summer without sports, games are finally beginning to return to the court, field and most importantly, the TV screen. The NBA is back delivering thrilling action in its Orlando bubble, the MLB season is in full swing on the baseball diamond, and the MLS and NWSL both recently wrapped up their return to soccer tournaments.
But despite the coronavirus pandemic shutting down live sports, there’s one Charlotte team that’s been going strong since May. Hornets Venom GT, Charlotte’s esports affiliate in the professional NBA 2K League, wrapped up the regular season with a 9-7 record and secured the No. 8 seed in the upcoming league playoffs.
The rest of the league may not have expected Charlotte to achieve such success considering this was the team’s inaugural season, but for head coach Lawrence “BiggWest” West and small forward Giovanni “Trap” Elizondo there was never a doubt. Now, with a trip to the playoffs secured, Venom GT becomes just the second expansion team to ever earn a playoff berth.
“The only team that can beat us is us,” West said. “As long as we come out and take care of the business that we’re supposed to, we should be fine in this first matchup.”
Trap, a first-year professional in the 2K league, said the opportunity to bring a title home to Charlotte in his rookie campaign feels tremendous.
“To be part of something great for the franchise, that’s huge,” Trap said. “You’re going to go back and look at it, you know, the first time the Hornets had an esports team, they won it. That’s something nobody can ever take away from you.”
The playoffs will tip off Thursday, August 20 with a 10-team tournament and a total prize pool of nearly $1 million. The winning team will be awarded $420,000 and the remaining $500,000 will be divided between the other nine playoff teams depending on where they finish.
“It was kind of crazy to think six months ago I was working construction, and now I’m here playing video games, gonna compete for like $950,000 in the playoffs,” Trap said. “I’ve never had that much money so that’d be huge for me. Maybe purchase my house, take my kids to Disneyland, do something like that.”
Not every part of the season has been a dream come true for Trap and the team, though. Even though the league was still able to continue play throughout the pandemic, the team hasn’t been able to utilize its new facility within the Spectrum Center, and Trap has been separated from his family since play began. Plus, Trap, who lived in Dallas previously, has barely even been able to explore his new home after moving to Charlotte shortly before the season started.
While playing video games for a living may sound like a dream come true, Trap wants everyone to realize it’s not as care-free a career as it may seem, especially when you add in a pandemic. It’s not like the team is playing a friendly game for fun, day-in and day-out they put in long hours in front of a screen scrimmaging, reviewing film, studying analytics and doing everything an in-person sports team would do to perfect their craft.
“I know it’s a video game, but this job is not just something that you just do for fun,” Trap said. “Everybody can go home and do it for fun. We’re here to win money. We’re here to bring a championship home.”
One silver lining of the pandemic, though, has been increased viewership for the Venom– and for esports as a whole. Without live sports on television, fans have been desperate for anything even semi-related to sports, which has led to more viewership on TV and online. While it’s nothing compared to real NBA stars, that increased popularity brings a little bit of fame, too.
“You know, we wear Hornets gear and people see us and go, ‘Hey, man, we’ve seen you on TV. How many games y’all won,’ stuff like that,” Trap explained. “I don’t know if they really watch it, but I guess they at least flip through the channels and they see it.”
Next time Trap and West are out in public, though, they’re hoping to be recognized for more than just being a part of the Venom. They want to be known as champions.
“We’re all longing for some kind of professional championship around here,” West said of Charlotte. “If it has to come in the form of esports, guess what? I am happy to deliver. When it comes to esports, I think the city of Charlotte is going to embrace it no matter. They don’t care how we get it, long as we get it.”
The 2020 NBA 2K League Playoffs will tip off Thursday Aug. 20, and can be seen on ESPN 2 or NBA2KLeague on Twitch.
— x-Hornets Venom GT (@HornetsVenomGT) August 14, 2020