It’s the NBA league you might never have heard of, but it has the teams you have. Sort of. Warriors Gaming Squad, Lakers Gaming, Heat Check Gaming, 76ers GC, Pistons GT -- the works. This league also isn’t played on a physical court, and it doesn’t feature names like Curry, James, Butler, Embiid or Stewart, instead it packs the digital paint with handles like Gradient, Bobby Buckets, Gooner and xMilo. Actually, it’s the latter name that brings us here today, but before we chat with the first Australian ever drafted to this *maybe* mystery league, what’s this all about?
The NBA 2K League is a joint esports venture between both 2K Games (Take-Two) and the NBA itself. This makes it the first esports league in the US operated by a professional sports league. As such, the NBA 2K League aspect of NBA 2K is a specially-designed offshoot of the franchise videgame proper, that features an archetype system based on court positions. This means your usual MyPlayer-created player doesn’t get court time in NBA 2K League, leaving the key winning attribute up to a player’s skill level with a like-for-like avatar, or archetype.
The NBA 2K League itself has been up and running in its current format since May 2018 and features 22 teams affiliated with an NBA franchise, and one team affiliated (loosely) with the LA Clippers. The League operates similarly to the physical world of the NBA in many aspects, chief among them being drafts (given that’s a player’s starting point, and how a team builds its roster). And in producing this piece today, we had a chance to chat with Ballarat local, and Aussie legend in the making, Meason “xMilo” Camille, who as we mentioned earlier, now holds the title of “first Aussie ever drafted to an NBA 2K League” team, that being the [Detroit] Pistons GT.
Red Bull: Heya [x]Milo! Whereabouts are you in the US at the moment?
xMilo: So right now, I'm currently in Detroit, Michigan. That's where I was situated throughout the six months that I've been here for the Pistons. So yeah, we're located around Downtown Detroit.
Red Bull: Okay, cool. Just for the purposes of getting rolling, can you explain, A: how you got drafted, B: how this is such a big thing, that a kid from Ballarat, Victoria, can get drafted to the Detroit Pistons, and C: we'll just sort of roll from there?
xMilo: Of course. Yeah, so basically I was just playing NBA 2K through the last three, four years. I've always played the game. I never really took it seriously though until about three years ago. I never thought this opportunity could even come up until the League got announced in 2018, and then I was just playing casually, and sort of started taking it seriously maybe two years ago. And when I was taking it seriously, NBA 2K League [was] announced, and I got invited to my first international event in Hong Kong. So I travelled overseas to Hong Kong and made the draft for the NBA 2K League 2019.
For me, just getting that far I was, like, “oh my God, this is crazy”, but I unfortunately didn't make it in 2019. So I then tried out again and went to South Korea; invited to represent Australia in South Korea, and I was, like, “this is insane. I'm getting so far and so close to this goal, but I'm unable to achieve it”. So I kept on pushing, and I was just playing NBA 2K with my MyPlayer and playing with a pro-am team, and basically, when all this was happening, I was at university at the time... I was working, so I wasn't putting my full effort into this, but I was still making it to these overseas events.
And then this last year, I basically finished my university course and my job and sort of put all my effort into it, building my brand up and my name up, and this was putting all my time into NBA 2K. I was spending all day in the game, doing everything I [could] for a chance to make my name get called on draft day. So I ended up making the draft pool again, and I was drafted the 62nd pick to the Pistons. So putting all that effort in, after three years of work, it paid off at the end of the day.
I was getting more recognition every year and building my brand up...
Red Bull: It's sort of interesting, because I'm not sure the average punter understands... I think esports now is big enough that everyone understands League of Legends is huge and CS:GO is pretty big, and you've got all these other, you know, Overwatch and stuff, but they might not understand that there's an actual esport behind playing NBA 2K, and that there's a draft and that there's a league behind that draft, and then that you can go on to be drafted by actual NBA teams. It's a pretty crazy thing. Did you know about that before you started taking it seriously? How did you fall into it, and then how did you explore the opportunity?
xMilo: Well, I was always playing the game, so I was playing the game since NBA 2K16. I think the league got announced just after [NBA] 2K17, or early 2018, and once all that got announced, I knew that it obviously was going to be based in North America. I knew for an international player it would have been quite difficult to make, but just watching the League through season one and season two, and it was something that I wanted to do, and it was something that I wanted to be the first Australian player to make. And I knew, eventually, it was an opportunity I could definitely... I definitely will get there, because I was getting more recognition every year and building my brand up.
So I really went form just seeing it on Twitter, and then watching the games on Twitch, honestly. And then the NBA 2K League did a pathway for the APAC players, including myself, in the Oceania region, which included trying out and playing in Hong Kong and South Korea against other APAC teams, such as China, the Philippines and Indonesia. So it's pretty crazy.
Red Bull: So you mentioned that you sort of put your life on hold to follow, to pursue the dream.
Red Bull: Had you travelled overseas before any of this?
xMilo: Yeah, so I've been to the States before, all the way back in 2010, so a very long time ago. But in quite recent years, no, I haven't travelled overseas, so basically this is the first time being in the United States over the age of 21.
Red Bull: Yeah, right. Was it something, even when you were sort of looking to get into it, I know you mentioned that you saw that it was based in North America, did you think it would take you to places like Hong Kong and South Korea? And just what was that experience like, travelling for an esport?
xMilo: Yeah, a feeling that’s really pretty crazy, travelling for something that you just play every day just for fun. So seeing that, even my parents thought this is something that you could potentially get into, just seeing... representing Australia overseas in different events was just crazy. Getting that close to making the NBA 2K League within two years and just missing out, and then in the third year making it was just a crazy feeling. I knew I'd eventually make that next step, and it was everything that I've dreamt of. Yeah, it's pretty crazy over here. It's pretty awesome.
Red Bull: So you get drafted to the Detroit Pistons, which is obviously an NBA team, in the NBA. Can you talk about the organisation, and what the next steps were, and what it’s like being in Detroit at the moment? How much back and forth do you have with the actual club? And yeah, I mean, we’re just curious how it all works.
xMilo: Yeah, so I arrived here in May, it took a little bit of time because of my visa. But once I did arrive here, [I was] welcomed by all the staff, and we actually train at the same facility that the actual Detroit Pistons train for basketball, so we're at the same building. They're on the bottom floor, on the courts. We get to go out on the courts as well, and not necessarily interact with the players, just because of the COVID-19 at the moment, but we got to at least go experience the court and Little Caesars Arena as well. And we're up on the fourth floor, so we get to train up there.
So we're in the same building as all the staff of the Pistons as well, so I got to meet a lot of people not related to Pistons GT, but in marketing, in different aspects of the Pistons, which was really, really cool. Especially considering I did a sports management degree at university. I really wanted to get into the sports management, business side of things. So I was working in local basketball a fair bit, so to actually work in the NBA, and being in an NBA environment was awesome. And meeting people there. So we had a little bit of connection with the actual Pistons itself in that aspect. We had support from the social media page when we made the playoffs, so it's all sort of connected together, so it was really awesome.
Red Bull: So you're only over there for, I guess, a season?
Red Bull: Is it just a season-by-season contract? Is that how you win it, or are you on a longer-term contract?
xMilo: Yeah, so you get drafted pre-season. So a season is roughly from April, May to around the end of September, just depending on playoffs, and it's basically a six-month contract, and then the off-season is obviously from the end of the year to March. And then you can get retained, so we find out in a couple of months if we're retained. A team can retain up to four players on the roster, and if you don't get retained, you don't have to retry out or anything, you're already in the draft pool itself. So I don't have to go through all the drama of trying out again, I'm already in that draft pool. So I can get selected for the following year. Or I can get retained, so I'd come back to Australia and then fly back to Detroit when the season starts.
So yeah, it's a pretty cool experience. Yeah, it's different from the NBA, obviously, with the contracts, only like a year contract unless you do get retained. But yeah, it's been an awesome experience.
Red Bull: So with most sort of traditional… it sounds really funny to say, but most traditional esports, there's usually teams or players playing towards, like, a big trophy or a big payday. How does it work for you guys? Because you're obviously part of an organisation which is part of a larger league, are you on a... you don't have to disclose money value, but are you on enough coin to make the effort worth it and to put your life on hold, as you say before? And is there a monetary thing that you're chasing, or is it more about the glory?
xMilo: Yeah, nah, great question. So when I sort of put my life on hold, it was something that I wanted to... I at least wanted to actually make the League, and I knew I was growing my brand every year, and I knew if the opportunity came up, I'd be selected from Australia. So it was really to be the first Australian (drafted), and I did really want to make the League. And I play videogames every day, so doing it for a living and doing it for an NBA organisation would be incredible. So it was definitely worth the risk.
We have a base salary through the six months, and on top of that, we play in four tournaments throughout the year, the Tipoff tournament, the Turn tournament, the Ticket tournament and the championship, -- The NBA Finals, and each has different prizes per placing. But in total of all that, there's a USD $1.2 million prize pool out of all those tournaments. So it's very good money, and something to go for.
Red Bull: Are you the only Aussie that made it through this past season?
xMilo: Yeah, so there's been Australians that have made the actual draft pool itself through the years, but I'm the first and only Australian to actually make the League itself.
Red Bull: Were you recognised as such on the other side? Like over there, as being that sort of pioneering... I mean, I say it because Australia is making its mark in the NBA in the biggest way we ever have, and I think it's really great to see someone reaching another version of the NBA. And yeah, I just want to know if there was a bit of a reception to the idea that, “oh, here comes an Aussie, he’s coming through the other pathway, they're coming to steal our game!”?
xMilo: Yeah. Yeah, well, if they thought of the Australian region, my name and maybe a few other names were probably the ones that would stand out. It's sort of been a story going for a while, because there hasn't been an Australian to make the League. There's been a European player, there's been a player from China, there's been a player from Spain. So Australia was always... there was a player from New Zealand, but there's never been an Australian player. So it's crazy, this year there were the most international players actually drafted into the NBA 2K League, and it's very hard to make it as an international player, [just] like the NBA itself. So yeah, it's a crazy experience, and yeah, awesome.
Red Bull: So you mentioned your studies...
xMilo: Yeah, sports management and marketing.
Red Bull: Right. Obviously, that means you have a bit of a hand in sports in general.
Red Bull: Can you give us your NBA background? Don't feel bad about mentioning that maybe you didn't grow up following the Detroit Pistons as your team of choice. And yeah, just a bit of your sporting background, I suppose?
xMilo: Yeah, of course. Yeah, so I always grew up watching NBA and playing basketball itself, and I didn't really watch much of the Detroit Pistons. I was more of a Lakers, or quite recently, a Trailblazers fan. But yeah, I played basketball my whole life, pretty much until I left. I took a season off when I was sort of focusing on the NBA 2K League, but I've basically been playing basketball for the last 17 years since I was, like, five or six-years-old. So that was always a big part [of my life], and I feel like watching the NBA and actually playing basketball did benefit me making the NBA 2K League, coming from just watching and playing and using those experiences in the actual game itself is a big reason I feel like I succeeded in Australia and in the NBA 2K League.
But with sports management, it was something that I wanted to get into, and it was a course that I did at Federation University in Mount Helen in Ballarat, and it was a three-year course, and yeah, I loved it. So I always wanted to potentially work in a sports environment, such as the NBL, for example, and just the fact that I got to experience even the sports management side in the Detroit Pistons, and what goes on through a day-to-day basis, even… just behind the scenes is incredible. So that was awesome.
Red Bull: Yeah, that was going to be my next question, do you think there's something tangible you can take from this experience and apply to that future, if that was something you were still going to pursue?
xMilo: Yeah, of course. I think that obviously making the NBA 2K League would resume, even. It's like, well, obviously, no one's really done it from Australia, so it's a new unique attribute to have. This is basically a full-time job, like we play eight to 10 hours a day. We do a lot more than just playing the game and stuff. We're watching film, we're doing other things as well. So I think a lot of things that I learnt here, especially living by myself and in a different country as well, I think I learnt quite a few skills that I could definitely bring back to an Australian organisation, if I wasn't in the NBA 2K League in the future, that I definitely benefit from. And the organisation would benefit as well.
Red Bull: What was something that you were maybe most surprised about after being drafted and going into the system that you maybe didn't expect? Is there something that sort of stands out as really eye opening, or just a complete opposite of the way you thought things would sort of run?
xMilo: Everything was pretty much what I expected, just because I've heard stories from other League players as well, but probably just... honestly, the season just went. It just flew. It just went so quick, honestly. I felt like I left yesterday and now I'm trying to get home. So honestly, the season went really, really quick. Everything ran pretty smoothly, like all the GMs and coaches were all... everything I needed, they were there for, so everything just basically was what I expected. Just the play style of the players was a little bit different from the Australian style that we play, which was a little bit to get used to, which was fine, just because I was playing a different role within the team. But besides that, everything was what I expected, honestly.
Red Bull: You helped me out with a good segue there. What's the training regime like? And when you say “play your role”, can you explain sort of what role you were playing in the buildup to being drafted, then what that actually means to have changed roles, and what that role was and how you trained for it? And even what it's like living in a digital team dynamic?
xMilo: Yeah, of course. Yeah, so back in Australia, I was playing my centre position. So I was the centre, and I got drafted as a centre slash power forward. So the Detroit Pistons had one of the best centres, and he played for Team USA in the FIBA Open for NBA 2K, Ramo, so he was the team centre. So I was drafted as the actual sixth man of the Detroit Pistons, but I ended up becoming a starter, and I ended up playing 20 games in the season and playing through most of the season, because we had... we ended up having nine players on our roster at one time instead of six, because I guess we had a lot of dramas. A few players had to go home, and different stuff happened.
So I ended up playing half the season as power forward, which I've never played before, and we ended up making the playoffs as well. So I feel like that was a big achievement in coming into the League, not even playing this position and ending up making the playoffs. So that was a pretty good feeling and a pretty good effort, at least for the first season in the League.
And how we train for that is we train, depending, six to eight hours... 10 hours a day, depending. If we have a game day the next day, we might train longer. And that's just all about scrimming the other NBA teams that we don't have coming up that week. So we play them in a series. We might play three, four NBA teams a day. We might play two teams, and then we might spend two hours in a film room watching, say, the Warriors play the Wizards, for example, and going back and forth and watching how they fight, and breaking it down and seeing what we can do to beat this team in the next couple of weeks.
And so it's treated like a full-time job. We're at the studio, at our facility for that long a day, and then we come back. It is tiring, especially moving across the world as well, and adjusting to all that as well, but I definitely got used to it. So yeah, absolutely loved it.
Red Bull: So you're playing a digital sport, what platform are you playing on all the time? Is there a-
A big thing that a lot of coaches and a lot of players look for in an international player is whether they can actually compete against the North American players...
xMilo: Yeah, so the league itself is on PlayStation 5. It was on PC in prior years, but they've got a contract with PlayStation now, and Sony, so it's on PlayStation 5, and back home, I play it on PlayStation 5. With my MyPlayer, I play a game called Pro-Am, which is five vs five. So a lot of people would be used to quick game, where you control all five players on the court and you play as an NBA team, but we play Pro-Am where you create a player, you create it how you want to create it, and there's five players on the court and you all control one character; a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and a centre. So we play that game, that's what the game mode is in the NBA 2K League.
Red Bull: Are there any restrictions to player creation based on... like, everyone could make the tallest guy with the most...
xMilo: Oh, yep, yep. So the NBA 2K League has a... it's called the “League Build”, which is not actually in the retail version of the game, so anyone at home can't actually play what the NBA 2K League pros play. So what we play is a created mode that has set archetypes, so everyone is on the exact same player (model), which increases the skill gap, because everyone's on the exact same player, and whoever's on it and does a better job, basically, is good. But back at home, you can create whatever you want, really, to make the League realistically, whatever suits your game style. But once you're in the League, there's different archetypes to choose from, and then you have to choose from that category.
Red Bull: This one's a bit of a weird question, but did you find when you were playing in Australia coming up that networking was an issue? Because if you're playing against people with better ping and stuff like that, was that... did that actually impact any of your...
xMilo: Yeah, a hundred percent great, that's a great question. I feel like that's what actually got me drafted. A big thing that a lot of coaches and a lot of players look for in an international player is whether they can actually compete against the North American players, and that's a... if an Australian or an international player hasn't actually faced a North American player, they feel that they might struggle, or they don't really know how they're going to go up against them.
So I actually was playing on delay on a 345 ping from Australia to Eastern coast servers before the draft, and I had a few games where I competed on that ping. So that really boosted my stock, knowing that this Australian player is playing on a 300 ping and still keeping up with these players. We might as well give him a shot. And that was the first year that I did that, and it paid off and then I got drafted. So it is a very hard barrier, and something that when I go back to Australia, I have to play against Americans, it helps your draft stock. But it's very hard because I'm so far away. So yeah, it is a big barrier, and it is something that I tried to do, and it did pay off at the end of the day.
Red Bull: Okay. That's crazy. And I guess, what's the next steps for you after you manage to get home? Fingers crossed everything chills out in Melbourne and you can get back here soon. What's the next 12 months look like for you?
xMilo: Yeah, so at the moment, I've found a team in the United States that I'm playing with until I can get back home. So as soon as I get back home, honestly, I want to take at least... I'm not going to jump into a job straight away, I just want to see my family and see my friends, if we're out of the lockdown, of course. But within the next couple of weeks, whether I'm home or not, I'd like to sort of get into something. At least until the league starts back up again. I'm going to push for the League again, but I'll probably try and find some sort of job on the side, at least until March, April, until the draft comes back up, so I'd like to... not too sure what field I'd like to get into. Hopefully, it's something NBA 2K-related, which would be awesome. But yeah, once the draft comes up, I'm going to push to go for the league and hopefully be back in Detroit, or in another team in the United States, which would be awesome.
Red Bull: And you mentioned that you're a gamer first. Is it predominantly sports games you play, or do you play anything else?
xMilo: Yeah, so it's mainly NBA 2K as of right now, but I always was a big Call of Duty fan. So Call of Duty was always one and two with NBA 2K, do if I am playing any other game, it's always Call of Duty.
Red Bull: Okay. No worries, Milo. Well, happy to wrap it up there, man. That was a great interview. What a journey. Congratulations on everything that's happened, and man, I hope I get to chat to you again soon.
xMilo: Yeah, I appreciate you having me, man. Yeah, any time, I'm happy to be able to talk and tell my experiences.
Red Bull: Yep. Yeah, cheers. Thanks for that.
xMilo: Yeah, that was awesome.
Red Bull: Alright. Cheers and thanks, Milo.
xMilo: Appreciate it.