A prospective professional gamer from Westchester is looking to take his talents to the next level.
For the third straight year, New Rochelle native Cole Smith - known as “Oakland Rose” to the opponents he faces online - went through the rigorous NBA 2K League “combine” process and has qualified as one of the top players in the world who are eligible for the league’s “draft.”
For the past three years, the NBA 2K League has hosted competitions around the globe to highlight the top players of the game, who are then “drafted” onto teams of six to compete for thousands of dollars in prizes and international fame amongst gamers.
“When the 2K League was announced, I wasn’t expecting it. I was focused on school and my job,” Cole said. “I was pretty good, so I figured I’d try out, and I actually made it through the first process. 72,000 people tried out and only 250 made it.”
Following the “combine,” Cole had to submit a lengthy application that included background checks and interviews. After that, emails were sent to more than 100 gamers who were going to be entered into the 2K League. Cole didn't make the cut.
Cole, 24 - who works at Temple Israel in New Rochelle when he isn’t breaking ankles online - has been pursuing a career as an esport professional, though he has not been drafted by a team in the three years he was eligible. This year, Cole sported the highest assist-to-turnover ratio in all of the combine.
Despite his impressive interviews and abilities, Cole has still been undrafted. He described the experience as something of a job interview, noting that only six people can be on any given team, so there are limited spots for prospective gamers.
"It's basically a job interview. It's all about combining your 2K skills with how you are as a person. Different teams have different identities and are looking for different things. Some of the teams have players from previous drafts, so you might only be trying to get into one slot, while others are looking for a few guys.”
Cole, who joins three professional esport gamers from Mount Vernon, described esports as a full-time job that will take him to and from New York if he gets drafted.
"It's a full-time job. If I get drafted by a gaming team, I have to move to their home city for the next six months. So basically I'd be playing 2K at least five days a week, and then we have to travel back to Manhattan three times a week for competitions, and there are usually a few hundred people inside the studio (during games).”
“I figure, if I don't make it this year, it can't hurt to try again. I just have to get past this part, so I'm going to try and sell myself to a team so they'll pick me to compete with them."
"The biggest thing (in this game) is just reaction. Your skills get tested because the top players know the exploits. They can get themselves open. Most of the top players in the world have been playing competitively for years, so you have to be able to pay attention to what they're doing and then react to what they're doing.
"The main difference between playing 2K and actual basketball, is that when you're playing the game, you can see everyone and what they're doing. When you play actual basketball, you can only see the person you're guarding, so both have different challenges.
"It's harder in 2K because everyone sees everyone, so a pass in real life may or may not work, but in 2K it's more challenging. A backdoor cut in real basketball is a whole different thing than one in the game.”
Smith said his gamer tag is an amalgam of two of his favorite players, Damian Lillard, of the Portland Blazers, and journeyman guard Derrick Rose, who made his name as a freshman at the University of Memphis before being drafted by the Chicago Bulls and making stops in Cleveland, Minnesota and now Detroit.
"I liked Rose since he came to the NBA," he said. "He went through a lot of knee surgery but came back. I've also had two knee surgeries, but the difference between him and me is that he continued to fight through and got his athleticism back. I still play basketball, but I never got back to 100 percent."
Cole said that the 2K League, and esports have the potential to become one of the biggest entertainment entities in the world, citing the recent addition of the Gen.G Tigers in Shanghai to the league. The league has plans to continue adding teams around the globe each year.
"I think the 2K League has the potential to be a completely global team. The plan is to be global and to expand everything so more people have the opportunity to play the game. I think it has a chance to be an entertainment center worldwide."
Aside from the potential financial windfall from getting drafted into the 2K League, Cole said that video games have been an outlet of his for his entire life.
"Video games mean a lot to me. Growing up, when I was in school, I got bullied a lot, and I was able to use video games to escape everything and I was happy doing that. Without video games, I don't know what I would have done with my life."
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