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Atlanta Hawks NBA 2K League affiliate talks esports at Lambert
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Lambert High School students pose for a photo after an esports panel centered on Hawks Talon GC, the Atlanta Hawks' NBA 2K League affiliate, on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Photo courtesy Kyle Hess Photography

There was a lot of curiosity in a crowded Lambert High School library on Thursday afternoon.

The Atlanta Hawks’ esports team, Hawks Talon GC, part of the NBA’s venture in the world of competitive NBA 2K, was hosting a panel on the world of esports. It was a fitting place for such an event: After all, Lambert’s already seen success in that arena, with its League of Legends team winning a GHSA state championship in its first year of competition.

Not everyone in the room was an NBA fan, but even so, it was still a valuable insight into the ever-growing world of esports and the opportunities it can bring.

“For us it means a lot, because these guys coming in, they're showing they guys how they actually get into professional esports and all that, which is something that's kind of a gray area that not a lot of people know about,” Lambert esports coach Kevin Sapp said. “That kind information and insight into how to do it, what you get paid and all that, it really benefits the guys coming up.”

Hawks Talon GC head coach and team manager Wesley Acuff had to discover his own path. He was an accomplished NBA 2K player, and when the NBA 2K League was entering its inaugural season in 2018, he tried out. He finished as one of the top 250 players out of 72,000. He didn’t make the cut, but he found a different kind of role with Atlanta, prepping his players for success.

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Lambert students listen in on the Hawks Talon GC panel on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Photo courtesy Kyle Hess Photography.
“The main difference is treating it as a competitive sport,” Acuff said. “If you're a casual player, you're going out there and it's just about fun. But if you're a competitive player, the fun is in winning and competing against the best players. You're having practice, you're running pickup games to practice and then you play real games and you see where you're at, but then you go back and review the film: ‘How did I lose to this team?’ And this is before you ever make it to be a pro.”

But while actually participating can be exciting in and of itself, there are other different opportunities in esports that the panel touched on. For Matt Arden, the head of content and media for the league, his challenge is providing a compelling broadcast product on Twitch and YouTube, and doing it in a way that can reach different audiences.

“I think that you want to be true to our audience and obviously provide an esports experience for the 2K fans that feels awesome and organic to 2K,” Arden said. “But I think we also want to have an entertaining enough broadcast to tell broad enough stories to where people who may not be familiar with 2K or esports or may only be involved in the NBA to be included as well.”

And like traditional athletics, there was also an emphasis on ways to take care of the body for peak performance, with Northside Hospital Sports Medicine chief Dr. Vonda Wright in attendance. Getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet can actually affect eye movement and reflexes, and doing hand stretches can help prevent injury down the road.

“I'm definitely interested in all the stretches and stuff, because these guys, they do sit for hours at time doing the same repetitive motions which cause a lot of stress on tendons and stuff like that,” Sapp said. “So we're really interested in getting together with Northside to work on how to improve our players' quality of life.

“I really felt like this was definitely something our kids needed. They needed to know how to get to the next level and what all they can do with it.”