Whether it is traditional sports or esports, there are challenges to building an expansion franchise. It takes a team of executives to build what is expected to be a competitive roster on stage. This roster of individuals is expected to come together as a team in a short span of time. This can prove to be an even more difficult task for an expansion team in the NBA 2K League like Hawks Talon GC.
New for the 2019 NBA 2K League season, the league welcomed four new franchises to compete in the league. The new franchises of Hawks Talon GC, NetsGC, Lakers Gaming, and T-Wolves Gaming joined the NBA 2K League in just its second year of organized competition to create a 21-team league.
For Hawks Talon GC, the NBA 2K League affiliate of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, being accepted into the league was a cause for celebration. Hawks Talon was joining a growing league that was evolving from its inaugural season. The celebrations were short-lived because it was eventually time to make the biggest decision an expansion franchise could make… who was going to lead the franchise?
The 2019 NBA 2K League Expansion Draft featured an opportunity for the four new franchises to pick from a pool of players who were not selected to be protected by their season one teams. Hawks Talon GC struck gold by being awarded the first pick of the expansion draft. The player pool was filled with talented 2K veterans. However, the first choice was an obvious one for the new franchise. With the first pick in the NBA 2K League Expansion Draft, Hawks Talon GC selected Connor “Dat Boy Shotz” Rodrigues.
Rodrigues headed to Atlanta after being a vital piece of Blazer5 Gaming’s success in 2018. He averaged 17.5 points a game and knew he was a top target of the draft. “The first time I thought I could go to Atlanta was when the league revealed they had the first pick in the expansion draft,” said Rodrigues. “I knew that I was going to be one of the best players available in the expansion draft since I was one of the best players from season one, and I was on a winning team.”
The responsibilities of being the face of a new franchise are not easy for any individual to bear. For Rodrigues, excitement for the move to Atlanta was met with a realistic outlook. When asked about his feelings about the move, Rodrigues responded, “Nervous? No. But I definitely feel a little bit of pressure just being the best player on the team.” He did not have to do it alone. Hawks Talon GC also had the last pick in the draft. The franchise selected Devon “ARSONAL x” Peek to set the foundation for its new roster.
Before Hawks Talon GC could begin selecting the rest of its roster at the 2019 NBA 2K League Draft, the team needed a leader away from the controllers. This led to the franchise hiring Wesley Acuff as Manager and Head Coach. A familiar face within the 2K community, Acuff hit the ground running in his position to prepare for the upcoming draft. “We already had two veteran big men to build around, so I just had to focus on putting the rest of the pieces together,” recalled Acuff of his first big task.
With its power forward and center positions locked in, Hawks Talon GC’s draft board featured players to fill out the three open positions and the bench. The highlight of the draft came when Hawks Talon selected fan favorite Devin “DevGoss” Gossett with the 13th overall pick.
Coming out of the draft, Hawks Talon GC had the best roster one could hope for as an expansion team. It had a proven duo on the inside and skilled rookies to handle things along the perimeter. However, if these individuals could not play as a team, then the talent would not matter.
Less than a month later, Hawks Talon GC made its NBA 2K League debut in the Tipoff Tournament. The fresh-faced Atlanta group had the tough task of facing highly-regarded teams Warriors Gaming Squad and Pacers Gaming in group play of the preseason tournament. Back-to-back losses sent Acuff and his Hawks Talon GC team back to the drawing board.
The 2K community expected these results from Hawks Talon GC at the Tipoff Tournament. Viewers expected the team to face similar results against Celtics Crossover Gaming in week one of the regular season. From the tip, the Atlanta squad traded baskets against the heavy favorites. Hawks Talon entered the fourth quarter down by just one point, a shocker to everyone except Acuff. “Our game against the Celtics was a moment when I felt like we really had something. Being totally counted out of that game, we were facing a really good team,” recalled Acuff.
Hawks Talon GC went on to outscore Celtics Crossover by 11 to win its first game in franchise history. Acuff praised his group, “To come out with the win let us know that if we worked hard and played our game, we could compete with anybody.”
Hawks Talon GC split its next four games to begin May with a 3-2 record. Despite the winning record, Acuff noticed a hole in the team without a traditional point guard running the offense. This meant a trade needed to be done if Hawks Talon GC wanted to fill this role. With veterans Rodrigues and Peek off the table, Acuff faced the difficult decision to deal his first-round draft pick: “I really liked Devin, and it wasn’t anything that he was doing that factored into the trade.”
This is a scenario that managers in traditional sports must face all the time. Esports is no different. “Devin was the most attractive piece to the other team, and that’s how it ended up happening,” stated Acuff of the trade. Gossett was eventually dealt to Pistons GT for Andrew “MrStylez” Valle.
— NBA 2K League (@NBA2KLeague) May 13, 2019
The consistency issues continued for Hawks Talon GC after the trade and they finished May with a 4-4 record. Back-to-back losses in week eight put the Atlanta squad outside of the playoff picture. With multiple rookie players, it is understandable to have these challenges midway through the season. Acuff admits to this challenge: “We rely on our rookies for so much, and sometimes, we forget that they may have the talent, but they don’t have the experience that some of our second-year players have. It makes it a little tough sometimes.”
— NBA 2K League (@NBA2KLeague) May 31, 2019
Consistency is also a key point for the players to focus on as the season hits the final weeks. “We have been one game above .500 four separate times and each time fell back to 500,” said Rodrigues when asked about overcoming challenges this year. “We’re at a point now where we have to win out to see the playoffs. It’s the position we put ourselves in, but we will keep fighting until the season is over.”
The 2019 campaign is far from over for Hawks Talon GC. The team sits 1.5 games out of playoff contention and has six games to make up ground. The upcoming schedule features games against top teams in the league. Hawks Talon GC will have to play the best 2K it has all year for a playoff push. For Acuff, it is all about following the game plan and showing some fight: “I’d just like to see us compete. As long as we fight and try to get better each game and play to the best of our abilities, then I can live with the outcome.”
Rodrigues, Acuff, and Hawks Talon GC are back in action on this Wednesday to face 76ers GC at 9 p.m. ET. Viewers can catch the expansion team competing on the NBA 2K League’s Twitch and YouTube Gaming channels.
Proud alum of the slimy pebble, Slippery Rock University, and DePaul University. Making the transition from four years in traditional sports to esports. Happy to turn my obsession with NBA2K, CSGO, and Rocket League into content.