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Heat Check Gaming, like the Heat, had an up and down season
Heat Check Gaming, like the Heat, had an up and down season
May 19, 2024 4:40 AM

Heat Check Gaming found itself down late, with three seconds left at end of a third quarter to Mavericks Gaming, during AT&T’s “The Turn”, an important midseason tournament.

With two seconds left, a pass found its way streaking across the court from the left corner; then with one second left, Killeyy, who just rolled his way through traffic to find space at the top of the key, found the ball, and as his player rose and the ball vacated, his players finger tips and the arenas buzzer filled the speakers.

Time expired.

Bang.

An exciting shot, sure, but unfortunately it didn’t do much to help close a gap for HCG, which went on to lose Game One by 10 points. In a way, the sequence actually served as a metaphor for the season – brilliant shining moments, overshadowed by the inconsistency that caused a gap too wide to cross.

The moment did, however, serve as a launching point for Killeyy.

A late season addition, brought on after being released from the Pistons, to merge into the ranks of a squad struggling to find consistency; a squad hovering around .500, that would shine bright in moments and burn dull in others. Killeyy went on to have a tournament career-high that series: 34 points and an impressive shooting split of 86 percent from the field and 89 percent from downtown.

He not only led the charge to close out the first series of the tournament, snatching a round one best out of three victory, but also gave a window to an aspiring Miami-based squad, desperate for any momentum to close out their season. After the buzzer hit double zero on Game 3, the team instantly rose out of their seats and embraced to give their newest member his praise, and rejoiced on finding some identity.

Killeyy recounts the moment to me saying, “It was really special for me to catch fire because not only was it my birthday, but it was our first tournament together. I really wanted to make it far and show how much better of a team we’ve become.”

That moment of camaraderie and happiness, stuck with me.

This squad is only a year removed from leaving the familiarity of their home, which served as a practice arena as well living quarters, to be shuffled into a make-shift gaming pod inside a locker room of the former AAA, back and forth, daily, for practice and to play matches.

They were quarantined and isolated away from even their coach, who would lead his squad from what can only be described as a closet (but with a bathroom of course… it is the home of Pat Riley, after all).

It was truly a season of endurance, as trials proceeded them that year.

Because not only did the team need to adapt to their environment shifting, but the world around them as well; being one of the only professional sports leagues to play in the middle of a pandemic, they also lead the charge of being a face for unity. They displayed and dedicated their platform to social reform, as ESPN picked up 2K League coverage and hosted matches live to their audience of subscribers.

Yet, these challenges didn’t rattle the athletes. They adapted, played and finished a season of 2K League, in the midst of turmoil. And when I reflect on that moment back at HCG Headquarters, after beating Mavericks Gaming in The Turn, I saw depth to their joy – depth that might just be steeped in those overcome adversities.

Holistically, I saw a team that is putting together pieces.

The season would end shortly after that on August 19, after the squad failed to clear the second round of a elimination tournament that would of won them a playoff bid. And while it is clear this finality, in what felt like a build to meaningful playoff basketball, was difficult for the squad, it was maybe necessary.

2K league isn’t like most professional sports – while adding pure talent can raise a squad’s ceiling, the real difference is between the ears. The split second commitment to a movement or a dribble, lock players into motion, and every slight shift of a joystick requires layers of anticipation and thought. That complication gets compacted by that decision being able to be anticipated by teammates and acted upon in an equally short time. It requires practice and game time spent together as a unit, to get real repeatable execution.

2K isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon and Derric Franklin (aka Famous Enough) knows this well.

“It takes time” he shouts in a YouTube video where he discusses coaching tier lists. Team-building requires combining an extremely precise mix of unique and meshing skill-sets that then have to learn each other, before then executing precise timing and movement-based actions.

“Slow progression is better than no progression” Derric said and this HCG squad proved that when they can click, they can challenge anyone in the league. And now with another season of experience under their belts, as well as more time removed from the struggles of blazing a path inside the pandemic, the team prepares for a unified push next year.

This time, with a more stable core of talent that is ready to compete again for a 2K championship.

2K League is hosting their first ever All-Star Game and Heat Check Gaming representatives need your help to end up on that stage! Go to https://2kleague.nba.com/players/to cast your vote!

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