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Radford student travels to New Orleans for video game competition

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by Will Beverina | wbeverina@radford.edu

For guys everywhere, the NBA 2K video game series is an annual ritual of virtual basketball franchise building, superstar creating and settling differences with friends. But for Radford University student Mitchell Franklin, the best-selling simulation-style basketball franchise came with a shot at big-time money and fame.

Since the latest edition of the series, NBA 2K17, came out in September, the junior Exercise, Sports and Health Education major put in the time to practice for the game’s NBA 2K17 All-Star Tournament, an event that pits teams of NBA 2K players against each other for a grand prize of $250,000. Teams of five players each on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One competed on designated qualifying days in January to make it to their console’s 16-team single-elimination knockout tournament, with the winners of each console meeting for one final showdown and a chance to split the prize money among their team should they win.

Franklin, who goes by the name “Mootyy” when he plays, and his four teammates on team Throwdown qualified for and won the PlayStation 4 bracket in early February to earn themselves a spot in the finals, which took place in New Orleans on Feb. 17. The creators of the game, 2K, provided free airline tickets and hotel rooms to both them and the Xbox One winners, Still Trill, to stay in the city for five days, starting on Wednesday, Feb. 15.

The final game itself was held at the Jazz Market, a venue usually reserved for live music performances. An open bar and free food were provided for players and guests. Comedian Hannibal Buress was on-hand to host the event, introducing and interviewing the players, while NBA stars Kyrie Irving, C.J. McCollum, Paul George, Aaron Gordon and Kevin Durant were also present, as the game coincided with the NBA All-Star weekend also being held in New Orleans.

The teams played opposite each other on a stage in front of a capacity crowd, with a projector letting the audience see the action. The game was also live-streamed by 2K, with the Periscope recording garnering hundreds of thousands of viewers, and included live commentary from 2K developer Chris Manning and former professional basketball player Scott O’Gallagher. “Sitting there under the spotlights, playing in front of a crowd, it’s breathtaking,” Franklin told The Tartan.

While the game was close in the early going, with Franklin and Throwdown edging Still Trill 21-20 after the first quarter, Still Trill’s star player DimeZ took over. Considered by most in the NBA 2K community to be the best player in the world, DimeZ controlled the game from then on, scoring a game-high 21 points to help Still Trill win with a final score of 75-58, sending Franklin and Throwdown packing. It wasn’t the result he or his team wanted, but it still didn’t ruin his trip to the Big Easy.

“It definitely sucked coming up short,” Franklin admitted. “But the whole experience was cool. It was nice meeting four guys who I’ve played with for years now in person and big guys in the NBA 2k world.” The chance to check out the city was also a positive. “New Orleans is the best place I’ve ever been to. It’s a beautiful place. It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had,” he said.

From start to finish, it has been surreal for Franklin. Ever since he earned a spot in the final game, he has been flooded with support from friends and family. “I had people coming out of the woodwork when I hadn’t talked to them for years,” laughed Franklin. “But people have been showing their support non-stop, even after we lost. I feel grateful and blessed for it.”

And back at Radford now, Franklin has been recognized by other students as that guy who played in the All-Star Tournament final.

“I was just waiting outside of my class my first day back from New Orleans and this guy knew who I was and started asking me questions,” said Franklin. “I ran into three people who I don’t even know who said they saw me playing on Friday.”

Franklin plans to keep playing the game and return next year, confident in Throwdown’s chances of earning another finals berth and winning the tournament. Beyond that, he is gearing up for a chance to play in the NBA 2K eLeague, a new venture from the NBA and its franchises beginning in 2018 that will offer top NBA 2K players contracts to compete professionally in the game. As Franklin puts it, “the future is bright.”