There’s a lot of optimism surrounding Lakers Gaming this offseason.
Mootyy, Kev and Vert are returning to action having been retained by the organization, and they’re looking forward to bringing their on-the-court skills and off-the-court chemistry to the table. Owning the No. 7 pick in the first round of the upcoming draft has excited the Lakers camp too, and there’s a belief in town that selecting a top-notch point guard could help the team make fast improvements in the standings when Season 3 tips off next spring.
NBA2KLeague.com talked to Mootyy, Kev and Vert about their high hopes, focus and bond that could push Lakers Gaming into a competitive and successful future in the months ahead.
Question: What were the key challenges that contributed to Lakers Gaming ultimately going 3-13 in Season 2?
Vert: We hit a couple bumps. It could have went a different way– there were a couple weeks where we lost close games, but we couldn’t pick ourselves back up. We ended up having a rough season. But now, it’s time to push forward.
Mootyy: We didn’t have the greatest talent on the roster compared to other teams, but the one thing we did have was great energy. If you go back and look at the numbers, and sometimes the box scores didn’t tell the story, but if you watched our games, we were so close to breaking through in a couple weeks, like the games against the Mavs (Mavs GG defeated Lakers Gaming 53-50) and the Heat (Heat Check Gaming won 44-39) in Week 3. Things didn’t go our way, and that I think was the defining moment in our season. If we won those two games, our momentum and team morale would have been through the roof. It was tough to get back on our feet (after Week 3’s games).
Kev: Honestly after that rough Week 3, it was tough. I think we didn’t have the same fight we once did. We could have taken off. Speaking for myself, I could have played better. When you don’t have the (positive) energy, especially for a team that thrives off of energy– and like Moot said we didn’t have the most talent compared to other teams–but you need that energy to keep you on track.
Q: Kev to follow that up, when you endure a season like the one you had, how do you find ways to truly keep yourselves motivated to battle the best you could each week?
Kev: It was definitely tough. It’s a long season obviously, and we all wanted to be there. We all wanted to win games. We knew coming into the season that we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, we knew we were underdogs from the jump. Personally, I think we all enjoyed being underdogs. Like Mootyy likes to say, there’s less pressure when you don’t have a stacked team with big names. We just played loose after a while and I think that’s what was missing in the beginning of the season. Towards the beginning the mentality was “we’re the Lakers, we HAVE to win. The Lakers expect nothing else.” But we didn’t. So I think when we became calm and started playing our game, I feel like that’s when we experienced those patches where we showed we can compete and we can win. It was a tough season overall and hopefully next year we can change that.
Q: Mootyy, you’re an incredibly competitive guy. You’ve had two tough seasons to start your career. How tough has it been to achieve that 2K League success that we all know you badly want?
Mootyy: It’s definitely taken a toll on me, mentally, physically, on the game, off the game. There aren’t many out there who are more competitive than myself and have the desire to have success. These two seasons have definitely been tough for sure. I thought after Season 1, it was all up from there and couldn’t get any worse. Myself personally, I know that I did all that I could do, both seasons, especially last season. I could have just rolled over in Season 2 and gave up. If you go back and watch the games, I don’t like talking about individual stats but the proof’s in the pudding. If you look at how I acted on camera, I was always positive, always upbeat, always optimistic. I brought energy no matter what, if we were up double digits or down 20 plus. I personally felt that I did my best, so I won’t harp on myself as much, even though I am my own biggest critic. This offseason, I’ve been working really hard, harder than any offseason I’ve had before. I know that sounds cliche, but any time I don’t have to be on the game, I’m on the game. I have seen personal growth, skill-wise. This season coming into the draft, we have the seventh overall pick, so it’s hard to not be optimistic. Looking at my league history, this’ll be the first season where I’ll (hopefully) have a legitimate point guard to play with and a top-10 pick point guard at that. Everyone knows that that is the most important player on the floor. I’m really ecstatic for that. I know, and people who know me know that I’m a good person, I’m a good teammate, everyone knows how strong my work ethic is, how I pride myself with being a vocal leader and pushing everyone to get better… I know it’s coming. I don’t know when, but I know I’m due to break through and I’m hoping Season 3 is where it’ll be.
Q: Vert, straight up: Where are you playing this season?
(Laughs) I’m glad to give the PG reigns up to the new up-and-coming. That’s not even a question. I think this year, position 3, 4, whatever position that impacts the team the most– I’m a team-first person so once it comes down to it, whatever my team asks me to play, I’ll do it. I wasn’t supposed to play point guard, but I went in and did my best. This year, I’ll play wherever it helps the team more. Like Moot said, we just want to win, that’s all that it’s about.
Q: With all three of you returning, what types of things are you all working on this offseason to make sure you’ll truly find that better success in Season 3?
Mootyy: There’s a reason us three are back. I’ve grown with these two. Vert and Kev are great players, but they’re great teammates as well. For myself personally, I can say that we’ve all put in the most work we’ve had in any offseason. It sounds cliche, but it’s the real deal. You look at the hours put in and social media– we’ve been putting in the time. I can say that this is the healthiest I’ve been since going into Season 1, maybe ever. I’ve been working on my personal and mental health. I’ve been going to the gym 3-4 times a week, which I failed to do during both seasons prior. I let myself get out of shape, which I can see absolutely impacting the game. You need to be in shape, if not you’ll never be at your best. And after we all found out we were coming back, we already had a great bond so we kept strategizing. I think what’ll be easier for us this season is that we’ll just be able to be players. Lakers Gaming will hire a coach and they haven’t involved us at all with the process, which is good. The Lakers are allowing us to be players, nothing more, nothing less. That’s what we want to be and be held to our titles. We’ll have a coach that’ll come in and we’ll have all this stress off our shoulders. Managing the team will be all on him, and it’ll make our jobs easier. I think that’ll really take us to the next level.
Q: Kev, going into last Season, you were a highly-touted prospect. You never really found a home in any one position, but after a while, all of a sudden, you moved to the 4 late in the year and you dropped 20 points in three-straight weeks, you shoot 60+ percent from the floor. You had all this building momentum, and then the season just ends. How will you carry that momentum into this season?
Kev: In terms of switching positions, this goes back to how we never really “found it” earlier on last year. Not having a coach and things like that make playing a lot tougher, because it’s up to the players to decide what they can run and who fits best where. I embraced the change to the power forward. There was no shot I wouldn’t take. Yeah, I’ll use this as momentum going into Season 3, I’m really excited. I assume I’ll have some type of shooter role. With the pick that we have in the draft, obviously we’ll get a great player. It’ll make it a lot easier to move Vert and myself. I’m excited.
Q: There are a bunch of teams that are looking for Coaches this offseason. For you guys, what elements are you hoping a new coach adds to your dynamic?
Kev: When it comes to a coach, we just need somebody who knows 2K. There shouldn’t be someone in a coaching role that doesn’t know the game. They should also have a great connection with their team. We’re easy people to get along with, but I want a coach who will be hard on us and help us get some wins.
Vert: We definitely need someone who’s level-headed and can keep us motivated and on point.
Mootyy: I haven’t had a legitimate 2K guy as a coach for two seasons. The previous guys did their best, don’t get me wrong, but I pushed to have a 2K guy this year and fortunately we’re getting one. All I’m looking for is a guy who’ll come in and work. He needs to show that he wants to be there and he should make our lives easier. Do the real X’s and O’s stuff. I saw Tommy (previous Warriors Gaming Squad head coach during Season 2) on a group shuttle to the studio one day last season writing down notes and plays for the team that night. I thought wow, that would be nice to have someone like that for us– a guy who really cares about the team and success, a guy who’ll get you over the hump and be prepared. Ever since then I’ve been hoping for a coach. For the Lakers organization, we’re a point guard and a coach away from being a playoff-caliber team. I truly believe that. There’s no better organization than ours. They do everything to support us. They’ll hopefully find a coach who’s a professional, good at 2K and what he does, match our work-ethic, and help us get over that hump.
Q: What sorts of personalities and specific 2K skillsets are you hoping the Lakers bring onto the roster through the upcoming draft?
Vert: We don’t want anyone coming in thinking that they’re ‘THE guy.’ Us three have pretty good chemistry on and off the court, being friends and teammates. We don’t want the opposite of that. Bottom line, we need a point guard and players who can play defense.
Kev: I want to play with someone who’s passionate about the game. Someone who’ll want to get better. We don’t care about the paychecks–obviously they’re nice, but we here have a different mindset and that mindset is to win. We really want to be a contender in this league and I feel like bringing in a point guard is the first step. Whoever joins after that will be a key piece of the puzzle that I feel we can go a long way with.
Mootyy: First things first, you just have to be a good human being. Do your best to be a good teammate. I personally can’t speak player-wise because the future coach will make the roster decisions, but us players are looking for guys who can buy into the Lakers family and culture. The Lakers are very oriented around family and culture. We definitely want high character, good human beings that buy into the culture and have good personalities and want to win at all costs. And obviously with pick No. 7 in the draft, we’re looking for a point guard. We had issues last year scoring, so I know we’re looking to go that route in the draft.
Q: With Gen.G playing out of Los Angeles this year, does having a second 2K League local team in the area add a bit of rivalry to the situation?
Vert: I don’t look much into it. We just have to play who’s in front of us on the schedule. Everything else outside of what’s in front of you is just a distraction.
Kev: Personally I don’t feel like there’s a team in this league that is unbeatable. It’s cool to have other teams join the league, but my main focus is just winning games.
Mootyy: Personally, I don’t believe in rivalries, unless you make it one. (Gen.G) will just be another team and I know what our mindset is– we’re going to come in for every game preparing the same way.
Q: Does it ever floor you that you get to play 2K for a living?
Vert: I’m only 20 years old so I was young when I joined the league. I kept up with some of the esports leagues over the years and I knew eventually I’d be good enough to compete. I told myself that I wouldn’t sell myself short on the opportunity to join the 2K League when it started taking off during my first semester in college. I’m going 100% at it. It changed my life. I can’t be more grateful. I think people have turned down games in the past, but are now coming around to how much they have the potential to change people’s lives. People say you have to live your best life, and this is my best life right here!
Kev: Playing in the league on a game that I love is a surreal thing for me. Before the 2K League I would play a lot of Call of Duty, playing Game Battles, and to me, that was the farthest I was going to get, being on a semi-competitive level. When you sit back and really think about it, it’s like wow, I get to play this game for a living now. I get paid to do it. It’s something that I love. I’m forever grateful for it.
Mootyy: A lot of my friends and family that don’t understand the industry ask me ‘what are you gonna do after the game? What’s next for you?’ And I’m like, I don’t think you understand that this is just the beginning of esports in general, and the 2K League itself. I’ll continue to work hard and rack up as many accolades as I can and hopefully become a GM or coach of some sort. Until then, I’m gonna relax and play the game until I can’t play anymore. I don’t care how old I’ll be. It’s such a blessing and opportunity like no other. I explain to people that you can go to college and double major just to land in a field of your choice. We can already put on our resume that we’re employees of the NBA. I was a sports administration major and marketing minor, and a lot of people in my major were just dreaming about getting their accolades to hopefully land a non-paid internship with the NBA or a professional sports team. It’s a blessing that we can put on our resumes that we have already been an employee of a professional sports organization. It’s surreal. You shouldn’t ever take that for granted. No matter if you’ve had winning or losing seasons, you should always try to get better and strive for more.
Q: The theme this offseason has been player movement, but you guys are coming back for Season 3 with a pretty high level of roster consistency. Does that give you a certain level of advantage over teams who won’t have that familiarity with each other to start the season?
Vert: I felt like the foundation of the Lakers organization was there for us when we got here. We embraced it and they did everything in their power to help us. And we have half the team now on the same page with that. It’s the perfect situation for new players to come into.
Kev: We have a great “starting” group with us three. I understand the business aspect of trades, but for me, I even told our GM that there’s no place I’d rather be than LA. The Lakers are the only team I’d want to play for. Vert, Mootyy and I have a great connection. We’re all talented players that know what to expect from each other, and we know what to expect from next season. We’re on the same page there. I think we’ll be one of the best teams in Season 3 for sure.
Mootyy: The Lakers are not like every other organization. They’re very unique. They have very high values like character, family and culture. They want guys who want to be there and who buy in. Bringing us three back definitely adds to the optimism I have going into next season. Season 3 is my most optimistic one yet. We already have great chemistry, and granted we’ve only had two years of the league, but look at teams like Blazer5 Gaming or 76ers GC- they’ve kept their core for two-straight seasons and maybe those are two of the most consistent regular season and tournament teams out there. It’s really key to have that chemistry in place, it’s one of the largest factors in the game period. You pick up on each other’s tendencies and you almost don’t have to communicate as much. It’s good to know and build bonds with people off the court, so I think we’re coming in with more of an advantage than we would have if we didn’t bring all three of us back. We need a PG, but I think there can only be optimism for us heading into Season 3.