On Wednesday, the NBA 2K League will begin its fourth season.
As is true throughout the sports world, the NBA 2K League has had to reckon with issues of gender fairness. The troubling extent to which women are denied an equal opportunity in sports should be embarrassing. This dilemma looms particularly large in esports, where women, because of a misogynistic gaming culture, feel dissuaded from even competing. The NBA 2K League saw a problem, a lack of female players, and addressed the matter, demonstrating that we should expect more solutions inside sports and that intervention measures can improve the situation.
At the 2021 NBA 2K League draft in March, two women – Alaina “DjLayyy” Haney by CLTX Gaming in Boston and Ziah “ZiggyZiah” Minor by Mavs Gaming in Dallas – were selected, the most women in one season. Having women drafted wasn’t something the league could take for granted, though.
In 2018, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the NBA 2K League’s brain trust to find ways to make the league more inclusive. The league had zero female players that year, the league’s inaugural season. One issue for female hopefuls was that they weren’t as visible as the men. The league, in response, began hosting events to get the women’s names out there. The next year, Chiquita Evans was drafted by Warriors Gaming Squad, becoming the league’s first female player. The following year, though, no women heard their names called at the league’s draft.
Melissa Palarea, senior director of diversity and inclusion for the NBA, said that when “coming out of the 2020 draft, after none of the four women in the draft pool were selected, we heard from our teams that there needed to be more opportunities for coaches to scout the women in the offseason against top competition in the 2K community.”
In response, the league held a developmental camp for female NBA 2k players in January. The camp, Palarea said, “featured some of the top female 2K players as they competed in pro-am tournaments, and league-hosted remote gameplay sessions featuring top female 2K players competing alongside and against NBA 2K League players, and in front of NBA 2K League coaches.”
This led to a record 10 draft-eligible women, all camp participants.
Minor said the camp “put me in the position to play against people who are seen in the community as the best of the best. So being put there and being able to measure myself against those people — it prepared me.”
The camp gave her confidence that she was good enough. “I think that I’ve always been a pretty confident player ’cause I knew what I was capable of and I knew that I was willing to put the work in to get better. But afterwards, since I was able to see where I measured up against other players in the league, I say my confidence went from, like, eight to like, a 10.”
And belief in self is crucial. Minor wanted to play in the league, she said, “pretty much since its inception,” but thought it was “a little unrealistic” to try the first season.
Haney and Minor also said that Evans making the league in 2019 gave them confidence that they, too, could compete with the best.
“I was like, ‘I can definitely do this as well,’ ” Haney said, “and I just had to get in there and put in the work and the time to make it to the league.” Minor echoed those sentiments: “It changed my perspective as far as how likely I thought it would be for me to be drafted.”
Haney said the opportunity to play in front of coaches and with players in the league was instrumental to her accomplishing her dream. “It was very important to me [considering] the amount of time and work and effort that I put into getting selected,” she said. “Having people see me play, it really has paid off for me.
“I’m so glad to be here. I’m glad to be the first woman selected to be a part of the Celtics organization and I’m going to take every opportunity and everything that comes my way, and I’m not going to take it for granted and just going to go with it and keep the fuel to the fire.”
The camp wasn’t just about exposure. It also taught them how to improve their game. Haney said she learned “that communication is key. You always have to communicate 24/7 during the game.”
NBA 2K League president Brendan Donohue affirmed that the league will increase its efforts to expand the representation of women. “It doesn’t stop here with the Women in Gaming Initiative. We aren’t willing to just check a box. Our goal is always to have the best 2K players in the world in the NBA 2K League because we believe a more diverse player pool is a stronger player pool.”
“The 2K league needs to continue this program that they have for women in gaming,” Haney said. “You know you never know who’s out there watching. I’ve even met some women in the 2k community that I have never heard of before that, you know, came into this and were hooping!”
“There are extremely talented female NBA 2K players who have what it takes to play in the NBA 2K League,” Palarea said, “and our goal is to make sure they have the platform to showcase their skills, and the resources and guidance to help them make the league.”