Trash-talking has become synonymous with online gaming, to the point where it’s unavoidable in the culture. Because of this, it’s become heavily scrutinized by critics. Countless times the media has placed high-profile gamers on the hot seat for racist, sexist and excessive banter during live streams and competitions. Some critics deem this machismo attitude as both toxic and uninviting for the soon-to-be billion dollar industry.
But, when competitive-talk is professionally regulated, it can become an essential element for the growth of gaming events. Unlike other professional league’s, trash-talking is permitted at a higher level within competitions like the NBA 2K League, creating an electrifying environment that one can only experience in person.
Players ganged up on each other to cut off teams’ momentum, fans cheered loudly following big plays and families playfully fed into team feuds. At one point during the semi-finals, the 76ersGC and Heat Check Gaming coaches got into a lively argument over a player’s alleged advantage during the three-game series.
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“Most definitely (trash-talking brings excitement to the game for casual gamers),” Pistons GT head coach King Du One (Duane Burton) said, “Nothing compares, you can see it on Twitch and get a little glimpse to see what’s going on, but sitting out here in these stands and seeing the reaction of players, fans, and all of the energy they bring to the game, it’s a different monster for sure.”
Just how it is in the pros, the players use trash-talking as part of their mental strategy for winning games. All in good fun though.
“Our goal has always been to trash-talk against the loudest person on the team,” Heat Check Gaming coach Famous Enough (Derric Franklin) said, “Once you take away that element from the team, the team is nothing.” Keep in mind, all of these players are part of a niche community and have been friends way before competition. “We don’t take it personally, with this league everybody’s friends, so everyone knows when we are on stage, we are going to trash talk. But once we are off stage, everyone’s going to shake each other’s hands and congratulate each other.”
When stakes are high and $300,000 is on the line, it’s inevitable that emotions will run rampant. The one thing that differentiates the league from online gaming is that trash-talking never gets to a point of no return. Players are too invested in the end game to be distracted from the ultimate prize.
“People realize it’s the end of the season,” 76ersGC star Radiant (Ethan White) said, “They’re just letting their emotions out and all of their energy out cause you never know when it’s your last game. So everyone is just leaving it all on the line.”
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Although the league allows room for vibrant personalities to express themselves, they’ve implemented a fining system similar to the NBA’s to still uphold a level of professionalism.
“If you noticed the guy who wears the grey hoodie, when he’s walking around, if he comes and tells a player ‘ok that’s enough’ that’s their warning,” Famous Enough said, “If they keep going after that warning, then a fine will come for sure. Usually, it is around $75. When it goes overboard it could get pricey and (can rack up if you keep getting fines).”
Several brash players have received warnings and fines throughout the tournament, including Heat Check Gaming’s star player HotShot (Juan Gonzalez).
“Yeah, I’ve been fined (laughs). It was only $75, it wasn’t that much. They send us an email and they’ll let us know ahead of time if we’re getting fined, they just take it off of our check,” Hotshot said.
Now, it’s understandable that some spectators may have concerns about the potential toll trash-talking could take on a player’s mental state. Conversations surrounding mental health and video gaming have already become a topic of discussion. Organizations have started to create initiatives to tackle this issue. For example, WHO has recently identified “gaming disorder” as an official mental condition and video game rehabs have started to pop up all over the world. But, just like in other professions, health measures can be implemented, like hiring a psychologist to evaluate the mental state of the players.
“We actually have our team psych who comes in and talks to our team from time to time and gets a feel for them, where their heads are at, if they are sleeping right, if they are eating right because all of this plays into our mental strength,” King Du One explained.
As long as fine systems are in place, therapy assessments are set and other measures are taken to ensure a good and healthy environment in the NBA 2K League, trash-talking will be needed to increase the popularity of the league and its in-game experience. At the end of the day, there’s nothing like good back-and-forth banter when cash is on the line.
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