Brandon Caicedo averaged 29.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game last season. Now, he’s a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves organization.
It’s true – but there’s a little bit more to it than that.
Hood Is Glitchy (just Hood for short), the customized player that Brandon created to compete in the NBA’s new eSports league, compiled that utterly staggering stat line as a member of Cavs Legion Gaming Club – the eSports affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hood was a small forward – he stood 6-foot-5; coincidentally, the same height as Brandon – to start the season. But with just a handful of games left to play, he shrunk two inches, altered his attributes and changed positions – because you can do that in a video game.
“Towards the playoffs, I went to point guard. Six-foot-three,” Brandon told Zone Coverage last week. “A shot-creating sharp-shooter, sort of like a Steph Curry.”
The NBA 2K League was announced on Feb. 9, 2017, as a partnership between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, the video game holding company that owns 2K (a popular NBA-centric game). Just a couple months later, 17 of 30 NBA franchises had committed to be represented by a team of their own; the very first undertaking of its kind in.
It sought out competitors through public tryouts – anyone at least 18 years old who owned NBA 2K18 had a chance to be seen. First, players who had won 50 contests in the video game’s online pro-am mode could submit an application. Then, those who remained participated in a three-week long, combine-style process to finalize a list of eligible draft prospects.
“You go into that combine and you’re playing with four random people who you don’t really have communication with,” Brandon intricately remembers the events. “You know, it’s tough. It was a tough process.”
Out of 72,000 hopeful entrants, only 102 competitors were drafted last spring; Brandon was chosen 16th overall by Cavs Legion GC.
“A lot of teams were messaging me saying I was playing good and I was doing well. Then I got the email that I made the 102, I went to the Cavs my first season and I was a top-three scorer in the league.”
Hood spent his first professional campaign on the shores of Lake Erie. It was 17 weeks of action that began on May 1 and ran through the finals in the last week of August.
Players’ displacement and living expenses are covered by their team. Brandon describes a beautiful apartment in downtown Cleveland where he and his teammates lived together. Just two floors below, another suite was transformed into a lavish video-gaming studio where the group could sharpen their craft for hours on end.
By the time they were nearing post-season play, Cavs gaming practiced for up to 12 hours a day.
Teams hold six spots on their roster – five starters and one reliever to come off the bench. Like Brandon’s joystick manipulates Hood, each member operates an avatar in a 5-on-5 setting.
— NBA2KLeague (@NBA2KLeague) October 29, 2018
The nearly four-month-long season includes 12-weekend matchups at the 2K League’s Studio in the Queens area of New York. Three other weeks are reserved for tournaments; at these events, competitors can supplement the salary they enjoy with significant sums being awarded to winners.
“When you get to that studio, your teammates are right next to you, the other team is across from you – there are fans, people behind you and a bunch of people watching on Twitch. It’s pressure.”
Twitch – an important aspect of Brandon’s profession – is a live streaming video platform that is known for its handle on the eSports industry. During any typical regular season weekend, hundreds of thousands of unique viewers tuned in online to be a part of the drama.
The evenings get heated.
Opposing teams sit within feet of each other and participate from their own personal screens. When a big shot is made, the crowd erupts – and from time to time, so do the players.
After it’s successful introductory showing, the 2K League announced four new franchises to be added for its second season in 2019: Hawks Talon GC, Nets GC, Lakers Gaming and T-Wolves Gaming.
T-Wolves Gaming traded their first pick in September’s expansion draft for Brandon “Hood” Caicedo. Minutes later, it created a core by selecting Mihad “I F E A S T” Feratovic, a 6-foot-11 power forward who was a member of 76ers GC a season ago.
Throughout their first go-round in the 2K League circuit – spending each weekend at a hotel in the big apple – Brandon and Mihad formed a bond off the ‘court.’
“We were good friends during season one,” Brandon expounds over the phone. “As soon as I got traded to Minnesota … and I saw that Mihad didn’t get retained by the Sixers, I thought that was the guy that we had to take”
Over the next several months, the Timberwolves’ newest team will round out its roster with players to be named. And after a presumably frigid winter makes spring worth the wait, the group will move to Minneapolis and get down to business.
“Growing up, my favorite player was Carmelo Anthony,” Brandon, a south-Florida native, says with a smirk. Anthony has recently become internet-famous for sporting a hooded sweatshirt in practice, during warm-ups and at times with the media. When Brandon chose a moniker for his online 2K player, Hood fit the bill for obvious reasons.
Hood is among the world’s leading 2K savants.
Be it at small forward, where he played with a “LeBron build” and overpowered opponents on his way to the rim, or at point guard, where he ultimately led Cavs Gaming to the virtual playoffs.
“Nobody can guard me one-on-one, at the end of the day. When people come to help and double-team me, that’s when I pass my teammates the ball.”
The same aggressive nature leads to Hood’s biggest flaw, Brandon says. Oftentimes, he over-helps on defense because he hates to see teammates beaten off the dribble. When he rotates aggressively, opponents can take advantage of open shooters in his absence.
But the statistics are undeniable.
And what’s especially remarkable about Brandon’s production is its striking uptick as pressure amounts. He averaged 35 points in nine tournament contests; that massive scoring measure came on impressive efficiency – a .709 field-goal-percentage – and was accompanied by five rebounds, six assists and three steals.
“When I played growing up, I was putting a lot of money up. So when it was tournament time and money’s on the line – you win one game and get $10,000 – that’s where I made my name.”
— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) September 28, 2018
It can be easy to forget that it’s a virtual competition, a fact that invites challenges for those who partake.
In person, there are ways to read your opponent and anticipation their next move; whether they’ll choose to pass, attack or pull-up and shoot. But predicting the actions of a cyber-Steph-Curry is more often than not a fruitless assignment.
“You’re really playing mind games. You have to flip a coin and hope you get it right – sort of like a game of chess.”
Brandon must be good at guessing heads or tails – or organizing his pawns, bishops and rooks – because T-Wolves Gaming has made him their cornerstone.
He isn’t sure just how long it will last, but playing professionally is something he cherishes. For as long as it remains a viable career, Brandon plans to ride the strength of this league and embrace what he refers to as a dream come true.
He’s only 20 – he’d still be in college if he hadn’t made it big.
Growing up in Weston, Fla. – a suburb of Miami – Brandon was a varsity basketball player until a frightening back injury halted his career. But even before his time on the hardwood, video games were a vice when rebellious peers forged more perilous paths.
“Coming up, it was something I did to keep me out of trouble. When your friends, as teenagers, are doing bad things, I just liked to sit inside.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m a nerd or a geek or anything like that. But I wanted to stay away from bad things growing up. I feel like that’s what 2K did for me.”
Years ago, Brandon’s dad watched wide-eyed as his teenage son competed online with money up for grabs. It wasn’t long before he had out-classed his friends; the same ones that now call him “Hollywood” when he returns for the offseason.
“They didn’t want to play me,” Brandon explains, both light-hearted and proud. “When I would hang out with a group of friends, it’d be like eight people just hanging out and playing 2K. I’d be like, ‘hey, can I get next?’ and they’d be like, ‘nah, man.’”
Brandon has always known he has talent, so when the NBA announced this new opportunity – a chance for him to morph his passion into a profession – he was willing to drop everything and give it a shot.
“I was in class, in lecture, I ran out of the lecture with my stuff and I called my mom. I was like, ‘Mom, I’m doing this.’”
His parents made their apprehensions known all the while. After all, eSports are a brand-new concept and his odds of going pro seemed like one in a million.
But Brandon took a leap and tried out for the draft. After months of evaluation, the former Florida Gator finally got his call; like any one-and-done star, he put his education on hold and chose to compete.
Now his family is enjoying the ride; even his grandma — and nearly 8,000 others — follow him on Twitter, occasionally urging him to tone down the trash talk.
Seems about right. Not the only time it’s gonna happen???? https://t.co/W3tEArNxMZ
— Brandon Caicedo (@HoodBC_) October 20, 2018
During his very first year in the league, Brandon staked his claim as an elite 2K player; through victories, defeats and an offseason move, he endured the uncertainty of professional sports.
While most of his friends are at a college of their choosing, Brandon moved to Cleveland without batting an eye. After a season of action in Northeast Ohio, he was sent to Minnesota where he’ll reside moving forward.
It wasn’t up to Brandon where he’d ultimately end up; he could be in Atlanta, Brooklyn or L.A. But like an NBA player uprooted by trade, he’ll move to the Twin Cities for a clean start this spring.
“I was told it’s freezing cold, but I’m telling my friends that I’m going there in the summer. I looked at some pictures and it’s going to be beautiful.”
He’s not only excited about a geographical relocation but for the opportunity to mold T-Wolves Gaming’s success.
“I’m excited for a new beginning, I feel like it’s something I need. Especially with a new franchise, a new team coming up, a new city. It’s great … I love what I do and I want to go to work.”