Chiquita Evans was drafted by Warriors Gaming in the fourth round of the NBA 2K League draft on Tuesday, becoming the first woman to join the esports league.
The former collegiate and semipro basketball player was one of two women who were eligible to be drafted after evaluation in the league’s online combine.
NBA 2K League Examined Gender Diversity Issues
The other woman, Brianna Novin, was not drafted by a team, but could still conceivably join a roster as a free agent.
Improving diversity in the NBA 2K League was a goal for its second season, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver even expressing his disappointment about the lack of women in the esports competition. For potential players like Evans, there were some obvious issues that needed to be addressed after the tryouts for the first season.
“A few things got me discouraged,” Evans told Kotaku. “You’re going through the combine and people don’t want to pass the ball, and my gender became an issue.”
Experiences like that were relayed to NBA 2K League officials during focus groups. It turned out that there was data to back up Evans’ claim: male players weren’t passing the ball to their female counterparts, which made data-based comparisons difficult.
“It made us put more emphasis on how good a player was when they got the ball in their hands,” 2K League managing director Brendan Donohue told the Associated Press. “That’s the only part of it they can control.”
Evans Pushed Through Negativity in Combine
Changes like that were enough to get Evans and Novin in the draft pool this season. The league has also taken a harder stance against sexism in the league, with multiple players being kicked out of the combine due to sexist remarks.
Evans told the AP that she has had to deal with sexual comments and sexist remarks while playing NBA 2K. But she said the most disappointing moment came when she got some negative responses on social media after announcing she had qualified for the draft.
“That’s the only time that it’s been discouraging for me,” Evans told the AP. “In that moment, because it was a great moment for me, and I felt like people ruined it.”
The fact that at least one woman will be joining the ranks of the NBA’s esports league didn’t seem to be a problem for existing players, at least based on their public comments at the draft.
“Male, female, dog, cat, frong, I don’t care,” said 76ers Gaming player Alexander Bernstein. “If you’re the best in the world, I feel like you deserve to play.”
Players in the NBA 2K League earn between $33,000 and $37,000 a year, with additional prize money available throughout the year, and also receive team housing and benefits.
The first season of the NBA 2K League featured 17 teams, with Knicks Gaming defeating Heat Check Gaming 2-0 in the finals to win the first league championship. Four expansion teams are joining the league for 2019: Hawks Talon GC, Lakers Gaming, Nets GC, and T-Wolves Gaming.