Sticks and moves: Wizards District Gaming uses NBA 2K video game to teach kids life skills

The world will be virtual, but Wizards District Gaming’s goal is to deliver real lessons in its first virtual summer camp.

Wizards District Gaming is Monumental Sports and Entertainment’s entry in the NBA 2K League and will run a month-long camp online through its youth academy. Each weekday, camp sessions will last from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., with an emphasis placed on becoming a better gamer.

Andrew McNeill, MSE’s director of esports, said he remembers when he was growing up playing team sports, there was a coach designated to put him back in his place if he got out of line. In esports and other gaming situations, McNeill has witnessed what he calls a “toxicity” because of a lack of leadership and mentorship at the youth level.

“Just like kids who play basketball or football or baseball, you want them to get good at the sport because that’s fun,” said McNeill. “But equally important, we want to teach them life skills and the importance of being a part of a team. For us, this is an opportunity to do that for kids who are focused on 2K and gaming more than the traditional sports world.”

Through MSE, Wizards District Gaming has been integrated into the traditional sports world. WDG is part of the Monumental Basketball operation that includes the NBA’s Wizards and the WNBA-champion Mystics. That means even though WDG plays on a screen, its approach with its gaming athletes is similar to the players who compete on a court.

“We want to teach kids good habits, including the importance of proper sleep and nutrition, in addition to working on the dexterity that will help them be better gamers,” said McNeil. “We’re lucky to be part of the Monumental Basketball umbrella, and we take seriously the fitness and nutrition component. We teach our players that fitness and nutrition can be a competitive edge for them and we want to share that with kids.”

It is obviously working for Wizards District Gaming. The NBA 2K season is currently underway, and WDG is in second place with a 7-1 record.

The WDG players might be busy with their own games, but they will also be involved in the virtual camp sessions offering their perspective and tips on how they turned a fun hobby into a profession.

“From a physical standpoint, a NBA 2K player needs good hand-eye coordination,” said McNeill. “The quicker someone can recognize something on screen and make that move with their thumbs is a really important physical skill for us. Beyond that, it’s a lot of mental stuff and staying focused. You cannot let your mind wander from play to play and still have that quick reaction time.”

The mental concentration it takes to be successful at NBA 2K is an example of something McNeill believes can be transferred to other aspects of a kid’s life, including school work. Again, the driving theme behind by the Wizards District Gaming esports camp is not only to improve players’ game skills, but also their life skills.

“We see at the younger generation, and I am guilty of it as well, it is easy to get distracted and it’s easy to lose focus,” said McNeill. “I think it is important if we can help develop that ability to concentrate at a younger age, because I don’t think it is training kids are necessarily getting.”

Oh, and like the Wizards, who have John Wall, Wizards District Gaming has a very good point guard. With the first overall pick at this year’s NBA 2K Draft, WDG selected a point guard who goes by the gaming name of JBM.

And so far this season, JBM has met expectations for Wizards District Gaming.

“The best scorers in NBA 2K are usually the point guards,” said McNeill. “They are the guys who can really do the dribble moves with the right thumb-stick, but also can read a defense and recognize where the weaknesses are. I think JBM is one of those really talented guys who obviously has the stick skills to get to the lane and score a lot of points, but also he sees passes that I haven’t seen other players in the 2K league make, which is really exciting for us.”

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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