When the NBA and 2K Sports announced the NBA 2K League in February, many 2K players immediately knew they had to try out. This would be the first time a sports game would be turned into a major esports league. And the fact that the NBA itself was sponsoring the competition was groundbreaking.
But for Dayne “One Wild Walnut” Downey, the league presented plenty of uncertainty. In fact, he didn’t even know if he’d have enough time to try out. As a 6′ 3″ guard for Santa Monica College, One Wild Walnut had plenty of things going on outside of gaming.
“I thought I could make [the league] but it wasn’t really a goal of mine,” One Wild Walnut told Dot Esports. “With thousands of players, the numbers are definitely against you. In the end I had some luck to beat the odds.”
He did more than beat the odds—he became the best player in the world.
One Wild Walnut eventually found the time to grind out games in the 2K League draft combine. His choice paid off when Blazer5 Gaming selected him in the first round of the draft.
“It was a calculated risk that I took and it has paid off so far,” Downey said.
Blazer5 are lucky he took the chance—after a dominant first season, One Wild Walnut was just crowned league MVP last weekend. He’s been the best player on the best team all season. And on Friday, he’ll lead his team into the playoffs as the number one seed.
After he was drafted by Blazer5, One Wild Walnut knew immediately who he wanted to play with. He had grown up in L.A. playing with Nidal “Mama Im Dat Man” Nasser and Connor “Dat Boy Shotz” Rodrigues.
“Mama Im Dat Man and Dat boy Shotz, we’ve all had chemistry in the past,” One Wild Walnut said. “I’ve played with Mama for the past six to seven years online. When I got drafted in the first round, I had influence to draft Nadal and then Shotz.”
With those three leading the team, Blazer5 got off to a hot start. But it wasn’t always easy.
A big adjustment
Moving away from home and living with the team was a big adjustment for One Wild Walnut. As part of a completely new league, the players had a lot to take in over a short amount of time.
“It was not an easy transition,” One Wild Walnut said. “It took a little bit of time, trusting my teammates. I wanted to be back home to be honest the first couple weeks. It was tough because it happened so quick.”
But on the court, Blazer5 never had any issues. They had an advanced read of the meta that allowed them to crush their opponents behind a barrage of three pointers and One Wild Walnut’s control of the paint.
“We set the meta for the builds on power forward and center,” One Wild Walnut said. “Everyone was adapting to that. And when someone would try and run that against us, it was easy money. No one could beat us at our own game. Our chemistry was A1, so that made everything easier.”
But eventually the game shifted and Blazer5 needed to find new ways to win. While they’re still communicating well, they have experimented with different lineups in recent weeks. It’s important to get that right because when playoffs start on Friday, they may only have one shot to win.
The 2K League playoffs use a funky format where the first game is a best-of-one. That means one bad game and all of Blazer5’s work in the regular season, the effort that went into earning the first seed, could go down the drain.
“It’s one game,” One Wild Walnut said. “[The Knicks, Blazer5’s first round opponents, are] playing well, but it’s one game. The game can be going against you but you just have to pull one out.”
If Blazer5 get past Knicks Gaming, they’ll play two best-of-threes on the way to the championship. And it’s in those extended series where One Wild Walnut definitely feels his team has an advantage.
“We feel like we can beat any time in a series. We feel like we can adapt to anything. It’s just getting past that first round.”
One Wild Walnut and Blazer5 will get their shot to advance past the Knicks in the last game of the night on Friday, August 17 at 8pm CT.