Pistons GT esports team looking to deliver success to Detroit

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s not hard to imagine self-quarantined Detroit Pistons and NBA players across the country playing NBA2K video games this spring to pass the time during the league’s suspension.

Well, that’s basically training camp for the Pistons GT team.

Members of the Pistons GT team are preparing for the NBA 2K League's third season, which has been postponed because of coronavirus concerns. The team features, from left, general manager Adam Rubin, John Fields, Ramo Radoncic, Trenton Simmons, Devin Gossett, Joseph Marrero, Cody Hart and coach Duane Burton.

With their own coronavirus delay, the Detroit NBA 2K League franchise is on hold like most others in sports. But whenever the season gets started, the Pistons GT will have some familiar virtual faces representing the Motor City in the esports venture where five gamers play at a time as their own character against five representing another franchise.

The teams' generally play once a week, but also have tournaments built into their schedule.

Just like their housemates in the NBA, the Pistons GT team is trying to find the right chemistry for success.

John Fields of Chicago, known as “Demon JT” in the esports world, thinks they’ve found it.

“I love it, I feel like I came in and we were just a unit out the gate,” Fields said before the season was postponed. “I felt the support, I felt the love, I felt the devotion to be great.

“It was really refreshing. It felt good to come into so much love.”

Following the NBA’s lead, the NBA 2K League postponed its March 24 start to the season.

The teams compete in New York during the season, but soon will play remote preseason games instead, with decisions about the league’s third season coming down the road.

Fields was brought in by a trade from Wizards District Gaming to be the point guard and also serve as co-leader along with Pistons GT returner Ramo Radoncic, who was acquired from Pacers Gaming.

“It’s a lot similar to the college game and the NBA game where players holding each other accountable is far more valuable than a coach saying, ‘Hey, we need you to lock in,’” Pistons GT general manager Adam Rubin said. “(Ramo) could arguably be the best player ever at that position, a Tim Duncan kind of power forward. He sees the game that no one else sees, and he’s able to educate and lead his teammates in a way that we underestimated going into season two.”

The inaugural draft choice for the franchise, Radoncic is back in Season 3 after leading Pistons GT to a 9-5 regular season in its first year. The New York post player was traded after that season as the Pistons GT focused instead on the backcourt.

The team splintered last season and finished 2-14.

“It was kind of surreal,” Radoncic said of being back with Pistons GT. “In a way, it was kind of like I have unfinished business.”

Radoncic and Fields are familiar with each other, playing with and against each other for about six years, along with the team’s top draft pick this season, their friend Trenton Simmons (@Charger x 704) of North Carolina.

“We brought them to dinner first night, it was like they had been college roommates for five years,” Rubin said. “Then we took them bowling, same exact thing. It’s like they’ve been best friends for 10 years and they’ve only been together as a group for a week and and a half.”

Two new teams were added to the NBA 2K League this year, including the Gen.G Tigers of Shanghai, the league’s first international team and first one unaffiliated with an NBA franchise.

After having games carried over Twitch, YouTube and Tencent last year, the NBA 2K League will add Weibo and TikTok as social media platforms this season.

The league had its first woman compete last season and will have its first Chinese players in the history of the NBA 2K League, which touts 306 million video views across all its social media platforms, combining for more than 2 million followers.

Just like the Pistons this past season, the Pistons GT team is enjoying the new digs at the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center near downtown. The New Center area facility has a gaming area more than double the size of the one the team used the last two season at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Rubin touts the windows in the team’s workspace, alleviating a common complaint for past Pistons GT gamers who couldn’t see the outside world during training.

“It’s good vibes to have that great view, you can see there was so much good work put into this,” Fields said. “To come to a city that’s rebuilding, it’s like a perfect story.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.