Knicks Gaming is at the center of an esports Cinderella story. With a win against the sixth-seeded Heat Check Gaming in the NBA 2K League Finals on afternoon Saturday, the eighth-seeded Knicks affiliate would earn their storybook ending.
“We feel like we could beat any team in the league,” Knicks Gaming small forward Nathaniel “NateKahl” Kahl said during a Tuesday conference call. “We felt like that in the beginning, and we went through a rough patch, but we feel like that week in and week out.”
Knicks Gaming’s road to the finals of the first-year, team-based league — co-owned by the NBA and “NBA 2K” publisher Take-Two Interactive — was anything but easy. In the quarterfinals, they took down the top-seeded Blazer5 Gaming, 82-78, to advance to the best-of-three semifinals against Cavs Legion GC. In the semis, they lost the opener, 83-72, before coming back to win the final two games by a combined five points to move on.
“I think that the way the playoffs are structured, especially with the one-game elimination early on, it gave every team an opportunity to make some noise and make a run,” said Kahl, a 22-year-old Milwaukee native. “It’s deep, and you don’t know who’s going to win.”
Knicks Gaming went 5-9 during the regular season, entering the playoffs with the worst regular-season record in the eight-team field — 14th of 17 overall — earning a playoff spot after winning the final tournament dubbed “The Ticket.” They’re not worried about any pressure of being an unlikely contender, according to Kahl.
“We try to focus on things that we control,” he said. “We know there’s going to be outside noise, people doubting us, but we try to focus on things that we control. Once it’s game time, we’re ready to show up.”