On the 14th floor of Two Penn Plaza in Manhattan, actor Jerry Ferrara is getting nervous.
"It's the feeling I get right before a big scene," said Ferrara, most famous for his role as Turtle in "Entourage." "If I start laughing, it's not because I'm not taking this seriously. It's just what I do when I get nervous."
Ferrara is a rabid Knicks fan. But that's not why he's locked in a room with Knicks Gaming general manager Kristin Bernert and Devan Malholtra, a Penn grad who is putting his Ivy League degree to use as a Knicks gaming analyst.
Ferrara is here because he's the head scout of Knicks Gaming, the franchise's entry in the NBA 2K league that boasts participation from 17 NBA teams.
For Wednesday's draft happening next door at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Ferrara has analyzed video game film of the 102 players who came out of the NBA 2K combine. He knows their names and positions in his sleep.
The other day, his wife, Breanne, thought he was going crazy when he was staring at an ingredient list for the prepared meal the couple ordered. "I thought it said wild walnut," Ferrara said.
It's because one of the best players in the draft has a gamer name of "OneWildWalnut2K."
"Maybe that's a sign," Ferrara said to the room. "I'm kind of the guy that looks for those type of things."
For those not familiar with esports, the conversation in the room might seem outlandish. In the hours before the draft, Ferrara, Bernert and Malhotra prepare for all their contingencies. If they draft a certain player first, whom should they draft second to best mesh with their first pick?
With a black marker and big white paper, they sketch out their moves. Malhotra provides the necessary color. He conducted 15-minute interviews with 95 of the players who will be drafted. Insight includes which players are immature, are young, what type of players they are (a vocal leader or more quiet?), if they've ever been to New York and if they've ever played real basketball before.
"[Gerald "Sick x 973" Knapp, Dayne "OneWildWalnut2K" Downey, Timothy "oLarry" Anselimo, Shaka "Yeah I Compete" Browne], I'm comfortable with taking all of them," Ferrara said. "I also like Chronic because he's a monster scorer."
Gamers Mitchell "Mootyy" Franklin, Brandon "Hood is Glitchy" Caicedo, Dayvon "Goofy_757" Curry and Christopher "KontruL" Cantrell are also top of mind.
After discussing scenarios ad nauseam, Ferrara is getting impatient even though the start of the draft is still two hours away.
"I just need to know what everyone is doing already," he said. "You know, I think when we are playing around we all think we can do this and then you step into a situation like this and you realize, this is much more than a fantasy draft. There's a lot of work we've done here."
The draft starts. Artreyo "Dimez" Boyd, who won the $250,000 NBA 2K contest, is the first pick by Mavs Gaming. It comes as no surprise to the group.
The Knicks have the ninth pick, not the greatest spot in the snake draft. Things follow to form -- Mootyy goes fourth to the Kings, Walnut is picked sixth by the Blazers and KontruL goes to the Magic at No. 8.
Ferrara takes control of the room.
"We all comfortable with Goofy?" Ferrara asks, referring to Dayvon Curry, a 21-year-old from Virginia Beach. "I kind of cried when I was talking to him."
The group agrees. "Do I have to say Goofy underscore 757?" Ferrara asks before calling in the pick. The voice on the other line asks for the player's gamer number. It's 66.
They then wait for the pick to be announced and congratulate themselves.
At the theater, Goofy_757 is there with his father, Kelvin.
"I'm shocked, but I'm really proud of him," Kelvin Curry said.
Dayvon says he started playing NBA 2K at the age of 4, and that his father bothered him about playing the game 12 to 14 hours a day, just like most any other parent would. That stopped when Dayvon was one game away from qualifying for the $250,000 grand prize. As a first-round draft pick, Curry will get a salary of $35,000 for a six-month contract plus food, lodging and benefits.
The 2K League is small peanuts in the pantheon of the more traditional esports games. But seeing the NBA get into the sector in a big way and watching the players get drafted and going up on stage just like the real players whom they control virtually had an effect on many doubters, as evidenced by comments on social media.
With Wednesday's draft, the NBA showed the world why gaming and esports is big business.