How Meason Camille became Australia's trailblazer in the NBA 2K League

Already the first Australian drafted to the NBA 2K League, Camille is ready to show that he belongs.

Source: supplied

For the past three years, Meason Camille has lived a life that’s been largely the same as thousands of Australians around him. He’s been studying hard, earning a degree in Sports Management from Federation University in his hometown of Ballarat. He’s been working part-time, picking up shifts at the bottle shop around the corner from his family home. He has lived with his parents for his whole life to date, not uncommon among 20-something students looking to save a buck.

And yet, when he hopped in an Uber at the Ballarat train station a fortnight ago, he was treated like a celebrity. “An Uber driver that was in the city had listened to me on the ABC and seen me in the Ballarat Courier,” Camille said with a laugh. “He knew who I was, which was a bit crazy.”

Funnily enough, the thing that has made him a star is another common thread between he and your average Joe; video games, and more specifically, NBA 2K. Where most play the basketball sim for fun, Camille — known better by his username “xMilo--”— plays for keeps in competitive tournaments.

After grinding for years to become one of the top players in the Asia-Pacific region, he is now the first Australian to be drafted into the professional NBA 2K League. “That was always my goal before making the 2K League, to be the first Australian,” he said. With that dream realised, he will now relocate to the United States and the city of Detroit, where he will represent the Pistons GT (Gaming Team) in the NBA’s official esports league.

According to him, that future didn’t look particularly likely when he first picked up a controller. “I used to lose to my cousin in Quick Game [on NBA 2K] when I was about 12 years old,” he said. Still, he was an avid gamer from a young age, listing the Call of Duty, Hitman and FIFA series among his favourites. “Gaming was almost as heavy as playing sport in real life, it was a thing that I would do every time after sport and after school.”

For a kid that also played basketball from the age of five, dabbling in the NBA 2K games was a given. As of early 2019, the series had sold nearly 90 million copies worldwide, building a global audience that transcended just basketball fans. Camille first picked up the game way back in the days of the GameCube console with NBA 2K6, sparking a passion that would continue to grow over the years.

The competitive aspect of the game has also grown bigger and bigger with each title, and Camille first began playing competitively in 2015 with the release of NBA 2K16. While he also took part in tournaments playing Call of Duty, the basketball game slowly took over more and more of his focus. “I finished year 12 and got into university and started taking [2K] a little bit more seriously,” he said. “That’s when I saw an opportunity to grab it and to turn it into what it is now.”

The competitive modes of NBA 2K are built around the “MyPlayer” concept, where each real-life player controls just one virtual player on the court. When Camille first began playing he modelled his player on himself, a combo guard working mostly on the perimeter. As his competitive desire began to take over, though, he saw a path to more success. “A team picked me up and they needed a big man so I decided to make one,” he said. “At first I didn’t really like playing it, but I was just naturally good at it and I’ve stuck with it ever since.”

That means doing plenty of the dirty work — setting screens, grabbing rebounds and banging in the post. It may not be the most glamorous job, particularly in the world of virtual basketball where the flashy plays are frequently highlighted, but it’s a necessary role for any winning team. The important thing is that Camille did start winning, beginning on the open-access Pro-Am courts before moving into organised tournaments, and all the while climbing the ladder of players in the Asia-Pacific region.

When the 2K League was first announced, that should have put him squarely in the frame for selection. With 17 teams included in the inaugural 2018 season there were 102 spots for players to be taken in the draft. Of those 102 players included in the draft pool, only seven were from outside the United States; zero were from the Asia-Pacific region.

Things started to shift ahead of the 2019 season with the introduction of the APAC Invitational, the league’s first international qualifying event. 20 players were invited to the two-day event in Hong Kong, and Camille was one of them. “That’s when I sort of when ‘holy s**t, this is crazy,” he said of that trip. “That sort of was a vision of ‘yeah, you’re not too bad at this game and can turn it into something’.” Camille was one of the six players from that event to qualify for the 2K League draft, and this time there was one APAC player drafted. Unfortunately for him, it was New Zealander Jack Stevenson.

Another year of strong play including a dominant APAC Invitational in South Korea saw Camille enter the draft for a second straight year, but he again missed out. Another New Zealander, Jordan Walden, was named MVP of the APAC event, and he too was passed over. Clearly teams weren’t willing to commit fully to the region just yet. “I felt like I had one of the bigger names in the Australian league,” Camille said, “so I knew when they were willing to take a chance on an Australian prospect that it most likely would be me.”

After missing out in the draft for a second time, Camille’s life took several sharp turns. He graduated from university early in 2020 and began looking for work in the field of sports management. That plan was thrown into disarray, though, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia; a field of work that was already competitive suddenly got shrunk down even further. With no study to keep him occupied, and with his shifts at the bottle shop becoming less and less frequent, he was lost. “I basically was in a rut and didn’t really know what to do,” he said.

Luckily for him, esports was one of the only sports still up and running at the height of the pandemic. With a job search going nowhere and stuck at home for hours on end, he made a conscious decision to go all in on making the 2K League. “I used [the pandemic] as a little bit of an excuse to literally just put everything into it… to give it one last shot, everything I can,” he said.

That included the obvious things, like plenty of time spent practicing — seven to eight hours of play every single day. Even more important, says Camille, was finding ways to garner attention and exposure. “Your skillset can only get you so far… I think building a brand outside of the game was a really big factor in me getting drafted,” he said. He put together an electronic press kit, which included references from former 2K League draftee Stevenson and NRL star Josh Dugan, and he made a professionally shot profile video filmed in the Melbourne CBD.

On top of that, he started playing more games against the top players in the US. With that came plenty of challenges around internet connections and game lag, but as he continued to put together strong performances, those issues became another selling point in his favour. They even featured prominently on his press kit, as he told teams that “if I was playing on an equal playing field, it shows that I can certainly compete with the best players in the world.”

In the year between drafts, he did everything possible to prove himself. “I said to myself… I’m going to put all of my effort in so I can’t look back and say I could have done anything extra,” he said.

Those efforts all paid off when, on his third attempt, he finally heard his name called in the 2K League draft. That was just over a month ago, and now Camille is preparing for the move of a lifetime halfway across the world. “I’ve never lived out of home before so it’s going to be really life-changing,” he said. He’s planning on flying out in the coming weeks, ready for a season that tips off in mid-May. With tournament games every weekend all leading up to the 2K League Playoffs, there’s a total prize pool of $1.5 million USD up for grabs.

Camille’s Pistons GT has a chance to scoop up a chunk of those winnings, as he will be teaming up with some of the most highly regarded players in the world. Centre Ramo Radoncic, who has played two seasons with the Pistons, is a Team USA representative and gold medal winner at the FIBA Esports Open. The Pistons also traded for point guard Ethan “Radiant” White, widely regarded as one of the best players in his position. “I’m so excited to be in that crew… they’ve been around for the last three years, they’re veterans in the league,” Camille said. “To have that type of support on my team and those sort of teammates to look up to is incredible.”

Given the talent present on the roster, Camille has been told that he will start the season as the team’s ‘sixth man’. That means being limited to playing in scrimmages rather than official games, at least early in the season. “That can potentially change if the lineup works better with me in there,” he said. He’s been working on playing different positions too, with the goal of giving the Pistons some added flexibility in their lineups.

As of right now, the biggest challenge he is facing is getting his visa as quickly as possible. The 2K League uses a slightly different build of the game, as well as a different game mode; while the US-based players will be logging on to test the league build in the coming weeks, Camille will likely still be stuck in Australia. Still, he’s confident that he can quickly adjust. “At the end of the day it’s the same basketball IQ… there’s just little things that you need to adapt to,” he said.

Being drafted is the first step in what Camille hopes is a long journey. He’s looking forward to settling into the team’s shared housing complex, where they will play league games remotely due to COVID-19. The apartments are located right next to the Detroit Pistons NBA facility, so he’s hoping to meet up with the players at some stage during the season. He’s keen to make content for the Pistons off the court, using his presentation skills from university to further build his brand.

Most importantly, though, he wants to make an impact on the court. “The main goal is to prove myself and to get a chance on the stage myself and to play some games,” he said. “I would love to be in the league for the next couple of seasons.” Regardless of whether that happens or not, he has broken new ground and made history in Australia, and he is setting the path for plenty of esports athletes to come.

This article originally stated that 2K player Jordan Walden was from Australia. This is incorrect, as he is from New Zealand. This error has been edited as of 1:00 PM on April 20, and we apologise for the mistake.