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Warriors draft the first woman into the NBA 2K esports league

Chiquita Evans was the center of attention after being selected by the Warriors Gaming Squad with the 56th overall pick in the NBA 2K League draft. She is the first woman drafted into the league. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

Chiquita Evans hopes one day soon to see if she can outshoot Stephen Curry on a basketball court. Until then, she will settle for being the first woman drafted into the NBA 2K League.

Evans, a fitness instructor and former college and semipro player who divides her time between Chicago and Mobile, Ala., was selected in the fourth round of the esports league’s draft Tuesday night, going to Warriors Gaming, which is run by Curry’s Golden State Warriors. Evans is one of the league’s 126 players, who make $33,000 to $37,000 per season (along with benefits and team housing). She was one of two women who qualified for the draft through the online combine. Brianna Novin was not selected but could be signed as a free agent.

Evans, 30, admitted that being drafted “feels surreal,” coming at a pivotal time for the league, which is run by the NBA and 2K game publisher Take-Two Interactive and had no women playing in its first season. That was something that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “a disappointment for all of us so far.”

Other hurdles the league has addressed have been data that showed male players’ reluctance to pass to female teammates and sexist remarks that led to several players being removed. Evans, who has played for the most part with a coed team, said she has heard remarks that crossed the line. “I’ve had sexual remarks put towards me,” she said (via the Associated Press). “I get told I should be back in the kitchen. ‘2K is not for women,’ I’ve had that. There’s no question about that.”

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During the combine, she noticed that players stopped cooperating with her when they realized she was a woman. “I’d get on the mic and say, ‘I’m open, I’m open,’ and they’d be like, ‘That’s a girl?’” she said in a pre-draft video. “I’d get iced out the whole game.”

She presently plays on a team that has four women and was undeterred by other players’ reactions. “I just can’t let it change who I am or change what I was going to do,” she said, “because someone feels like I don’t deserve to be here or I shouldn’t be doing something that I love to do.”

Female participation at the highest level of esports has been an ongoing issue that leagues and software publishers, who often operate esports leagues, have looked to address. Two of the largest leagues, the League of Legends Championship Series and Overwatch League, each have one female pro. Women are better represented in the professional circuit for “Fortnite,” but that esports scene, just in its second year, has not achieved the same level of notice as the wildly popular game.

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As she considers her impending move to the Bay Area, Evans is planning ahead. “I’m going to see if I can do a real-life shooting competition with Curry,” she said. “That’s what I was known for. See if I can shoot with the best.”

Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant used the same word — “cool” — to describe their reaction before the NBA team was blown out Tuesday night by the Boston Celtics. “I think that’s really cool that she’s passionate and inspired and broke a barrier,” the coach said. “That’s awesome.”

Durant, who is Evans’s favorite player, said he thinks “it’s cool” that “esports has become a huge thing now. More people who enjoy the game might get an opportunity to be professionals and make some money for themselves.”

Whether her arrival is a game-changer for the sport remains to be seen.

“I do feel like if I get drafted a lot more women will be interested and they will feel more comfortable with being themselves and going out here and competing,” Evans said. “I can only imagine, you know, four or five years down the line, how many women would feel comfortable enough to go out here and compete.”

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