“It’s unique to me. I don’t think I know of any other player that played all 5 positions in the league. “ – Interview with Mark “XxSTL2LAxX” Hampton, Jr.

James had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Mark “XxSTL2LAxX” Hampton, Jr., previously of Bucks Gaming during the NBA2K League’s debut season. Mark was not retained by the Bucks, but does have high hopes this draft, which will occur March 5th.

I’m joined here with Mark Hampton Jr, aka STL2LA, Mark was previously part of Bucks Gaming of the NBA2K League. Mark, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself?

Hello guys, my name is Mark Hampton Jr, I go by XxSTL2LAxX, the X’s are just for fancy, for short it’s just STL2LA.

Perfect. I appreciate the X’s on either side man, as an older guy, that was the rave when I started out, the X’s, they were necessary. I respect you for including those, I enjoy them a lot. First thing starting out, I want to ask you where you got the name, because it’s very specific.

So I got the name, when I made my PSN was way back in ’09, maybe ’10, when Kobe was the finals MVP, so when it came down to my username, Kobe’s always been my favourite player to watch and he plays, I always try to recreate his plays in like the backyard, so when it came down to making my name, it had to be STL2LA because I’m from Saint Louis, Missouri, and I’ve always wanted to go watch Kobe play, so I always say, “STL2LA, I’m gonna’ be there one day.”

Nice man, I like that, that’s probably one of the genuine and wholesome names I’ve ever heard someone come up with. Would you ever change it if you had the chance, or is this sticking with you?

If I had a chance to change it, I’d probably take the X’s off, and leave it as is.

That’s fair. You’ve had it for like what, 10 years?

Yeah, approximately 10 years.

Yeah, fair enough man. I wanted to you about, you’re 22, correct?

Yeah, just turned 22 in December.

Yeah, okay, what’s it like to be considered like a pro in what you do? How is that affecting you at what a lot of people consider a very young age. I know in esports, everyone is fairly young, so I was wanted to ask you personally, how is it affecting you? How is it affecting stuff with your friends? Is it weird? I wanna’ hear your take, and your feedback.

Yeah, becoming a pro at 22, well, I was 21 when I got drafted, it was still really, really new to me because I was one of the youngest guys in the (NBA2K) league except for some of the 18 year olds but the guys who have been really in this and have been doing it for a long time were about 25 or 26, so being young, it was new, it was new to me, and as for my friends, they were just accepting it. We would joke around, like, “I know you can beat me in 2K but can you do it on the real court” and stuff like that.

I mean I can’t blame them for trying to flex that way. You must play a lot of ball like outside of 2K too, yeah?

Yes, I play a lot of ball. That’s exactly where I get most of my skills from as I translate the way I play on the court in real life to the game. So it came very easy to me. It was a couple of workouts that I had to do for my game. Roughing up for my game in session, I realized how much stuff I had been missing from my game I could add in to it.

Nice, okay okay, do you find that’s a common trend with the other pros ballers? Or do you find that’s something really a niche for you? Because it doesn’t sound like something that would be that out of the ordinary for a lot of guys to play a lot of ball. Do you find it’s an advantage for you?

Yes, I find it as an advantage, as the game goes on it translates to real life basketball, so things that you see on the game you might [can] do it in real life. A play in real life might work on the game, so you can translate it, you can break it down. As far as like defenses, like 2–3, 3–2, you can run it exact to perfection in real life, and you can teach your teammates even if they’ve never played real ball.

Okay, cool! That’s good to know man, ’cause like 2K is one of the rare examples of like an esport that can really translate the actual sport to the game and stuff like that. So it’s good to know you’re implementing that man. Do you ever expect this to ever come from playing 2K? Are you kind of accepting that it was like a phenomenon, or were you just kind of like, “Nope, this is it, this is what I want to do, I’m not surprised,” how do you feel about that?

When I started gaming, I started in 2010, I was a kid back then, so I never would’ve expected to be playing professional 2K. So around 2017, is when I got into pro-AM, 2016/2017, they announced the league after the Road to [the] Allstar game, and I said, I said to myself, I know I’m good enough to play in this league for years, countless. People have been telling me multiple times, “like you’re just good at this game, ’cause you practice, you perfect your craft, and nobody stays on this game longer than you.” I used to stay up countless hours like to 7–8AM with friends just practicing and dribbling in my court and they would ask me, “what’re you doing up?” and I’d just be on my way to school, just getting off the game. It’s definitely been different for me.

Oh my god Mark, you’re a grinder man, I respect the hell out of that, that’s awesome. Now that brings up an interesting point, did you have much issues with school and trying to do this really, really hard grind to try and make it so you were drafted the first time around, or were you able to just run off of no sleep?

Unfortunately I did have to take a step back. The league wasn’t involved at the time, because I graduated in 2015, so I took a step back from like the park and stuff, because that’s what was hype around 2015/2014, so I did take time off the game for school, but once I got out of school I ran right back in to it and the league came out the following year, and I ended up trying my hardest. Like, I barely got any sleep in those months.

I respect the grind for sure, that’s wicked man. So let’s talk about the league a bit. What were your first takeaways? You played for the Bucks and stuff like that, what were your takeaways, let’s start with the league. How did you feel about the league altogether?

The league was definitely an amazing experience, I would love to do it again. As far as going to the Bucks, I actually loved their place like, most people would expect Milwaukee to be a place you wouldn’t want to go to, but I love that place, I grew into it. It’s mid-western, and I’m from St. Louis, Missouri, so it’s definitely somewhere that reminds me of home. So, drafted to the Bucks I met a lot of people, I made a lot of friends, a lot of investors like, you got TrustedKicks, those my guys down in Milwaukee, asking me how I’m doing during the off season, things like that, yeah.

Mark, did you just slip in a shout out, there? Is that what just happened? Nah, that’s awesome man, I’m glad it was a home away from home for you. What about your teammates? What about the rest of the crew there, even the coaching staff? How’d you find that?

Coaching staff, they were doing just fine, I don’t think we had a head coach but as far as them being new to the 2K scene — Colin, Kale, and Andrew — they did a very fine job at of coming in and stepping into a new esports group and they did a great job of managing us, so I have the utmost respect for them, ’cause they had to step outside their comfort zone and teach us how to be professionals.

Nice, okay, we’re gonna’ kind of jump ahead a little bit, but being professional seems to be a big thing I seem to be seeing on Twitter and stuff like that. A lot of these guys seem to be talking about brands and stuff like that, and like, how to conduct themselves. Did you find that was an issue, that guys had a hard time being professional, or is something you guys are just trying to reinforce, as like, a group. Like a group of playing saying, “guys, you need to do this.” How did this kind of start up? ’Cause this seems to be the only esport I kind of see that in.

Yeah, it came as a learning experience. I mean, we all had to learn that we are role models somewhat, and there are people out there looking up to us, like little kids, so we can’t just do what we used to do and go on Twitter and just like.. rage or anything like that. So we had to grow into it and it shook a lot of us up and now we’re getting used to the whole professional esport thing and being role models and stuff like that. So there’s classes we have took, so it helped us a lot.

They actually had you guys in classes?

Yeah, they would have classes like, the rookie transitional program and that stuff actually like helped me and whether people realize it or not.

That’s good to know man, I’m glad that happens because again, I think the 2K League might be the only esport that I’ve heard doing that, so that’s good, I like that, that’s reassuring to hear. Basically, going back to the league now, what was it like playing pro matches? Because you guys have a unique set up where you have this face-off, you’re on the court, you’re looking at the guy across from you. How did you find that in comparison to playing pro-am?

As far as going to the arena, it was amazing, like it was nothing you’ve never expected. We had the face off like, we were in a circle so you could hear everything — even though the mic — you have mic’s on but you can hear it through the mic. You can hear the commentators like criticizing your every move and then just being in an atmosphere was amazing. As far as being a professional and doing what you love and I know I went out there and put 110 percent. Even through the talking and everything.

No it’s good. Would you consider yourself much of a trash talker there, Mark?

Oh, it could probably get there. If I make an amazing play, you’re gonna hear my mouth. You’re gonna hear me talk.

That’s good, I mean you can’t be humble all the time, right?

Yeah. Sometimes you need that for you to build energy up and one great play leads to another.

Well that’s just it. Again, a personal question for you is do you do you watch any other sports or is it just 2K for you?

I recently got into the esports — I know it’s a TV show — it’s called Eleague TV I think, it comes on TBS, I recently just started watching that to see how esports works around the world and one day, I would love it for the 2K league to get big like, that as we’re growing because they have that channel is just amazing that like it shows you what we could potentially be one day.

Nice. Okay cool. And the reason I brought that up is because you guys seem to be the only group of esports that are heavily emotionally driven maybe you guys like some of the shooters like you like CS:GO and Rainbow 6. But I don’t know, man, I mean it’s just like a totally different energy with the 2k league and like it’s good to know like it’s nice to hear. It’s a refreshing to hear you say that. You know the emotion just kind of builds and it’s hype play after hype play. Right. So it’s nice man. I’m glad but I’m glad it’s already like a core part of you guys. That’s reassuring. That being said though, that with when you were with Milwaukee. What was the like? I’m not looking to pry information or anything. Did you find the training regiment like was it, was it like you know, were you guys out all the time, did you guys have downtime? Like was it like a good work-personal balance life, or was it just you know like balls to the walls the entire time?

It was a balance because the coaches were so new to the league so they didn’t want to overwork us but we were prepared to overwork. So I say we will wake up sometimes they will have us come in at 11:00, sometimes earlier, to do like photo shoots and film. I know we study film multiple, like more than anything, but as far as getting the scrimmages and stuff set up, we would love to scrimmage because we want to proved ourselves that we were the best teams in the league, so we would challenge the best in scrimmages and try to go out there and perform a doing the regular season. So it was basically, it was hard work. They wanted us to push ourselves so they never really pushed us. We pushed ourselves and you could definitely catch us in a practice facility more times than not, than being outside in Milwaukee.

It’s nice to know an esports team that just started that, you know, every player just wants to go like 110 percent all the time. It’s kind of refreshing that the coaching staff are kinda like, “oh my god, man like, these guys they don’t they don’t stop.” So you know I’m glad you guys have that work ethic. Have you found that you’ve kind of kept that hype up the entire time or if you kind of like, wizened up to knowing how much you got to give? Or is it still like, you know, like you said earlier 110 percent?

Yeah I still give 110 percent, even through offseason, of not being retained, and other things like, I still push myself the hardest I know I’ve been playing countless hours trying to figure out how to get 19 worked. This is very different. It’s very different from 2k 18. So I have made multiple reels trying to perfect my craft. Because as you know, I played five positions last year so I hope, that I never know which one I could be called upon. So I just want to be ready for any team that calls my name on draft day of what they want me to play.

I was reading up on you and stuff, I read that, and is that is that a common thing for other players just to bounce around like, five different spots? Or is this something else that’s kind of unique to you?

It’s unique to me. I don’t think I know of any other player that played all 5 positions in the league. It’s kind of a thing where I just accept it as a fact that I’m gonna do what my team needs me to do. So if they need me PG one day I I’ll go there, they need me at center I will go there and perform to my highest level of what I can do on the court. So it’s basically what the team needs each week in and out of it.

I respect the hell out of that dude, I mean, I feel like a lot of teams would just would kill for somebody like, that selfless like, that’s awesome man. Just kind of going back to what you said previously. You weren’t retained by Bucks but, are you guaranteed a draft spot because of that? Because you played in Season 1? Because I know you don’t have to wade through going through the top 150 and going through all that nonsense. Do you guys kind of get like a pass sort of thing?

Yeah, so how it goes you’re not guaranteed a spot in the league for next season or in the draft. You had to play the combine to get to that so you have to play the whole 40 games and just so they can update your stats and things like that. Once you played a whole 40 games you’re a draft eligible for the next season and so you become eligible for these upcoming draft, March 5th.

Okay, so you weren’t sitting there, worried about the email, you basically did the combine and once you did you’re good, pretty much, right?

Yes. The only hefty part about it is just waiting for teams to e-mail you.

Yeah. No I mean I could imagine that’s kind of nerve racking. How with the draft coming, how are you handling that?

I’m handling it just well. I’m letting it all come to me, right? I know I what I did in season 1, I know that teams would die to have a versatile player like me. So just having it even if I have to come in as a six man, or come in as a starter, I can do either, just know I can play one through five at the highest level I could be and I want to be at the practice facility day in and day out.

I mean the proof is there man, you’ve done it once before. And I mean, you know they know now, right? With that being said with the draft coming up is there any particular team or organization you want to go to?

No particular team, as far as an organization. What I would love to go to a team that is winning driven, like they have higher expectations of winning. Like I said, I just want to be around positive, all positive vibes and winning. So winning is mandatory on my list as far as teams go, that’s about it. I would love to have a coach this year, no matter where I go, that would be a plus because I think as far as the first season go, not many knew went as far as picking six players and not, and combining them all. I know we all have thoughts of how we want to play, but I think if you have a coach, and you want all six player discussing it with the coach how do they want to play. He can put it into a rhythm, of how each player can affect the game in different ways, of how they play.

So with that, yeah, because that was one thing I noticed is that not every team had a coach they had like their GM would show up and stuff like that, right?Do you think, are you expecting a lot of teams just kind of sitting back and be like, “all right we need an individual coach, plus the GM, we’re not going to put it all on one person,” or do you kind of expect to see the same thing this year?

I think most teams are going to hire a coach this year just off the fact like, if you’ve got people inside the community that, just sits there and they definitely deserve a chance to be coaches because they definitely — some of the community members know what they’re talking about — so to have them on as a plus, is a bonus. Even you can sit back, and manage what you need to, and the coaches can all take the players, like the players probably will more respect the coach because they can teach him how to play a different way, a version of ball.

So, do you think it’s going to be like an issue in the league where like some of the players may not respect the coaches much? Or do you think there’s enough stand out members in the community, like you said, that you have this knowledge, and like give it back to the players, that the players are just sitting there like, “well I’m the one that made it. You’re just the coach.” What do you think, that there’s gonna be that level of respect? Or because. like you know the emotions are so high, it’s not going to matter. What do you think?

There will be a level of respect because as I said, it’s Season 1, so not many teams have won anything but the Knicks. So, I don’t feel like anybody should have that on their shoulder like, “you can’t teach me anything.” So the coaches would definitely be a plus for any organization that hires them.

Okay that’s good to know, because I mean it is a common thing in other esports but again like it’s only been Season 1, like the 2k league still is fairly new. So I know everybody is just trying to sort those sorts of stuff out. So, OK, I realize now that like asking you what team you want to go for is a bit of a loaded question I apologize for that, but like is there a particular player you want to see yourself by? Like any of your old Buck’s teammates? Or are you just like, “wherever wants to win I want to go there”?

As far as like players that I would love to play with, of course Big Meek and Drake in Milwaukee, I love Milwaukee like if I had the chance to go back I would. Dayfri, I love his energy like, that’s the kind of player I can see myself like in the chairs with around like, game time. Yeah, his energy he brings to the table. It just feels like it makes you play better as more players to come, like you have, you have Shots, I know he was a pretty quiet player last season but he definitely did what his team needed him to do, low ego player. You got Walnut and [is] just the most dominant center in the league. So I don’t see who would not want to play with him. So you multiple players around the league.

Yeah I mean even an outsider coming in because I’m not huge in the 2k scene as player or anything like that I do follow the scene, and like everybody kind of knows who Walnut is, man. So I’m glad it’s like a group consensus, right? I’m glad you’re looking for players that are your speed and want that energy and stuff like that, man. Mark, that’s real commendable. I don’t have too much else. Do you have any other like closing statement you want, any shout outs, anything like that? Now is your time like, go off.

Just as far as being drafted. I’m very blessed. I had the opportunity season one. I’m looking forward to season two, I know I have a lot to prove. And as far as me I feel like I underperformed season one. That’s why I’m here for season two. I trained all off-season to make sure that never happens again. I know I let some of my personal inside friends on PSN down. So, it’s definitely STL2LA time. So be prepared coming in whatever I have to play, I will play.

I love it man, I love it. Anybody who’s listening, any team that’s looking out, you’d be blessed to have Mark, take this kid on because he’s got the energy and he’s versatile. That’s great man. That being said though guys this is James with Project: Esports. And I was blessed enough to have STL2LA sitting across from me metaphorically. Thanks for your time and I greatly appreciate it.

All right thank you man. Thank you.

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