TORONTO — Unbeaten Raptors Uprising GC looks to turn its regular-season dominance in NBA 2K League play into a little cash this week in the esports circuit's Tipoff Tournament.

There's US$160,000 up for grabs with $70,000 going to the winner as the 23 teams turn their attention from the league to the first of three tournament this season.

"That immediately increases the stakes of the game," said Shane Talbot, esports manager at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

The four-day tournament, which divides the 23 teams into seven groups, started Tuesday with the Raptors (9-0) opening Wednesday with two-legged games against both of Blazer5 Gaming (4-5) and Lakers Gaming (1-8) in pool play.

The Lakers feature Calgary point guard Sten (Sav) Valge-Saar.

The seven teams with the best group records as well as one wild-card entrant advance to the knockout round, where games will be contested as best-of-three series.

Toronto enters the tournament on the heels of a record-breaking 109-51 win over Celtics Crossover Gaming. The Raptors set a league record for single-game scoring and a franchise record for victories in a season while Trent (Timelycook) Donald set a league scoring mark for a lockdown defender with 39 points.

In the league's first two years, The Tipoff served as the curtain-raiser to the regular season but was pushed back this year when the global pandemic delayed the start of play.

The first two editions of the tournament were won by 76ers GC.

As with the regular season to date, The Tipoff will be contested remotely rather than at the league's New York studio because of the global pandemic.

In the group phase, each team will get to host the server — which Talbot says could lead to some connectivity or delay issues given the Raptors are facing West Coast opponents.

"On a level playing field, we take us over any other team in the league," said Talbot. "But when you start to factor in some of the variables of remote play, there are some things that can affect your performance. So we're certainly mindful of that as well."

The Raptors are also well aware they have a target on their back, given their run this season led by star point guard Kenneth (Kenny Got Work) Hailey and centre Jerry (Sick One) Knapp.

"As the best teams do, when they're at the top there is a lot of trash-talk going on," said Talbot. "I think our guys are good competitors and they keep it respectful. But certainly when you look at an opponent like the Blazers, who also like to talk on social media, there's a good rivalry developing there."

Raptors Uprising failed to advance out of the group stage in 2018, finishing at 1-2 after an illegal screen in the dying seconds killed off chances of a comeback with Toronto down by two against Blazer5 Gaming.

The Raptors reached the quarterfinals of the 2019 tournament, exiting at the hands of Magic Gaming.

In its nine best-of-three series wins, Toronto has dropped just three games while winning 18. The Blazers are one of the few to take Toronto to a third-game with the Raptors winning the rubber match 75-70 in overtime last week.

Teams return to remote regular-season play after The Tipoff. Tournaments down the line are The Turn and The Ticket.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2020.


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