NBA 2K, Coaching In Esports, And More: Interview With DJ Layton

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Whether it’s real life or in NBA 2K, Coach DJ Layton eats, lives and breathes basketball.

Coach Layton is the head coach of Kings Guard Gaming, the Sacramento-based NBA 2K League team sponsored by the Sacramento Kings. He’s going on his third season as head coach, and continues to move closer and closer to securing a championship for the city of Sacramento.

Beginning his NBA 2K career as a competitive player, he made the transition to coaching, where his reputation has grown to be considered one of the best coaches in the league. 

Additionally, Coach Layton has been the head coach of the Faith West Academy varsity basketball team for the last three years. Layton is constantly involved with the game of basketball, and how he can improve his craft.

We were lucky enough to ask Coach Layton a few questions about how he got started, his approach to coaching teams and individuals, and just how important it can be to have a coach in esports. Check it out!

Let’s go back to the beginning: what got you into basketball, and more specifically, what got you into playing NBA 2K?

DJ Layton: To be honest, I’ve played sports my entire life and everyone in my circle played sports, so it was all that I knew growing up and it just stuck with me. When it comes to video games, I would always play basketball outside with these older kids when I was young, and they kind of introduced me to video games and the competitive side of it. 

I was always the young guy beating up on the older guys in 2K and other games. Sports and video games have kept me on track throughout life and out of trouble. 

How did you first get involved with the competitive scene in NBA 2K? What were your early days like when you first got involved with esports competition?

DJ Layton: I started really taking things serious on NBA 2K8. I would play in online leagues for money and I found myself winning a lot, which carried over to NBA 2K9. There, I played “Quick Match” a lot, and it was very competitive; this led into the NBA 2K10 and NBA 2K11 “crew mode” where my team and I were always on the top of the leaderboard. 

After that, I was really into playing on GamerSaloon for money from NBA 2K12 through 2K16 and I finally joined the competitive NBA 2K community (that I didn’t know existed) on NBA 2K17. 

In fact, myself and my team qualified for the $250K “Road to the All-Star Game” “Pro-Am” tournament on the first weekend (with 3 of the 5 players from that team eventually making the NBA 2K League, including Turnupdefense, Deadeye and myself.)

What was it about coaching that appealed to you initially, and made you want to pursue it professionally?

DJ Layton: Coaching has always been a passion for me, and I knew that it was going to be an avenue for me in the game of basketball, and also in NBA 2K. I’ve always had a coaching mentally going back to my playing days as I played point guard, and I was always that second “on the court” coach; that mentality just carried over when I hung it up. 

As coaching prospects continue to grow in esports, expertise such as yours will grow in value. What are key components that every aspiring coach should learn that are often overlooked or undervalued?

DJ Layton: First and foremost is: you have to have the work ethic to get to where you want to be, and to also earn the respect of your peers and players. I am still working on earning that respect in the field of esports, but that’s honestly what got me to where I’m at now, and I know I still have a long way to go to get where I really want to be. 

Hard work pays off and everybody’s story is different, so you just need to keep at it. 

While coaching in competitive gaming continues to grow in importance, many aspiring players may not recognize the utility in having a coach, especially in more individual-based esports games. Just how important is it to have a coach when training, reviewing footage and so on?

DJ Layton: I think from the outside looking in, a lot of people don’t think that a coach is necessary; but having a good one goes a long way. We have many different roles outside of just a general X & O type of things: we are there to keep the guys controlled and composed, to be that extra voice or even the extra energy that the team needs during gameplay. 

We also keep structure in practices, lead film sessions and I think that guys in the NBA 2K League will tell you a good coach can truly make all the difference in a team’s season.

Coaching in a team-based esports title can be tough; even after a team is assembled, you have to maintain chemistry and keep everyone playing as a unit. What are some things you do to help your team gel and to perform as efficiently as possible?

DJ Layton: Team chemistry is always super important. Outside of this crazy COVID year, a few things that we would like to do to keep things fresh was have team dinners, team film sessions; and, then, we would all just play ball together after. We like to keep things light and fun after the hours of practice and intense games that we have everyday. 

Also, a very important thing is communication and team meetings where we encourage the players to talk. I’m very big on being able to talk things out if there’s any issues so that the team works together. 

Aside from coaching teams, you also handle a lot of 1-on-1 coaching with players. How do you approach individual coaching sessions, especially when it’s for a game that will be played as a team?

DJ Layton: Individual sessions are meant to perfect YOUR craft, and will work on the things that you specifically need to be really good. For instance, if I’m working with someone “1 on 1,” we will break down gameplay film of what the specific person does a lot to figure out their tendencies, and we will work on perfecting that and fixing any mistakes. 

This might include working on their “catch and shoot” mechanics, working on the “pick and roll,” their defensive and off-balls rotations, so we will really break down the specific needs of that player. 

You’ve been the Head Coach for Kings Guard Gaming going on three seasons now. What has the journey been like so far with this organization? Are there exciting developments that have you looking forward to the future with the team?

DJ Layton: It’s been great so far. Honestly, we are all just really focused on bringing a championship to the city of Sacramento. Every year that I’ve been there we have taken another step in the right direction to try to achieve our ultimate goal of winning a championship. 

The journey hasn’t been easy, as there is always going to be bumps in the road and things that you have to deal with individually and as a team; but, to be where we are at after two years is super exciting. I just want to make sure that we are continuing to grow our players and our league as a whole to be bigger and better each year.

In addition to being a Head Coach in the NBA 2K League, you’ve also been working as the Head Coach for the Faith West Academy varsity basketball team. How has your experience coaching real life basketball impacted how you approach coaching NBA 2K, and vice-versa?

DJ Layton: There’s a lot of similarities between the two. From the game plans to the film sessions, the main difference would be the general lack of X’s and O’s throughout the game in the NBA 2K League compared to my high school coaching. 

However, most things do carry over, including my approach with my players, the importance of team chemistry, and of making sure that each player is putting in effective work.

Finally, you’ve said before that you approached Kings Guard Gaming with over 10 pages of notes on the team, and this prepared approach helped you land the job. How should aspiring professionals research and prepare themselves so they can have the best shot at succeeding in this industry?

DJ Layton: Yes, like I had mentioned earlier, every single person in the NBA2K League has a different story or approach on how they got to where they are. I got denied or ignored by so many teams and it just happened to have a little luck with Sacramento getting back to me. I knew that if I wanted to have a chance with a NBA 2K League franchise, I had to be 150% ready for whatever they asked or whatever they wanted to see from me. 

I was prepared to be denied and rejected; but, if you stay persistent and keep working, something will fall into place. Patience and persistence are my biggest keys to success. 

(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)

Be sure to follow DJ Layton on Twitter, Instagram and Twitch!