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Eric "YEYNotGaming" Ward faced long road to NBA 2K League Draft

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NEW YORK -- Eric "YEYNotGaming" Ward stared intently into his nearly dead phone throughout the morning of March 9. His focus was drawn away from his routine assignments at work as his mind raced with hopes of receiving one of the most important calls of his life.

Announcements flooded down his Twitter timeline with positive news from other NBA 2K players who made the cut, but Ward's lifeless device did not ring. His enthusiasm -- like his slowly draining phone -- began to dwindle.

Ten minutes later, a phone number with a New York area code flashed across his screen, and his dream was finally realized.

"I burst out crying," Ward said. "I ran out and started high-fiving people from work. It felt like a fire went off somewhere in the building."

On Wednesday afternoon, Ward was drafted in the third round as the shooting guard for Knicks Gaming at the inaugural NBA 2K League draft, solidifying him as one of the best NBA 2K players in the world.

"I'm shaking right now," he said moments after walking off the stage.

"I'm on cloud nine."

Ward is an "unknown guy," unlike many of the league's other players. He said that competing out of the spotlight improved his game and allowed for fewer distractions. The process also taught him to become "aggressively patient" with everything in life, such as fatherhood, a career and in NBA 2K.

Since January, Ward and the other 101 NBA 2K draftees competed in a pool of 72,000 players, who all shared the same dream. However, only six players could make each of the 17 NBA 2K League gaming teams that were formed through their professional NBA counterparts.

Drafted 43rd overall, only four shooting guards were selected ahead of Ward.

Even in all the excitement at the draft, Knicks Gaming's first shooting guard stayed focused on bringing "hard work, dedication and a winning attitude" to his new home.

Ward, 26, ended his career as a carrier account manager at C.H. Robinson, a third-party logistics company that provides solutions for freight transportation, only a few weeks prior to attending the draft. Throughout the entire journey, he juggled his responsibilities as a full-time employee, competitive gamer and his most important role of being a father to his daughter.

Once he had his family's support, Ward said he believed this is what he was supposed to do.

"Deep down, I knew that I should be doing something bigger," Ward said about leaving his job. "[The NBA 2K League] is my biggest chance to prove myself."

His determination in the NBA 2K Combine, the second stage of qualifying between Feb. 2-21 with specific playing times designated by the league's officials, allowed him to average 21 points per game along with 6.3 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 2.9 steals per contest.

As a third-round selection, Ward earned a six-month contract to play in the league with a $32,000 base salary, and the benefits also include relocation assistance to his New York residence, fully funded housing arrangements, medical insurance and a retirement plan. The league will also cover travel costs for NBA 2K competitions.

Eric's sister, Andria, accompanied him to the draft and held back her emotions when explaining how she always knew her brother would get to this point in his 2K career.

"This is something Eric is prepared for," Andria said. "I remember a tweet or post on Facebook [where] he said, 'College was always a backup plan.' ... [NBA 2K] is what he loves to do."

While NBA 2K18 seems like another video game to some, Ward, a native of Milwaukee, described how professional NBA players, specifically Milwaukee Bucks small forward Khris Middleton, influenced his game on the sticks. Like Middleton, Ward said he is prepared to do everything his team needs, "stat- and performance-wise on both sides of the ball."

Ward said he could not have predicted he would become a professional esports athlete at this point last year, but he is hopeful for the future of the league.

"Once [kids] see how everyday guys are living their dreams," he said, "they'll see how anyone can apply themselves to live their dream.

"2K stars are going to become superstars ... and I definitely have something to prove."