Artreyo Boyd, a superstar in the video gaming world, is followed by shouts of “Dimez!” every few seconds as he walks through Barclays Center, the Brooklyn arena where the second annual draft for the video game version of the NBA is taking place. Dimez is Boyd’s online alter ego, a shot-making, play-making savant.
The 24-year old stops occasionally to greet people, from security guards to his fellow players in what’s known as NBA 2K League. Rather than acting like a distant celebrity, he approaches them, shakes hands, and chats as if he’s known each one for his entire life.
“I went from nothing to something, just like that,” Boyd says about his fame and fortune. “Sleeping on floors, not having anything, to having my own house and having my own car and living on my own. So literally it changed my life.”
Boyd is among a growing number of professional video game players who earn a comfortable living from what for most other people is a hobby. Like any other professional athlete, he spends hours a day practicing, travels for games, and has amassed legions of fans.
Boyd’s rise also reflects the huge growth in competitive video gaming, or e-sports, with its televised tournaments, packed arenas, and lucrative sponsorship deals. As unlikely as it may seem, it has spawned a small group of elite players—specialists in games like League of Legends and Overwatch—with the superior skills, focus, and drive that allows them to dominate.
On this day in early March, at Barclays Center, Boyd walks around relaxed, a veteran among new hopeful picks for the NBA 2K League’s draft. Instead of waiting for his name to be called since he already had a spot in the league, he looks forward to the start of the second season and meeting new teammates on Mavs Gaming, the 2K affiliate team for the Dallas Mavericks, as the roster refills.
The NBA 2K League features 21 teams, up from 17 last year. All of the teams are affiliates of existing NBA teams, and they play their regular season games in New York at the league’s studio in Long Island City.
Boyd says he had long wanted to make it as a professional gamer, despite some doubters. But the success he’s achieved has surprised even him.
“My dad didn’t like it, but I stuck with it and now he’s one of my fans,” Boyd says. “He would tell me, ‘Trey, you’ve got to get off the game, you’ve got to get a job, you’ve got to do something.’ I said ‘Listen, Dad. I am working toward something. You may not understand it. You may now be able to grasp it yet, but I see the vision.’ I worked toward it and now he fully supports me.”
Boyd has been playing 2K for 10 years using the in-game username, DatBoyDimez (later shortened to Dimez). Even before joining the 2K League, he says the game profoundly changed his life because he was part of a team that won a $250,000 purse NBA 2K17 All-Star Tournament.
Boyd says most of his spending is for basics: food and sneakers, for example. He also sometimes invests his money back into his e-sports career, whether it’s buying video games or new equipment that lets him stream games to YouTube or Twitch.
In addition to the income from gaming, Boyd has made television appearances and is working on creating his own clothing line. Though some of his counterparts are increasingly turning to agents for help navigating the business, Boyd gets much of that help from his team.
These days, Boyd spends most of his time in Dallas in his team house for Mavs Gaming. There, he and his teammates live on a schedule. Boyd wakes up around 9 a.m., attends a team meeting at 10 a.m., goes to the gym for about an hour, and then starts practice at noon. Training—which includes practice games and reviewing game footage— can last anywhere from six to eight hours daily.
During his free time, Boyd squeezes in extra practice. During the previous off season, he stayed in the team’s house and continued to train regularly.
In some ways it’s an around-the-clock job, and not particularly glamorous. But it’s a job Boyd says he’s all too happy to have. Coming from a large family, he says he relishes the community of the team home, where all six players live. He describes how afternoons are sometimes spent with teammates talking in his room, about the game or anything else. Mondays have become a favorite of his: It’s when the entire Mavs Gaming team has its weekly non-2K-related outing.
“Whether it’s Six Flags, go-carts, paintball, movie night — whatever. It was just something fun that we could still hang out and mesh as well as a team could,” Boyd says.
These are players Boyd has known for years. In fact, those at Mavs Gaming looked to Dimez when filling out its season two roster. Over the years, Boyd has played with or against many of the other league players and counts some of them as friends.
“When you meet him, he comes across as a very laid back nice guy. What most people don’t realize is he is completely relentless,” says Brendan Donohue, managing director of the NBA 2K League. “When it comes to being great at the game, anybody can play a ton of hours and get good. He’s relentless with the little details that separate someone who’s great from someone who’s the best or one of the best. He has this insatiable appetite to be great.”
In fact, Boyd has a second even catchier nickname that reflects his drive: “The LeBron of 2K.” It’s partially a reference to Boyd’s hometown of Cleveland—the same as NBA star LeBron James — and acknowledgment that he’s one the best players in NBA 2K.
Boyd’s drive showed recently when Mavs Gaming played two games in The Tipoff, a 2K League Tournament that kicked off the second season. They lost one game and later won another, but Boyd was unsatisfied. He said he knew what he and the rest of the team were capable of, that they could have won by 20 instead of 10 if they played up to their full potential.
Trey Christensen, director of Mavs Gaming, says he sometimes tries to get Boyd to open up about the pressure he faces.
“Being the No. 1 draft pick of the first season carries a lot of pressure,” he says. “So when it’s good, it’s really good. And when it’s bad, it can be really bad. And what I mean by that is how the community responds to him. If he’s winning, then everyone’s patting him on the back. But as soon as he loses a game, or something doesn’t go his way, then it’s like, ‘Oh, you didn’t deserve to be the first pick.'”