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Tampa’s Paul Neglio aims to become oldest esports athlete drafted into NBA 2K League

The Gaither High alumnus, 51, is among 125 prospects hoping to be selected Saturday for the league’s fifth season.
Paul Neglio poses for a portrait earlier this month at Esports Players Club in Tampa. He is trying to become the oldest drafted esports athlete in the NBA 2K League.
Paul Neglio poses for a portrait earlier this month at Esports Players Club in Tampa. He is trying to become the oldest drafted esports athlete in the NBA 2K League. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Feb. 24|Updated Feb. 24

TAMPA — Paul Neglio is used to standing out from the crowd.

The 51-year-old enjoys the dropped jaws and “start a family” barbs that accompany him whenever he enters the door of an esports tournament venue.

But when Neglio sits with a video game controller in his hands, the attitudes start to change. He’s not just an old-timer trying to relive his glory days and fit in with a bunch of players less than half his age. He’s for real.

Since 2019, Neglio, known as “Big Guido” in the esports world, has spent the better part of his weeks playing video games as a full-time job with one goal in mind: winning a championship ring in the NBA 2K League.

Now, he’s close to his first true step. Saturday, the esports league will stream its 2022 (virtual) draft via its YouTube and Twitch channels. With about 125 of the world’s top prospects in the mix, Neglio is hoping his name is one of the 51 called.

“It’s been a grind, and I never stopped,” said Neglio, who worked with one of the major automotive groups before turning his focus to gaming. “If this opportunity comes, it’ll be huge for me.”

The league, created in 2017, consists of 24 teams created by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive. It operates much like a professional sports league with draft picks, budgets, trades, rosters, contracts, etc. Gamers create players (avatars) and compete in a 5v5 format.

The global esports audience will reach 474 million this year and generate revenues of $1.08 billion, according to NBA 2K’s website.

Paul Neglio, 51, of Tampa, is trying to become a rookie in the NBA 2K League after starting his esports journey just three years ago.
Paul Neglio, 51, of Tampa, is trying to become a rookie in the NBA 2K League after starting his esports journey just three years ago. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

With a contract on the line, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Neglio, who grew up playing Pong and Combat on an Atari console.

Before he got into gaming, Neglio was a coach for several football programs in the Tampa Bay area. He coached in the Pop Warner Youth Football league in the early 2000s before working as a running backs coach under Mark Kantor at his alma mater, Gaither High, in 2005.

Neglio joined Tampa Catholic’s staff in 2006 before moving on to Jefferson two seasons later. There, he coached defense, helping the Dragons to a 15-0 season and their first Class 3A title in 2010 under Mike Fenton.

Neglio’s son, Dominic, is a hip-hop artist. They were celebrating the end of a multi-year tour in 2019 when Neglio re-entered the gaming world. Using the money from Dominic’s first royalty sales, Neglio, his son and Neglio’s brother, Connor, bought some PlayStation 4 consoles along with the Call of Duty game.

After Neglio’s son and brother introduced him to the NBA 2K League, he searched for information about the league and ways to get involved, keeping track of his findings on a white board at his home in Tampa.

Neglio upgraded to a PlayStation 5 three weeks after its November 2020 release and, with friends and family, formed the Bay Area Harbor Club last year. The club has competed in nearly every NBA 2K League draft qualifying tournament since 2021, finishing in the Elite 8 twice.

He worked his way to a “Prospect Badge,” making him eligible for the 2022 NBA 2K League Combine in December. His performance in the open and closed portions of the event led to interviews with coaches and general managers from various teams leading up to this weekend’s draft.

Paul Neglio, known as “Big Guido” in the esports world, has spent the better part of his weeks since 2019 playing video games with one goal in mind: winning a championship ring in the NBA 2K league.
Paul Neglio, known as “Big Guido” in the esports world, has spent the better part of his weeks since 2019 playing video games with one goal in mind: winning a championship ring in the NBA 2K league. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

“I’ve made it through all of the red tape and everything to get this far,” Neglio said, “… and now I’m in the top 150 players in the world.”

Now, Neglio — the oldest esports athlete to compete in an NBA 2K League combine — has the chance to become the oldest drafted into the league.

“I just kind of kept pursuing and getting better and learning and picking the pros’ brains, dropping into their streams,” he said.

While unusual, Neglio’s situation isn’t entirely unprecedented. Sari Kitelyn, the executive director of esports and project development at Full Sail University, said a Swedish-based Snipers team that plays Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is made up of gamers age 60 and older. In Japan, an esports center opened in 2020 to people 60 and older.

“We’ve actually seen a surge in multigenerational gaming and esports over the last few years,” Kitelyn said in an email. “Many families are now gaming together and entering the industry together. ... For Paul’s situation, while not unprecedented, it’s definitely rare, and all around awesome.”

When Neglio first started his esports career, he said his wife of 27 years, Cheri, thought he was “nuts.” But to Neglio, esports are better than a poor score on the golf course. And it feels pretty good beating kids less than half your age, he said.

If he’s drafted, Neglio says it would be one of the greatest accomplishments of his life.

“(I’m) doing something so far out of the box and so far away from my demographic,” he said. “(I’m) proving that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything in life.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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