Dots, Boxes, and Realo: Inside NBA 2K’s Distinct Vocabulary

“Dot! Dot!” Charlie “CB13” Bostwick shouts, late in the fourth quarter of a tense week two game against Cavs Legion GC.

The Warriors Gaming Squad point guard is not communicating with his teammates in Morse Code. He’s celebrating a cerebral cross-court pass to the opposite corner that led to a game-clinching three-pointer. The “dot” (meaning great pass) not only sealed another Warriors Gaming Squad win, but also served as yet another indication that CB13 has “stick,” meaning that he can really play. A player with “stick” is a “glitchy” player, highly regarded (as opposed to a player exploiting a particular glitch). The league’s players only confirmed CB13’s glitchiness, ranking him in the top 25 of the league’s post-2019 season “Glitchy25” survey.

“2K-specific vocabulary is really important from a competitive standpoint,” CB13 said. “You want all 5 players to essentially be on a string on both ends, whether that’s taking an open cut or rotating on defense. Without constant communication and useful dialogue using these 2K-specific terms in a productive manner, players may not be on the same page and will be limited to subpar or average results as a unit.”

The vocabulary of NBA 2K is a lexicon unto itself. “Green” is not foliage but verbiage, the act of impeccably timing a jump shot. Shots that are “greened” (the color of a perfectly timed player shot meter) nearly always go in, as opposed to “full whites” or “full bars” which seem left up to chance. Like in real life, to “smoke” a shot, missing an open look, is bad. Common plays have their own names, too, from “Space Jam” (named after the first team to run it) to “Fefe” (named for a player’s dog).

The defensive side of the ball is not immune. “Baited” is not a fishhook but rather an opposing point guard, discomfited into throwing a “scary,” a pass into the hands of the defense. “Scaries” are not the only type of turnover: “plucks,” where the defender strips the ball handler of possession, are arguably more damaging to the offense’s momentum. A few “plucks” and “scaries” in a row means the player is “boxed,” shut down and rendered ineffective by the defense.

Momentum swings are even more pertinent on the “cake,” the league’s round center stage on which live matches are conducted in the studio. Trash-talking is the norm on the cake. Where there’s no shortage of jawing, there’s no shortage of innovation, as players fire up their teammates and the crowd with trash talk and even some smack of their own invention. “Realo,” a mental edge over another player, is a relatively recent but indubitably popular addition to the 2K dictionary.

“Realo is a short form of real estate,” Pistons GT star big man Ramo “Ramo” Radoncic, who coined the term, explained in a league promotional video. “What I mean by real estate is I own you, I own your head. Everything you do, I know what you’re doing.”

For newcomers to the 2K scene, the new jargon is a little surprising. The league does its best to find a balance in catering to 2K fans who already know the lingo and new fans of a more traditional basketball background who aren’t used to the 2K talk.

“Every esport you commentate has its own community and own way of communication,” Scott Cole, the NBA 2K League’s veteran play-by-play commentator, said. The former creative marketing executive-turned esports commentator has been the man on the mic for the league’s entire existence, coming over to the league after commentating on Madden tournaments for a number of years. “That’s why I watch and play a lot of 2K, to know what the latest terminology is. Sometimes I translate it for the causal audience and sometimes I bring the lingo into my own vocabulary so the audience grows in their knowledge of the NBA 2K League culture. Most of what I do works in my traditional basketball broadcasts as well, but there’s some terms that will always be strictly 2K.”

With NBA 2K League players practicing daily and dozens of amateur games being played every night, the 2K glossary has the potential to evolve at any moment. Constant communication within the 2K community on Twitter can transform a one-time utterance into the next piece of universal language.  With universality comes importance. Knowing key 2K terms isn’t merely the difference between celebrating a great pass properly or not. It can be the difference between throwing a dot and a scary, which, in a game of inches, can make all the difference in the world.

“I’d say it has a pretty paramount role in our day-to-day activities,” CB13 said. “Use of 2K-specific lingo makes everything easier to convey in a manner that everyone understands. These things are what turn good teams into great ones.”


(Photo courtesy of NBA 2K League)