Albano Thomallari can’t help but worry a little bit. Back in his hometown of St. Louis, his mom, Rajmonda, is a nurse, a job that carries with it greater risk these days. But he can’t be there to support her.

“Me and her have such a strong bond that ... being away from each other hurts big time," he said, "especially at a time like this when you’re unsure if she’s safe or not. That kind of scares me.”

Thomallari, better known by his gamer tag oFab, is one of the stars of Celtics Crossover Gaming, or CLTX Gaming for short. CLTX Gaming is the Boston Celtics' affiliate in the NBA 2K League — the NBA’s e-sports wing — with the best NBA 2K players in the world. While he’s halfway across the country on the east coast, Thomallari's mom will be able to see her son play on ESPN 2, which is carrying 2K League games for the first time.

“Now my mom and her friends can gather around the TV sometimes during breaks and just watch me on ESPN, watch the league," he said. "And that’s pretty cool. I’m smiling right now even talking about it.”

Now in its third season, the 2K League has become more and more of a fixture of the NBA’s landscape. Twenty-two of the NBA’s franchises have representative squads in the e-sports league. This season, the Gen.G Tigers of Shanghai joined the league as the first team outside of North America.

With the coronavirus pandemic still forcing most traditional sports in America to a halt, the league has taken on additional importance as the only branch of the NBA that’s currently active, though the start of the regular season was delayed for six weeks. CLTX Gaming started play this week after two bye weeks, and they will play Knicks Gaming Friday at 9 p.m. on ESPN 2. It will be the team's first game on national TV.

Earlier this month, ESPN announced it would broadcast games live on ESPN2, and the ESPN app, marking the first time the league games have aired live on TV in the country. "The TV broadcasts will go on to at least May 26, but games will air on ESPN's digital platform the entire season."

Brendan Donohue, managing director of the 2K League, said it’s exciting for new people to be able to watch league play.

“We want to get as many people to watch our league as possible, and certainly there are few better places to consume sports than ESPN," he said.

Donohue said the league has added more content to help explain NBA 2K to viewers who have not watched e-sports before. For him, it's important to make sure the 2K League is doing everything possible to capture a potentially new audience.

"I do feel a responsibility for just making sure if we have an opportunity like ESPN2, we're putting on a great broadcast," he said. "And when we have these opportunities to connect with some new fans, that we're doing it the right way."

Celtics Crossover Gaming Coach Ricco Phinisee (right) and players Albano Thomallari (center) and Ahmed Khasana (left)., pose for a photo in Somerville, Massachusetts on May 20, 2020.
Meredith Nierman WGBH News

Ricco Phinisee, the coach of CLTX Gaming, likes to be around his players and takes a hands-on approach to his job.

That’s all off for now, though. Players are in their own apartments, and Phinisee is coaching remotely.

Despite these challenges, he’s excited for the platform that large networks are providing for the league. He said ESPN allows people who are not familiar with Twitch or YouTube — both of which stream the games — to also access the 2K League.

That includes Phinisee’s dad.

“He was just flipping the channel and saw NBA 2K League games and just called me right away and was just kind of excited to see what I do. And he told his friends as well," he said. "So getting those older age groups, getting their eyes on it, getting people who are really heavily invested in traditional sports, getting them involved too ... it’s pretty awesome to see.”

Normally, the league plays most of its matches in a special studio in New York, but right now, members of CLTX Gaming are in a strange situation. They all live in the same apartment complex in Somerville, where they're practicing and playing from their apartments.

Ahmed Kasana, also known as Mel East, one of the team’s veterans, hails from Staten Island. Now that games are being played remotely, he isn’t getting to see his family in New York, as he usually would.

“This might be the toughest thing that I’ve ever gone through," he said. "My first season in the league, at least I would see my family every three weeks, every month. Then year two, you know, then we traveled more to New York, so I was able to see my family every two weeks minimum, maybe every week sometimes. Now it's been like three months."

It's hard to be away from loved ones when a virus has turned a short trip into an odyssey. But Kasana sees playing almost as a responsibility.And he was featured prominently on ESPN’s intro video on the first night of league play, which certainly helped to lift his spirits.

“Everyone was just, like, shocked. Like, ‘Wow, Ahmed’s really on ESPN. A kid from Staten Island, New York. A place with half a million people," he said. "Not many people from there get to be on ESPN. And I’m one of them. And I’m grateful and I’m obviously humbled by that. Hopefully [there's] more to come.”