The NBA is partnering with gaming company Take-Two Interactive to establish the first ever eLeague attached to a professional sports league in America. Will the ambitious idea pay off?
The days of basketball being played exclusively on the blacktop, at the local gym, or in the driveway at home are over.
Nowadays, especially among young people, the sport is taken as seriously online as it is in real life, and the NBA is ready to capitalize.
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With the announcement that the NBA is partnering with Take-Two Interactive Software — the parent company for 2K games — to establish an NBA 2K eLeague, it marks the start of a unique, and perhaps revolutionary moment in how major sports leagues generate income and engage audiences.
The NBA says the league will be the first of its kind among the four major American sports, and that the inaugural season is billed for 2018.
“The popularity of NBA 2K with the young and growing eSports community provides a unique opportunity to develop something truly special for our fans and the gaming community,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement released on Thursday.
“We look forward to combining our best-in-class NBA team operators with Take-Two’s competitive gaming expertise to create a brand new league experience.”
The eventual goal for the NBA and Take-Two Interactive is to have 30 eLeague teams owned and operated by each NBA franchise. For example, if the Cavaliers elect to participate, the eLeague team that represents them will be known as the eCavaliers.
An initial draft will be conducted in which participating teams will select five 2K eSports players followed by a five-month season that runs alongside the regular NBA campaign.
The eSports players will play with custom-made avatars, not the gaming representation of current NBA players.
The new competition is being slated as a professional league, with players engaging in training sessions and staged events while also receiving an income.
The announcement marks the next step in the evolution of NBA 2K as a bona-fide eSport. The developers of the series have set up smaller, similar tournaments previously where the prize for winning topped out at $250,000.
The amount of money on offer, or the salary of the ePlayers themselves for the new competition, currently remains unclear.
The NBA 2K series is undoubtably the most popular basketball game in the world. It has routinely outsold its main rival, the EA Live series, by a large margin for years now.
Since launching in 1999, the NBA 2K series has sold approximately 68 million copies worldwide, with its most recent edition, 2K17, selling a record 7 million units so far.
In 2015, Take Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick went as far as saying the NBA 2K series is even more popular than the legendary Madden series from Electronic Arts, and while that may be up for debate, what isn’t in question is the fact that NBA 2K has become an institution in basketball culture.
That, along with an ever-progressive mindset, is why the NBA have established this bold new eLeague.
The fact that the NBA is the first major sports league in North America to go down this path isn’t surprising.
Adam Silver and the leagues office have always been forward, socially conscious, media savvy thinkers who have consistently been ahead of the curve. This cutting edge league is no exception.
Whether or not the new competition is successful either financially or in terms of viewership numbers remains to be seen. However, both the NBA and Take-Two Interactive should be commended for taking this chance.