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The NBA 2K League and the rise of eSports

The NBA wants on the hype train.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The world of eSports is a unique thing, even in today’s technologically savvy times. It is still something that most people in general don’t think about, unless you are familiar with the world of online gaming. As someone who plays NBA2k on a regular basis, I understand it, but still find myself amazed as my eight year old son watches someone play Minecraft on YouTube. eSports is here to stay and its and even bigger than most people might imagine.

eSports has been around for awhile, people playing together in LAN parties at their homes, or just playing with someone else on your internet connection hundreds of miles away. Recently, it has exploded - for the 2018 Call of Duty World League Championships, the winning team will pocket $1.5 million. At the International Dota 2 competition in 2017, it broke the record for the largest prize pool in eSports history at $24 million. The people that are playing these games have become millionaires, but even more so than the people playing these games, the fans watching them have increases every year. In 2016, there was 162 million frequent viewers of online gaming worldwide and that number is expected to increase to over 250 million by 2020.

2k Sports has jumped on the eSports train, creating their own league backed by a professional sporting league, the NBA. This is huge. The inaugural season is this year with qualifying already happening all over the world. After the players qualify, they will get drafted by one of the seventeen teams in the league, and then move the Memphis to be a part of the team. The NBA and 2k18 have gone out of their way to make this as professional as possible, from training facilities, drafts, and even traveling every week to a studio to play their games against other teams.

“1.6 million people play 2k for a median 70 minutes per day. This is a game that clearly is super popular and a lot of people are playing it all the time. Last year a game from the Stanley Cup final and a game from the World Series, those combined did not have more viewers than the League of Legends final. People are watching this sport in huge numbers and tuning in from all sorts of different platforms.” Lang Whitaker, Grizz Gaming GM told me by phone.

The NBA 2K League is trying its best to do everything it can to make this is a successful eSports league. The biggest asset that the league has going for it is the fact that both the developer and the NBA are both working together to put the league together, a first for any professional franchise. When I asked Whitaker about the involvement of the league he told me; “It’s huge. Around the world it’s a big thing and for the 2k league it’s great to have the NBA and the game developer involved in this. For the first time, having the professional sports league backing this and making this league go.”

The league is putting together practice facilities, creating practice squads in local markets, among other things. They are trying to make this as much like the NBA as they possibly can. After the draft, all the players that Grizz Gaming drafts will be moved to the city of Memphis, put in housing, and paid a considerable salary to compete every week in NBA 2K. The players on the team will be accessible and out in the community just like the players on the Grizzlies roster. Whitaker on the players being in Memphis all the time -

The thought of having our people move here and making them Memphians, finding out what makes Memphis go, the history of this city, and the personality of this city, I think there is going to be a lot of opportunities around that.

Creating an atmosphere and a culture that where eLeague players are treated how they should be, people who are very talented a sport, will only create more opportunities for younger players down the road.

The best thing that the NBA has done for it’s own 2K league is treat it with the respect it deserves, not putting together something that is half hearted or feels like they should be doing more for it. They have taken this idea of eSports and turned it into something even better for NBA fans and casual eSports fans. For the NBA, they get fans who already tied to most franchises to hopefully become fans of their 2K teams and for eSports, it gives players another way to be successful and have a career doing something that they love.

If the NBA 2K League is successful it could create something entirely different not only for the professional leagues but the way we consume and watch sports. “I think the bigger picture to take away from this, is just because you don’t know about a sport or about this league, or about eSports, just cause you don’t know about something, doesn’t mean it’s not a “thing” or it’s not important to a lot of people.” Whitaker said. If the NBA can find a way to make it profitable and success for the teams and players, will other professional leagues follow behind the NBA?

Will we see a Madden eLeague, or a FIFA eLeague? Only time will tell but for now eSports are here to stay, it’s time for everyone to accept and understand it as a mainstream sport.

Check back later this week for more of Mark’s interview with Grizz Gaming GM Lang Whitaker

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