The NBA wants you. Yes, in the manner of Lord Kitchener or Uncle Sam, it is you, sitting on your couch in front of your TV, whom the National Basketball Association desires. You may not have thought such an NBA career possible, but you were wrong. All of a sudden you need not be one of the best athletes in the world; all the talent you need is in your thumbs.
The inaugural season of the NBA 2K League, an esports league featuring the video game — can you guess it? — NBA 2K18, tips off in May. Teams are preparing impressive, modern facilities in their arenas, with the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center the current benchmark. The chosen players will be members of their parent NBA organizations and will be paid a “guaranteed, competitive salary, and they will have benefits as well as housing” (nba2kleague.com).
Well, count me in.
Sadly, however, my stick skills are nowhere near the level the NBA 2K League no doubt seeks, but every roster slot is open to any person over 18. But although this is not a “Spike Lee Joint,” you yourself can truly be the story, with no mandatory, freakish (Frequish?) nickname. You need not be a college star nor an international phenom, or even abuse the hashtag “2kdraftme” to be noticed. The process is simple and trustworthy: draft Joel Emb — whoops, I mean win 50 Pro-Am games in the first round of tryouts and submit an online application by January 31; the second round of tryouts, in-person, will take place in February at team locations; the draft will follow in March, where 85 players will be drafted to 17 teams (the league expects full NBA team participation soon). The NBA and 2K have founded a league of their own; Mr. Naismith would be proud.
A Unique League Set for Takeoff
Would it be correct to claim the NBA 2K League is unprecedented? Its inception does not herald a new phenomenon. Esports have in recent years gained increasing popularity, and esports tournaments draw impressive viewing figures, with top events such as the Intel Extreme Masters numbering tens of millions of viewers. Esports are so potent and so promising due to their accessibility and the incredibly wide-ranging market to which they appeal.
Video games reach consumers all over the globe, and esports capitalize on that worldwide popularity with tournaments and leagues featuring heavily played games. Dota 2’s 2017 tournament, The International, had a record-breaking prize pool of over $24 million. League of Legends has over 100 million monthly players and 13 professional leagues, and its final drew 57 million viewers (80 million for the SKT-RNG semifinal). Nor is the NBA 2K League even the first step into the esports waters for a number of NBA franchises: several, including the Cavs, Warriors, and Rockets, own part or all of a team in the North American iteration of the League of Legends Championship Series.
Yet the NBA 2K League’s nature and symbiosis is unique and pioneering. EA Sports’ FIFA and Madden have a number of annual tournaments (Madden’s newest, the Madden NFL Club Championship, is a MUT-based mode with the nominal participation of all NFL teams).
Those, though popular and rewarding, are not consistent leagues, and have not permeated the sports consciousness in the way the NBA intends with the NBA 2K League. The league’s popularity will initially stem from players of NBA 2K or other lively basketball video games, but it is counting on its unique partnership with the NBA to attract viewership and interest from all basketball fans.
Tools For Success
The league is being given the tools to succeed on its own. Team names and logos are connected with those of their parent teams, but are definitively different. Players will not be shoehorned into playing as one of their parent NBA team’s starters (i.e. the point guard for Warriors Gaming Squad won’t automatically be Steph Curry) but will rather compete using their own gaming handles and archetypes. Those players will have opportunities to publicize and promote themselves and their teams. The league is not just founded on the popularity of the NBA but on the popularity of video gaming.
That is a key framework for what the NBA hopes to gain from this in-depth association with 2K. Their goal is the worldwide audience that video games reach and the accessibility that gaming provides for newcomers to a sport. No longer will the NBA’s star power outside of the United States mainly revolve around one or two players from a certain country (think Zaza Pachulia in Georgia).
No longer will a large number of fans have difficulty, or lose out on the excitement of watching games “live”; such an attraction loses its importance with gaming. An esports league offers an opportunity to develop more inroads globally with more people. The partnership between the NBA and 2K is not a one-way street, and that, at the very least in the North American consciousness — and thus the large and potent North American consumer base — is what is unprecedented about the NBA 2K League.
Are You Going To Be A Part of the Action?
So go, stop reading this article. Switch on your TV and play a little 2K Pro-Am or watch a little basketball. It is not just the 85 players selected in March for whom the NBA 2K League is looking. It is all the 2K gamers and all the NBA fans out there, upon whom this unique and immediately pedigreed league will hinge, that the NBA and 2K want.