This weekend has brought the final tournament of the inaugural NBA 2K League season, the “Ticket,” whose victor earns an automatic berth in the playoffs. For the teams essentially out of playoff contention, this is a good deal. For the teams likely in the playoffs on the merit of their regular-season performance, this is also a good deal because one of them can lock up a spot, as well as $75,000.
Declaring the winner is a difficult proposition. The bracket is a tightly contested one, seeded by teams’ records from weeks 5-8. Blazer5 Gaming, ranked #1 again, and 76ers GC, #4, the only tournament winners in league history (Blazer5 has made the finals both times), are on the same side of the bracket. Raptors Uprising GC is seeded second. Any team can lose any game in this league. There was no point in offering predictions, not in the least because we’ve only seen one week of patch play (none without the newly banned stiff arm).
So instead I’d rather ruminate on the future of this tournament, which to the modern sports fan can, I think, be compared to absolutely nothing in Big 4 Sports. It is a combination of the old All-Star game and its home-field advantage, single-elimination college basketball conference tournaments, and having a super team which then adds Kevin Durant. It is most like something in soccer — perhaps an automatic Champions League bid due to a high finish in the national league. Even then, it’s not the same.
Where will the “Ticket” be in five years? Will it be here? That’s not even a certainty. First, it is of course predicated on whether or not the league exists — spoiler alert: the league will exist. The league has not put in the kind of effort and money to let the league lapse after three or four years. So the Ticket will be an option. Now, there will be more teams within five years, almost certainly the entirety of the NBA. What kind of playoff format will the league have? I’m inclined to believe that the eight-team playoff will persist, especially if there isn’t a second studio on the West Coast by year two.
Alternatively, should there be a studio out west and furthermore conferences (which make sense for travel costs), we could well see five teams plus one Ticket winner — so there will be one Ticket per conference — per conference making the playoffs in an NFL-style playoff system. This becomes further complicated should there be teams in China, for example, or Europe, whose prohibitive travel costs will mandate having another studio and another self-contained division. (Note: I would love an NBA 2K Euro League. It may even be easier than the US division.)
So in this hypothetical future we’ve reached a point where the Ticket has sacrificed its league-wide nature in order to retain its status as the lone tournament that hands out a playoff berth. It could maintain its league-wide nature, though, especially if conferences don’t come into play — but this is an NBA-run league, so in theory there will be multiple studios. In other words, conferences make sense. Thus the Ticket might become one of the other tournaments, whose reward is simply cash. The NBA 2K League is set on the “Tréfecta” banner chain, so I can’t see the Ticket falling out of favor. But there’s definitely something to be said for having a tournament with more implications than money.
The natural expansion of the league will change the Ticket. What it becomes will largely be defined by the course that the NBA 2K League charts, whether it strives to mirror the NBA format in video game form, or maintains its own integrity and individuality. In my opinion, the competition will benefit, and the enjoyment will persist, if the latter course — the video game-y, tournaments-and-regular season mishmash — prevails. The league, after all, isn’t designed to be real. This is a video game. There’s an element of fantasy in playing games; trying to escape the fantasy is impossible, and does more harm than good.