By Josh Cohen
Oct. 11, 2017
ORLANDO – Think you have what it takes to be a professional basketball video game player? Are you sharp with the controller and astute with the sport?
Now could be the time for your masked talent to be showcased to the world. The NBA 2K League – the first esports league operated by one of the four major pro sports leagues in the U.S. – is coming to Orlando and 16 other NBA markets in 2018.
Tryouts (almost like a pre-draft combine) will take place in February, the draft will occur in March and the inaugural season will tip off in May. Each team will select five players. They will live in the city where the team is based and they, collectively, will compete at one or two central locations in head-to-head games and tournaments throughout the season in five-on-five matchups.
What you won’t see in this competition are the electronic versions of LeBron James, Steph Curry or any current or former NBA player. That’s because each individual player will have their own avatar. Artificial intelligence will be excluded and playing ability will strictly be determined by skill.
Brendan Donohue, the managing director responsible for overseeing the NBA 2K League, is excited about what’s ahead for the participating NBA franchises and the millions of esports gamers and fans across the globe.
“We know that of our NBA teams, two-thirds of their social media followers are outside the U.S. so this gives all of our 17 teams a chance to engage with these fans in a new way,” he said. “We have 1.6 million players playing every single day. We know we have millions of NBA fans and we know they are more likely to play video games than other fans and more likely to engage in esports than other fans.”
The original NBA 2K was developed and released in 1999. Now 18 years later, the popularity of this simulated basketball game has rocketed to incredible heights. Games in the NBA 2K series have been nominated for several awards through the years and it is currently the highest-rated and highest-selling sports title among U.S. sports leagues. The 2017 version sold nine million copies.
“Over the last 10 years, 2K sales have gone up by roughly eight million which is astounding,” Donohue said. “It’s been gradual. Having now spent a lot of time with the 2K development folks, they are incredibly innovative. As far as the really joining part of our DNA for 2K and us is that we make innovation a big priority.”
While the NBA is ecstatic to have 17 teams involved for the first season, the belief is that more and more teams will hop aboard in the future. It’s even possible, as Donohue pointed out, the league could expand to non-NBA clubs from throughout the world.
“This is a global entity,” he said. “We have a very strong appetite from fans outside of the U.S. that are interested in 2K so we see more opportunities down the road to expand.”
The audience for esports is expected to reach 385 million by the end of this year with half being devoted enthusiasts. This newly formed league has encouraged many of them to intensify their training with hopes of getting drafted and fulfilling a dream.
The pool is large so the competition will be fierce. But as Donohue and other league executives advise, keep practicing.
“We are going to find the best 85 players on the planet at this game,” Donohue said. “All that matters are their skills. The only determinate of whether you make the league or not will be your own stick skills.”