Today ESPN reported that the NBA, yes that NBA, and 2K Games (the publishers of the NBA 2K games and something called Grand Theft Auto) announced a partnership to form an e-sports league based on their basketball games:
The NBA 2K eLeague, tentatively set to begin play in 2018, eventually will feature 30 NBA 2K teams, each owned by one of the real-life NBA franchises, according to NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of Take-Two. The teams, comprised of five human players, will play out a five-month season that mirrors the real NBA season. It will proceed through a regular season of head-to-head games and then to playoffs and a championship matchup.
Silver declined to detail the NBA’s initial level of investment in the league, but it’s clear both companies view it as a huge potential moneymaker….
Specifics on schedule, structure and even a salary cap still are hazy. All 30 NBA franchises are interested in participating, but some might not be ready when the eLeague tips, Silver said. The NBA hopes at least half its franchises will have teams in the eLeague by 2018, Silver said.
The NBA will hold an initial draft of esports players, and each NBA franchise will pick five to play as its eLeague team. They will draw salaries, train and essentially treat the NBA 2K eLeague as full-time jobs during the season.
Real NBA players will not be represented as avatars in the NBA 2K games, Silver and Zelnick said. Competitors will design on-screen avatars based on their own stylistic preferences.
The league will stage events, sell tickets for fans, create merchandise, sign sponsors and negotiate licensing rights so that fans can watch games remotely, Silver and Zelnick said.
This is certainly an interesting development in the realm of e-sports. There have been several attempts, mostly by E.A., to turn sports games into an e-sport, but this feels like the most serious one yet. It almost could be seen as a step towards killing the stereotype surround e-sports and legitimizing it to a degree. You show an average man on the street Dota 2 or League of Legends his head will explode and he will rubbish it. But if you show him NBA 2K17 he goes “oh, basketball! I can understand what is going on here.” Now that person probably won’t go and get invested in the ‘NBA 2K eLeague’ but I am sure a relatively small group, the gamers who mostly play sports games and nothing else, will. I adore the idea of e-sports and every step closer it gets to being played on a mainstream television channel is a step in the right direction for gaming and sports in general, in my eyes.