Space & Innovation

NBA to Launch Professional eSports League With Video Game Developer

The video game players will be salaried, with bonus team prizes for regular and postseason victories.

Armchair power forwards received some exciting news this week when the National Basketball Association announced a new professional eSports league for players of the popular video game series NBA 2K.

If all goes well, the NBA 2K eLeague will be the first organized video game league operated directly by a U.S. professional sports league.

For the uninitiated, the NBA 2K series is one of the most popular video game franchises in the history of the industry. In recent years, the graphics on these top-tier sports sims have developed to the point where you can mistake the game for an actual broadcast on first glance. Developed and published by video game powerhouse Take Two Interactive, the NBA 2K franchise has sold nearly 70 million games over the years.

The NBA 2K eLeague is slated to premiere in the 2018 season, with the virtual teams run by their actual real-world counterparts. The goal is to eventually have all 30 NBA teams putting digital players on the court. As such, individual NBA teams will be recruiting top-tier eSports video gamers to fill roster spots.

"We believe we have a unique opportunity to develop something truly special for our fans and the young and growing eSports community," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in the official announcement.

The plan is to have the digital league mirror the actual league as much as possible. Each season will begin with a player combine, a draft, then an abbreviated schedule of regular-season games and playoffs. Each NBA team will field its own five-player virtual squad for the season. There's no word yet as to whether teams will be able to trade players, or maintain a virtual "bench" for additional and reserve players.

To be clear, the NBA 2K eLeague will indeed be run as a professional sports league. The video game players will be salaried, with bonus team prizes for regular and postseason victories. Each player will create and develop their own user-created avatars - these won't be digital versions of the real-world pros. Take Two and the NBA are also working out plans for broadcasting the games, either online or through participating television networks.

While eSports is still a nascent phenomenon, relatively, it's widely expected that the industry is about to go supernova. According to eSports analyst firm Newzoo, total industry revenue in 2016 totaled $493 million, up 51.7 percent from the previous year. By 2019, projections suggest that eSports will be a $1 billion business.

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With the Take Two partnership, the NBA will become the first U.S. sports league to organize and fund a companion digital league. But individual teams have already been dabbling in the competitive gaming world. In recent months, teams including the Philadelphia 76ers, the Houston Rockets, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat have all made moves, purchasing existing eSports franchises or otherwise investing in the technology.

So limber up those thumbs, kids. There's a future in it.

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