Could NBA be the next big esport?

Back in February 2017, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced it was getting into esports in a big way with the new NBA 2K League, a professional league of esports gamers playing the NBA computer game NBA 2K. This would be a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software that will debut in 2018.

Yes, this was a big thing, a major sports organisation, one of those proper, mainstream, traditional sports organisation really getting behind esports. But the details were just that little bit sketchy. Who’d be involved? How would it all happen? Would the NBA superstars be involved? What about the money? Etc etc etc.

Well things are certainly shaping up. On the 4th May there was a big announcement from the NBA about the new NBA 2K League. Seventeen NBA teams have signed up for the league, guaranteeing three years involvement, which pretty much means about $750,000 per team.

The seventeen teams: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz, and the Washington Wizards.

NBA 2K esports league managing director Brendan Donohue:

“This is the first step in what promises to be an extraordinary league, bringing together the world’s best gamers and showcasing elite competition on an international stage”

“Our teams have expressed tremendous enthusiasm for esports, and we are looking forward to forming something truly unique for basketball and gaming fans around the globe.”

Still no word on structure, money, anything else really. No doubt this will come in time.

The NBA and esports –

The NBA and esports have long had a relationship. Sure, at first it was just that little bit on the DL and mentioned in quiet voices, but then the strangest thing happened. All these big name NBA stars started coming out on social media talking up a storm about esports and how much they loved them.


After that, the money started getting involved. Mark Cuba, owner of the Mavericks started it all off in 2015, the first NBA owner to invest in esports when he got going with esports sportsbook Unikrn. And after that, well the floodgates opened.

  • Kings owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov founded NRG Esports, whose ownership now includes the legend that is Shaquille O’Neal.
  • Grizzlies owner Stephen Kaplan invested heavily in Immortals.
  • Warriors co-owner Peter Gruber and Wizards co-owner Ted Leonis took a major stake in Team Liquid.
  • Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens started FlyQuest.
  • Celtics ownership Raptor Group invested in team Fnatic.
  • Former NBA player Rick Fox is part of Super Evil Megacorp, the company behind the esports game Vain Glory.
  • The Boston Celtics’ Jonas Jerebko owns the Australian esports team Renegades.


Yes, the NBA has become rather heavily involved in esports over the last couple of years. Way more than the NFL, NHL, FIFA and many other major sports organisations. But Why?

Easy answer, no one really knows. Sure, there’s a ton of money kicking around in NBA to play with, but not really more than the others just mentioned. Perhaps it’s just one of those things, the unknown, the X factor. Maybe NBA owners and players just know a good thing when they see it?

Or maybe, just maybe, it might be that the NBA has the foresight to see what a huge market esports is becoming? We all know the stats… esports is meant to make just shy of $700million in 2017, projected to $1.5billion by 2020. And that sort of money always attracts the big name corporations to the party.


This new NBA 2K esports league is a massive thing, no question about it. But is it going to work?

On the plus side, it’s going to have the not too shabby support of the NBA behind it. And over the years the NBA, and particularly those star players have really turned a load of their fans onto esports by talking the whole esports scene up, and there’s no doubt that makes fans of those players take note.

But the whole NBA 2K esports league is a completely different beast. Over the years NBA stars and owners have talked about, and invested in, the esports we know and love; CSGO, LOL, DOTA2 and the rest. The fans of these esports are passionate about these games and love that traditional sports are taking note. But the massive growth of esports has been a very natural, very organic one. The most popular games beloved by the players naturally became professional esports.

NBA 2K is not one of those. It’s not grown organically. It doesn’t have the huge fanbase behind it to support a pro league. Sure, the NBA fans who play will follow it, but does that mean the millions of devoted CSGO, LOL, DOTA2 fans around the globe will embrace it? Or will they perhaps see it as just another massive corporate sports attempt to bend esports to what the corporate sports giants think the games should be about?



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