Springfield, Massachusetts, the winter of 1891. A group of bored young men sat in a gymnasium waiting for instruction during their required recreation time at Springfield College.
Their instructor was James Naismith, a 31-year-old graduate student. Earlier that year, Naismith had attended a class lead by Luther Halsey Gulick, the superintendent of a relatively new academic discipline: physical education. Gulick stressed that a new indoor game was needed for the upcoming, cold months, one “that would be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play in the winter and by artificial light.”
It was this charge that Naismith thought of while trying to motivate his apathetic class. Borrowing from several popular sports at the time – including soccer (the shape and size of the ball), English rugby (the jump ball), and American rugby (passing) – Naismith created a series of rules and asked a school janitor if he could find two, 18-inch square boxes to use as goals. Instead, the janitor came back with two peach baskets, which Naismith nailed to the lower rail of the gymnasium balcony.
And the sport of basketball was born. (Interestingly, the game initially needed someone stationed at each end of the balcony to pick the ball from the basket. It took a few years until someone thought to just cut out the bottoms of the peach baskets.)
From those rather humble beginnings, basketball has ascended to become America’s second (or third, depending on which polling data you look at) most popular sport behind football (and maybe baseball).
Regardless, basketball is popular, and that popularity is climbing in America and abroad. In China, each NBA 2017 Finals game averaged 20.4 million viewers and an additional 430,000 live-streamers (the sport was introduced to China by foreign missionaries shortly after it was invented).
Yet, basketball continues to innovate. For its most recent improvement, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is forming an offshoot league – this one virtual: the NBA 2K League.
“The mainstream has finally come to the realization of how big eSports is going to be,” said Neeshu Hajra, Vice President of Business Development for The Trade Group. “The Trade Group has been part of this industry for many years, so to see all of our experience and the time we invested in the industry getting mainstream recognition is very gratifying. We’ve always known this has been coming, because our roots in eSports extend over many years. It’s just taken awhile for the rest of the world to catch on.”
The NBA 2K League launched at the start of 2018 and is actively recruiting players to fill its roster. A February combine is expected to narrow a pool of thousands to fill just 102 slots. That’s six slots for each of the 17 teams. Yes, actual NBA teams are sponsoring their eSports counterparts.
The 17 NBA 2K League teams are:
- CLTX Gaming (Boston Celtics)
- Cavs Legion (Cleveland Cavaliers)
- Mavs Gaming (Dallas Mavericks)
- PistonsGT (Detroit Pistons)
- Warriors Gaming Squad (Golden State Warriors)
- Pacers Gaming (Indiana Pacers)
- Grizz Gaming (Memphis Grizzlies)
- HeatCheck Gaming (Miami Heat)
- Bucks Gaming (Milwaukee Bucks)
- Knicks Gaming (New York Knickerbockers, commonly referred to as the Knicks)
- Magic Gaming (Orlando Magic)
- 76ers GC (Philadelphia 76ers)
- Blazer5 Gaming (Portland Trail Blazers)
- Kings Guard (Sacramento Kings)
- Raptors Uprising (Toronto Raptors)
- Jazz Gaming (Utah Jazz)
- Wizards District Gaming (Washington Wizards)
Photo Credit: Sporttechie.com
“I do think it’s only a matter of time before all 30 teams are part of the NBA 2K League,” said Cayle Drabinsky, the Director of Business Operations at Milwaukee Bucks. “I believe that after the first season, a lot of the teams currently not in the league will be looking to jump in for the second season.
“If the NBA 2K League is a success like we all believe it will be, I think international expansion is a logical next step after all 30 NBA teams are involved in the NBA 2K League. First off, the NBA is really an international game. Two-thirds of the NBA’s followers on social media are from outside the US. The NBA 2K game has been well received outside the U.S., as well. NBA 2K offers a free version of the game in China and has over 34 million downloaded users.
“Because of this global demand, the NBA is looking at this league as a global entity from the outset. The NBA 2K League will feature NBA 2K players from around the world, and the NBA couldn’t be more excited about this global representation.
“There is a real possibility that all five players on the Bucks Gaming roster will be from five different countries.”
Once the February tryouts are complete, there will be a draft in March. Then the teams will get in some practice time before the inaugural season tips off in May. The season will mirror a traditional NBA schedule, including an all-star game, playoffs, and finals, but the NBA 2K League will feature additional in-season tournaments to boost excitement throughout regular season play.
The NBA is not the only American sports league that is jumping on the eSports bandwagon. Last year the NFL announced a partnership with Electronic Arts (EA) to create the Madden NFL Club Championship and, during the 2018 NHL All-Star weekend, the NHL announced plans to unveil an eSports league centered around its EA Sports game at the end of the regular season.
“1.6 million people play 2K for a median 70 minutes per day,” said Lang Whitaker, General Manager of Grizz Gaming. “This is a game that clearly is super popular, and a lot of people are playing it all the time. Last year, a game from the Stanley Cup final and a game from the World Series, those combined did not have more viewers than the League of Legends final. People are watching this sport in huge numbers and tuning in from all sorts of different platforms.”
eSports are definitely having a moment.
In 2013, the worldwide value of the eSports market was less than $100 million. Today, it is considered to be $733 million. A report titled ‘eSports Revenue Forecast: 2017–22’ estimates that the global eSports market will reach a total value of $1.9 billion by 2022.
The ratings company Nielsen recently released its eSports Playbook, which measured the habits and demographics of eSports fans from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The report found that the viewing audiences for eSports are the strongest in the United States, and U.S. fans possess the strongest favorable perception toward sponsors and brand involvement in esports.
Thirty-four colleges now have varsity eSports programs, and there are predictions that as many as 50 to 60 schools will sponsor an eSports team by the next academic year.
“I think the internet has changed every industry on the planet, and eSports is the next evolution in competition,” said Mark Deppe, the Acting Director for University of California, Irvine’s eSports program. “You play against who you want regardless of age, gender, where they live, and you play against people at your ability level. I think that’s really powerful. You don’t have referees messing up your game for you. All the rules are built into the game, so I think our expectations are changing with the Internet, and I think eSports are going to meet those expectations.”
As evidenced by the interest from these multi-billion-dollar sports leagues – and additional eSports leagues like the newly launched Overwatch League – interest in eSports is only going to increase in the future.
Want to host an eSports tournament or find a creative way to integrate your brand into an eSports event? Give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005, and put our years of eSports experience to work for you.