The NBA is going big with eSports. The league is creating the first-ever NBA eSports league in partnership with Take-Two, makers of the popular NBA 2K series. ESPN reported the news late Wednesday.
Launching next year, the NBA 2K eLeague will eventually feature 30 NBA 2K teams, each owned by the 30 real-live NBA franchises.
The teams will feature five human gamers who will play a full five-month season on NBA 2K, along with playoffs and a championship. The gamers will earn salaries and train throughout the season. They won’t play with real NBA players in the game.
ESPN reported that the eLeague could be a “huge potential money-maker,” and noted that the NBA will roll out a number of revenue-generating mechanisms around the new league like live events and sponsorships.
While this is the league’s first official foray into eSports — the idea is certainly a first across U.S. pro leagues — several NBA owners have invested in professional gaming teams.
The NBA is generally known to be forward-thinking compared to other big leagues. This season, it is streaming one game per week in virtual reality; it is streaming pre-game shows on Twitter; it streamed a game on Facebook Live; it created a new “mobile view” streaming feature; and the league also recently inked a long-term deal with Sportradar and Second Spectrum for a new player-tracking system and expanded global distribution of statistics.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke at CES in Las Vegas last month, noting will become easier to watch games — or parts of games — on mobile devices in the future. Silver said the league may get to a point where it will let a fan pay to access a stream for a short amount of time.