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The National Basketball Association is set to become the first U.S. professional sports league to operate an official eSports league after the formation of the NBA 2K eLeague was announced Wednesday by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.
“This partnership provides an excellent opportunity to further engage the eSports community, leveraging the NBA’s team ecosystem and the worldwide success of the NBA 2K simulation basketball platform,” read a statement on the NBA 2K Facebook page. “We are creating the world’s next true ‘elite’ sport – virtual basketball.”
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The NBA 2K eLeague is set to debut in 2018 and consist of five-player teams run by actual NBA franchises that compete in a regular season, playoff system and championship. NBA commissioner Adam Silver in an interview with USA Today offered his vision for the NBA 2K eLeague that includes a draft.
“There’s a global pool of gamers,” Silver told the paper. “They come in all ages, and sizes and ethnicities and sexes, and then we will at some point have a draft that will look somewhat similar to an NBA draft, in which the teams will select their players, and presumably on top of that they’ll have the ability to spot some great talent on their own, players who aren’t identified through sort of a league system. And that’s how we’ll form our teams.
“Fans and players of these games, who aren’t as expert as these professionals, want to come into an arena and watch the very best play. So you can imagine a scenario where, (say) the new arena in Milwaukee, where there’s five-on-five competition, just like NBA basketball, (and) it’s being projected on a huge, large high-definition screen, and fans are watching all the moves. There’s quarters, there’s halftimes, and everything that goes with it.”
The successful NBA 2K series of games has led to its entry into eSports, and it was only natural that the NBA itself would dive into the merging industry. The Philadelphia 76ers have already purchased eSports teams. Owners with the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings have also invested in eSports. Current and former NBA players have also bought eSports teams.
Last month, 2K launched its second official eSports competition, NBA 2K17 All-Star Tournament, which offers teams of gamers the chance to win a trip to NBA All-Star festivities in New Orleans where the 5-on-5 tournament featuring a $250,000 grand prize will culminate on Feb. 17.
“With this new venture, Take-Two and the NBA aim to fuel the accelerating growth of eSports and take the thrill of competition to exciting new heights,” Strauss Zelnick, Chairman and CEO of Take-Two, said in a statement.