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The Raptors can't wait for the NBA 2K eLeague

It may be early considering the 2018 debut, but the Toronto Raptors have already shown interest in being one of the first involved in the new NBA 2K eLeague.

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The new NBA 2K eLeague won’t officially debut until 2018 but some franchises are starting to announce either their selection by the league office or intention to participate in the eSports league.

According to Dave Hopkinson, Chief Commercial Officer at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Toronto Raptors “intend to participate” and be one of the first teams fielding a team in the league, which will have eight to 12 teams to start.

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“We are, like the rest of the marketplace, extraordinarily curious about the potential of eSports,” Hopkinson told SportTechie. “This one is a natural place for us to begin. We don’t have any other forays into eSports, although we have a working group internally evaluating it. We will be proceeding here on day one. That is certainly going to be the recommendation of management. We’re going to have to go through with the process but that’s our goal to be on the ground floor.”

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He added that “it is our goal to have a Raptors-branded eSports team,” which will sit underneath the D-League team Raptors 905 and the NBA team from an overall brand architecture standpoint.

As of now, the Raptors don’t plan to field any additional eSports teams under different titles like League of Legends or Dota 2, according to Hopkinson. Other NBA teams such as the Dallas Mavericks have been tapped by the league to participate in the 2K eLeague while organizations like the Sacramento Kings have recently said they’ll be one of the first teams to join.

Hopkinson explained that one of the key drivers for management’s growing interest in eSports was the Air Canada Centre — home of the Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs and NLL’s Toronto Rock — selling out last summer for the North American finals for League of Legends.

“It sold out in seconds, literally in seconds. We sold out faster than when we sell out a rock concert here,” Hopkinson said.

“I believe in this. … The reason why I’m so glad we had that championship here last August was it helped me turn other executives here into believers.”

Hopkinson added that it’s impossible to deny that “(eSports) is for real” after seeing a jam-packed Air Canada Centre for the two-day event and witnessing how passionate fans are for the sport and the star players they’ve come to idolize and follow online and via social media. Still, he said he doesn’t know “how long it will be for real.”

“I’ve been in this business 25 years, and it’s always been the next big thing coming. When I got into this business, it was NASCAR was going to take over the world. Then it was WWE was going to take over the world. Then it was UFC was going to take over the world. All of those businesses are still here, and all of those businesses are still healthy, but none took over the world. They didn’t destroy the NHL, NBA, MLB or the NFL,” he said.

For now, it’s “baby steps” for the Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as they become more educated about eSports and ease into the space.

“I don’t think there’s a better way to learn than to do, and that’s one of the excitements about the 2K opportunity,” Hopkinson said.