The NBA Doesn’t Need An Esports League

Table of Contents

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is a global sports and media organization.  

The NBA partnered with Take Two Interactive’s NBA 2K game franchise in 2018. The partnership created a professional gaming (esports) league called the NBA 2K League.  

Considering the 2K League recently announced a massive overhaul for the 2025 season

The following proposes that the NBA doesn’t need a professional esports league to further its mission in gaming

The opportunity

A sport is the organized structure for competitive (game)play. Once organized, sports are often professionalized e.g., they can provide paying jobs for those involved. 

A digital sport (esport) is the organized structure for a competitive video game. Esports can also take shape as professionalized gaming. 

However, many popular game titles aren’t competitively oriented towards professionalization as an esports title e.g., Minecraft or Grand Theft Auto.  

In other words, commercial success isn’t always related to professionalization.

For example, the Microsoft-owned Blizzard recently celebrated Overwatch crossing the 100 million lifetime player milestone. Even though the game’s professional esports league, the Overwatch League, is defunct. 

That said, instead of continued investment in professionalizing NBA 2K as an esport, the NBA can pursue the following tactics. 

Embrace an Evo model

The Evolution Championship Series (Evo) is an annual esports event that focuses on fighting games. It is one of the largest and most prestigious fighting game tournaments in the world. 

Unlike some esports events, Evo is open to anyone who buys a ticket and shows up to play. This open format allows amateur players the chance to compete against top-level professionals (pro-am). Where Evo 2023 attracted over 9,000 players from 71 countries

The NBA could organize a similar event for NBA 2K. Especially since the game community is already home to a thriving pro-am scene. 

Plus, an Evo-style NBA 2K competition could easily blend into the NBA’s All-Star Weekend – an annual event featuring a variety of basketball-related events, exhibitions, and performances. 

Most importantly, this type of tentpole event comes with a built-in revenue model. Since all players must pay to participate. 

Build a content academy

Insights from Google and Ipsos show that the desire to get better at a video game is a key motivator for consuming gaming content. 

Towards that end, there is an opportunity to build a content academy that helps NBA 2K players improve their gameplay

The academy could tap into |existing content creators within the NBA 2K community. The same way that gaming organizations sign creators. 

Plus, this type of content resonates with audiences less likely to enjoy a reformatted 2K League “featuring NBA players and celebrities.”  

Lean into collegiate gaming

Academic research shows that playing sports video games connects college students to real-life sports. In the sense that players are more likely to become a fan of a real-life sport team, increase interest in playing a real-life sport, etc. 

That’s why, in spring 2024, CLTX Gaming – the professional esports team affiliated with the NBA’s Boston Celtics – partnered with Bentley University to hold the Boston area’s inaugural collegiate NBA 2K24 championship tournament.  

Where organizing this type of event inspires positive action towards the real-life sport of basketball and the NBA, by relation. In other words, it is an effective gaming marketing exercise. 

So, even though organizing collegiate NBA 2K tournaments seems out-of-market for a professional basketball league. The NBA would benefit greatly from scaling that exercise across North American college campuses. 

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