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NBA looks to stay ‘connected and engaged’ with fans via players-only esports tournament 

  • Sixteen current NBA players to take part in inaugural “NBA 2K Players Tournament”
  • Competitors include Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, and Devon Booker
  • ESPN has secured rights to televise event, which will also be on multiple streaming platforms

The National Basketball Association has become the latest major sports organization to turn to esports as a means to help fill the void amid the sports shutdown caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The NBA 2K Players Tournament, which begins on April 3, is a collaboration between the NBA, NBA Players Association, and 2K computer game publisher Take-Two Interactive Software.

Sixteen current NBA players will participate in a head-to-head tournament in the NBA 2K20 game, competing on Xbox One consoles. The competitors are: Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Hassan Whiteside, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Andre Drummond, Zach LaVine, Montrezl Harrell, Domantas Sabonis, Deandre Ayton, DeMarcus Cousins, Michael Porter Jr., Rui Hachimura, Patrick Beverley, Harrison Barnes, and Derrick Jones Jr.

Prior to the tournament, every player will choose eight NBA teams to play with, each of which can only be used once. Rounds one and two will be single elimination, with the semifinals and finals running best-of-three.

The competition, which will run until April 11, will be televised by ESPN and ESPN2, with streaming on the ESPN App, NBA.com, the NBA App, and 2K and NBA social channels including Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook.

The winner will receive $100,000 to donate to a charity supporting ongoing coronavirus-relief efforts.

The NBA is currently on an indefinite suspension due to the ongoing health crisis. It is unclear when the NBA will resume action but commissioner Adam Silver recently said he was “optimistic” that the 2019-20 season could be salvaged, though it is unclear in what format.

The NBA is following in the footsteps of numerous sports organizations who have leveraged their esports properties as a means to stay active and relevant in the indefinite absence of live athletic action in arenas and on broadcast channels. They include Nascar, LaLiga, Formula 1Monumental Sports & Entertainment, IndyCar and Major League Rugby.

SportBusiness spoke to Matt Holt, NBA’s senior vice-president of global partnerships, about the process of putting the competition together and what it is looking to achieve.

Why exactly have you created this esports tournament? 

We are always looking for unique and innovative ways to engage with fans around the world. While the NBA season is on hiatus, we felt it was a perfect opportunity to deliver this player-only tournament in partnership with 2K and the NBPA, while also introducing a charitable component and giving back in this time of need and uncertainty.

What was the process of putting it together – who was involved?

It’s truly been a partnership with NBA 2K and the NBPA in terms of securing players, coordinating content and producing the shows. And, through our relationship with ESPN, they will broadcast the matchups across ESPN, ESPN2 and the ESPN App.

Could you have more than 16 participants if you wanted? What was the process of choosing the final players?

We worked with the NBPA and 2K to select and secure players. During this difficult time, many across the league – teams, players and fans – have turned to video games like NBA 2K as an outlet and a way to stay connected to the NBA world while we’re on hiatus. As we move forward, we’ll continue to find additional ways to activate around the NBA 2K game and the players.

Will there be cameras broadcasting the players in action in their homes?

Gaming technology was delivered to all participating players so that they could capture the action from their own homes.

Is this tournament a chance for NBA commercial partners to activate? If so, which ones?

The tournament will be partner-free content.

How important do you think it is for major sports organizations to have esports properties in the current sports shutdown – and then leverage them to their full extent?

As I mentioned earlier, our goal is to stay connected and engaged with NBA fans during this time, and this was a great opportunity to bring basketball back into their homes.

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