NBA enters esports arena with new league

The NBA North American basketball league has entered into the esports sector by launching a new competition, the NBA 2K eLeague.

It marks the first competition of its kind to be operated by one of the four major professional sports leagues in the US. The NBA has teamed up with Take-Two Interactive Software, which makes the NBA 2K video game series, on the venture.

Gamers are set to represent NBA franchises and the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, hopes that the move will help to expand the profile of the competition and the sport in general.

“The large part of my mission is to grow the game of basketball," Silver told the Associated Press news agency. "There's going to be an opportunity for this first of a kind league to attract a group of gamers who might be playing some other game. Now, they can say: 'Maybe I couldn't play for the Knicks, because I didn't have the physical prowess to compete at that level. But I do have the mental and physical prowess to compete as an egamer for the eKnicks.'"

The league is set to debut in 2018 and will comprise between eight and 12 teams, each featuring five gamers. Silver did not specify which teams would be represented in the inaugural NBA 2K eLeague, but each of the 30 franchises will eventually have their own team.

Gamers will compete in an 82-game regular season before battling it out in an end-of-season playoff. Take-Two chief executive Strauss Zelnick said that the winner would receive a cash prize similar to those awarded at previous NBA 2K tournaments, which awarded a $250,000 (€234,000) grand prize.

NBA teams and Take-Two will chose the gamers through a recruiting process and a draft, which Silver said would be televised or streamed online.

The launch of the new league comes with NBA teams having started to invest in the esports sector in recent months. In January the Miami Heat acquired a stake in professional esports organisation Misfits, as part of a strategic partnership between the two parties. The Heat will assist in all duties, including marketing, branding, promotion, retail, digital and sponsorship activation on behalf of the esports franchise.

The Heat became the second NBA franchise to fully integrate into an esports team, after the Philadelphia 76ers ownership group in September acquired a majority stake in Team Dignitas and Apex Gaming. The two outlets have since merged and now operate under the Dignitas banner.