eSports has become one of the fastest growing gaming trends. The NBA has not ignored this, and is using competitive gaming to gain new fans globally.
eSports has become increasingly popular and it is now clearly evident that competitive gaming is more than just a passing phase. A study conducted by Unibet recently illustrated just how big eSports is, highlighting the fact that in 2016 the League of Legends Final drew in more viewers than the NBA Final. 36 million people tuned in to watch the eSports event, compared to the 31 million that opted for the NBA match.
Since 2012 eSports viewership has been climbing steadily from 56 million frequent viewers to a whopping 191 million in 2017. Statista estimates that by 2020 viewers will exceed 303 million, and with prize pools collectively already at an impressive $93 million, the scope for growth is enormous.
The NBA Weighs In
Although initially competitive gaming focused on leagues playing games like Dota, Counter-Strike and World of Warcraft, eSports games modelled on actual sports are also becoming popular. Madden NFL and the FIFA Soccer franchises are amongst the most-played games on Xbox and PlayStation, and appeal to the sports fan-gamer cross over genre. The NBA has recognized this, and in order to stay relevant and appeal to a whole new sector of basketball fans they have teamed up with Take-Two Interactive Software to create their own eSports league.
The new NBA eSports league will centre on the NBA 2K game and will consist of teams operated by NBA franchises. 17 teams have already signed up to participate in the league’s 2018 inaugural season and each team will have 5 players that play in a real league format, complete with a full regular season, playoffs and championship match up.
The NBA has shown that it is ahead of the pack and is taking the rise of eSports seriously as they are the first U.S professional leagues to create their own eSports league. They look set to try and drive the trend of eSports towards actual sports and to shift the focus from MMO’s and fantasy games to games taking place in the real world; thus tying in real NBA stars and teams performances to a virtual word. The opportunity for growth both in the real and virtual world is enormous, and the NBA is capitalizing on this and looking to a garner a whole new set of fans who may otherwise have passed up on anything to do with the sports league in favour more typical competitive gaming options.
Players Get Invested in eSports
Its not just tech entrepreneurs, full time geeks and the gaming industry that are getting caught up in eSports, there are several high end executives involved, and a number of professional basketball players too. Three NBA players already have their own eSports teams, with Shaquille O’Neal, Rick Fox and Jonas Jerebko leading the way. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has also invested heavily, and the Philadelphia 76ers recently became the first North American pro team to purchase an eSports team. The 76ers purchase was followed by Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis setting up aXiomatic, an investment group, and Magic Johnson and Golden State Warriors co-owner, Peter Gruber purchasing Team Liquid.
For eSports proponents there is no higher validation than the backing of one of the world’s most successful sporting leagues. The support of the NBA has shown that eSports is on the fast track to mainstream visibility and that the involvement of NBA stars and figureheads is not set to wane anytime soon.
eSports Merging with Traditional Sports
In the past eSports were dominated by LoL, Dota and other games of this genre, and mainstream sports barely got a look in. Now however, thanks to the involvement of the NBA sports video games have the backing they need to compete with MMO’s at the same level. By becoming heavily involved in eSports the NBA is able to attract a younger audience, and the lines between real and virtual games are becoming increasingly blurred.
There is also big money involved in eSports and this gives those who are not real athletes a chance to capitalize on their gaming skills in a new way. When 2K sports held their augural eSports tournament to promote the reveal of their NBA2K series they offered a prize pool of $250,000 and a trip to the NBA Finals as part of the package. This type of reward makes getting involved even more appealing, and with the NBA giving eSports a very public stamp of approval it is safe to say that a whole new generation of followers, fans and virtual players are being born.
Other sporting factions are sure to see just how successfully the NBA has adapted to the rise of eSports, and we should soon see other leagues following in their footsteps and grabbing hold of the opportunities that this gaming phenomenon has to offer.