On April 4, the NBA 2K League will hold its first-ever draft. There are 17 NBA franchises participating in the inaugural season of the esports league and 102 players will be selected on Wednesday.
With draft day here and the league’s first tournament taking place this Friday, HoopsHype talked to several of the league’s players and executives to compile everything you need to know about the NBA’s new esports endeavor.
What is the NBA 2K League?
The NBA 2K League is a professional esports league that was co-founded by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software (the creators of NBA 2K). The league is about to start its inaugural season, with 17 of the NBA’s 30 franchises participating. The season begins in May and concludes in August. In addition to weekly games, the league will have three in-season tournaments and a postseason (with $1 million in prize money up for grabs at these events). The hope is that this league will resonate with NBA fans and esports fans alike. Then, if all goes as planned, eventually all 30 NBA organizations will be represented.
The 17 NBA franchises competing in the inaugural 2K League season are the Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards. Each gaming squad has a unique name and logo to avoid confusion with the actual NBA franchise:
How did the league’s organizers choose which 2K players would participate?
The league took applications from anyone who was over the age of 18 years old by February 1, 2018 and done with high school. Prospective players had to win 50 games in NBA 2K18’s Pro-Am mode and complete an online application by January 31.
From there, the league held a combine and there were over 72,000 players who qualified. During the combine, players had to pick one position and play at least 40 games so that they could be evaluated. League organizers narrowed down the talent pool by evaluating game film, traditional stats (points, rebounds, assists, etc) and advanced statistics (shot release time, pass-to-assist ratio, block efficiency, etc.).
Following the combine, the league identified the top 250 players and held live, one-on-one interviews with each prospect. After the interviews, all player information was evaluated by a selection committee, which determined the 102 players who make up the draft pool.
While some women did make it to the final 250 cuts, all 102 players this year will be men. The NBA is launching an initiative to talk with some of the women who were involved in order to discuss if there were any barriers for female players that the league failed to notice. They will also encourage more women to apply next season and emphasize that this league isn’t only for men despite its association with the NBA. League organizers pointed out that because they were only going off of gamer tags, they had no way to identify a player’s actual gender until the final 250 players were interviewed face-to-face.
On Tuesday afternoon, the NBA announced the 102 players who will fill out the 17 rosters this season.
How will the games be played?
Each 2K team is made up of six players (five starters and a sixth man), with each person controlling only one player. Simply put, it’s five-on-five 2K. Competitors won’t be playing as NBA players. They also won’t be playing as pre-existing created players, as this would allow certain individuals to have a higher rating than others depending on how much time (or Virtual Currency) they spent to improve their character.
Instead, the competitors will be playing in Pro-Am mode, where they choose their position and a certain style of play for their character, but each archetype has preset skills and attributes in order to ensure that there’s a level playing field. In other words, there won’t be any ridiculous 7-foot-8 created players who have an unfair advantage in this league. Players simply choose their position and then select from one of the archetypes below.
POINT GUARD: Shot-Creating Slasher, Shot-Creating Sharpshooter, Slashing Playmaker, Sharpshooting Playmaker or Playmaking Shot Creator
SHOOTING GUARD: Playmaking Slasher, Sharpshooting Defender, Slashing Shot Creator, Sharpshooting Shot Creator or Pure Sharpshooter
SMALL FORWARD: Shot-Creating Slasher, Sharpshooting Shot Creator, Pure Sharpshooter, Slashing Defender or Sharpshooting Slasher
POWER FORWARD: Slashing Rim Protector, Rebounding Athletic Finisher, Slashing Post Scorer, Two-Way Rebounder or Sharpshooting Rim Protector
CENTER: Post-Scoring Athletic Finisher, Slashing Rebounder, Pure Rim Protector, Slashing Stretch Five or Rebounding Post Scorer
There can obviously still be mismatches if, say, one team’s center has a style of play that the other team’s center has trouble against. But the point is that each archetype will have the same skill-set and ratings; for example, a Pure Rim Protector won’t vary from team to team in terms of their height or attributes.
Games will be played on PC, with players able to use an Xbox controller, PlayStation controller or keyboard during competitions.
Who runs the teams?
Each team has a general manager, team director and front-office staffers in place. While it’s up to each individual squad to assign out responsibilities as they see fit, it seems that on most teams the director is handling the business and marketing side of things while the GM is handling the personnel moves.
For an example of how a 2K League front office runs, Magic Gaming (Orlando’s affiliate) peeled back the curtain on how they are divvying up responsibilities.
Ryan DeVos is the director of Magic Gaming, so the team’s general manager reports to him, but DeVos is more focused on growing the business, coming up with a marketing plan and landing strategic partnerships. He was tasked with researching the possibility of a Magic-affiliated gaming team – estimating potential profits and losses, putting together a business plan, etc. – and then he helped with the launch once it became clear that this made sense for the organization. He hired 18-year-old Chris Toussaint as the team’s general manager and has been relatively hands off, letting the GM handle the personnel and strategy side of things. Part of DeVos’ job is also to look for other esports opportunities that Magic ownership could pounce on. As ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk recently wrote, “13 NBA teams’ ownership groups have invested in or acquired businesses around esports [not related to the 2K League” in recent years. Ryan is tasked with weighing those opportunities and explaining them to Magic brass (since many unfamiliar with the esports world).
Toussaint was hired as the team’s “general manager,” but he has since changed his title to players manager given everything his job entails. Interestingly, there won’t be trades in the first season of the 2K League. That means after the draft, the GM’s role changes a bit and they’re focused on coach-like duties such as preparing game-plans, scheduling and overseeing practices, figuring out how to best utilize the team’s talent and handling any conflicts that may arise between players, as well as day-to-day management such as booking the squad’s flights and stocking the team house with food among other logistical things. Next season, when GMs can make trades, teams may bring in coaches so there’s less on the general manager’s plate. But this year, many GMs are in a sort of general manager/coach hybrid role.
When is the draft and how does it work?
The draft will be held today, April 4, at 1 p.m. ET in Madison Square Garden. For those interested in watching the draft, it will air on NBA TV and Twitch.
Each of the 17 teams will select six players. Teams cannot load up on one position; they must draft a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center in the first five rounds (in no particular order) and then the sixth round is when they can pick any player regardless of position. However, it is worth noting that players can swap positions throughout the season, so positional versatility is valued among draft prospects.
This will be a snake draft and here is the order:
Not only did the combine help the league’s organizers narrow down the talent pool to 102 players, it also served as an opportunity for general managers to scout players and put together a big board after evaluating competitors’ game film and statistics.
When will the games get underway?
While the weekly regular-season games won’t begin until May, there will be a tournament this Friday to kick things off. The NBA 2K League Draft Clash will take place on April 6 – just two days after the draft – and it will feature 10 of the league’s top picks. The Draft Clash will include some of the best and most popular 2K players that the league has to offer, giving fans a sort of All-Star showcase before the start of the season to get them excited for what’s to come. It seems this will be the first of the league’s three in-season tournaments that will pay out a large cash prize to each of the players on the winning team.
Where will the games be played and how can fans watch?
All games will be played at the NBA 2K League Studio. Each week, the teams will fly to the studio and face-off in person. The league has yet to announce a studio location or whether fans will be able to purchase tickets to watch the 2K games in person. It seems very likely that the NBA will sell tickets – even if they aren’t available right away for early matches (such as the Draft Clash tournament on Friday). After all, one of the reasons Adam Silver was inspired to dive into esports was because he attended the North American League of Legends Championship Series Finals at a sold-out Madison Square Garden and saw the extremely passionate fans. Many eSports leagues and tournaments attract huge crowds (as pictured below), so one would assume the NBA will tap into that revenue source.
As for fans who want to watch from home, each game will be streamed online and the NBA is currently in talks with media companies about landing a television deal so that these games will be broadcast on national TV as well.
ESPN has televised League of Legends gameplay and provided extensive coverage of esports leagues and tournaments (such as Dota 2 and Hearthstone). They have also committed to airing Madden NFL 18 tournaments on ESPN and Disney XD (both of which are owned by Disney). This seems like a no-brainer since, like Madden, the 2K League should resonate with both esports fans and basketball fans. Also, the NBA and ESPN already have a television deal, so there’s cross-promotion appeal for both sides. Another option could be Fox Sports, as they have televised the FIFA Interactive World Cup and FS1 has been in the market for live events (striking a deal with the BIG3 last year, for example). Expect an announcement from the 2K League relatively soon regarding a broadcasting deal.
How much will the players earn?
Each player in the 2K League signed a six-month contract. Competitors who are selected in the first round will earn $35,000, while all other players will earn $32,000. There’s also the $1 million prize pool that’s spread out across the three in-season tournaments and postseason, so players on winning teams will earn significantly more.
Also, players can supplement their salary with endorsement deals, just like NBA players, as well as by streaming on Twitch. Several top prospects (who are already well-known in the gaming world) are in discussions with various companies about signing brand deals. Quite a few of the players have hired an agent to line up sponsorships and help them build their own brand.
Players will also receive health insurance coverage and a retirement plan. The league will pay for each individual’s relocation and housing costs after they’re drafted too, since each six-player team will live together in the city of their respective franchise.
Why do only 17 of the 30 NBA franchises have a team?
Initially, the NBA was only planning to include 10-to-12 teams in the 2K League’s inaugural season as a test run of sorts. Then, after figuring things out a bit, the league was going to expand. However, when the NBA made it known that they were starting an esports league in conjunction with NBA 2K, there was so much interest from organizations that they increased the number of participants to 17 squads. Eventually, the goal is to have all 30 franchises represented in the 2K League.
Will there be free agency and other transactions?
As previously mentioned, there will be no trades during the first season of the NBA 2K League (making it even more important for teams to hit on their six draft picks). It sounds like deals may be implemented next year, but there’s no official word yet.
Free-agency specifics are still being worked out as well. As of right now, general managers are anxiously waiting for word on how that process will work. Several GMs pointed out that it’s difficult to prepare for the draft and make selections without knowing what will happen beyond this season. For example, why draft a relatively raw player with a ton of potential if you aren’t sure if he’ll even be on your squad next year?
While nothing has been finalized, it does seem like there will be some sort of free-agency period during the offseason and several executives said there has been talk of a franchise tag mechanism that would allow each team to keep one or more players beyond this season. But, again, nothing is set in stone as of yet.
HoopsHype will continue to cover the NBA 2K League throughout the season, so keep an eye out for our exclusive interviews with players and executives, breaking news, in-depth analysis and more.