Will NBA 2K20 Become the Biggest Game in eSports?

Of all the dramatic changes that we have seen within the entertainment industry over the past few years, none has been quite as sudden and unexpected as the unstoppable rise of eSports.

Largely thanks to the rise in live-stream gaming over platforms such as YouTube and Twitch, competitive gaming tournaments have amassed global audiences of millions, catapulting eSports from the status of fringe activity to a $1 billion a year industry, according to the latest market reports from Forbes magazine.

Much of the attention of eSports fans and media pundits has been focused on a select few games that make up the bulk of the market such as Fortnite, League of Legends, and Dota 2. However, a sea change is currently taking place that could displace combat games from the top of the pile.

One of the fastest-growing eSports games in the world right now is NBA 2K20, the officially-licensed competitive basketball game that has seen its prominence grow exponentially thanks to official NBA eSports tournaments featuring some of the biggest basketball players in the world.

It’s clear that NBA 2K has the potential to push eSports into the mainstream, so let’s take a closer look and see whether that will be the case.

NBA Stars Go Virtual

While NBA 2K leagues have been rising steadily in popularity for the past two years, the game got its biggest boost to date last month with the mid-April launch of the NBA 2k20 Players Tournament on ESPN. The Players Tournament operates just like any other 2K league, except for the fact that the players are some of the biggest names in the NBA.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant was the first to sign on, with Patrick Beverly, Andre Drummond, Trae Young, and DeMarcus Cousins following shortly after. With official NBA games currently canceled, it proved a good opportunity for star players to give something back to their fans. The $100,000 prize for the league goes to a charity of the winning player’s choosing, though the considerable advertising revenues from the first League went straight to the NBA and ESPN’s coffers.

It was Phoenix Suns point guard Devin Booker who won the first-ever League, which was viewed by millions of people and streamed live in over two dozen countries, with global sports channels such as Sky and SBS snapping up broadcasting licenses. It’s clear that the NBA’s gambit has paid off big time, and that we will likely see other NBA stars pick up an Xbox controller in the months ahead.

Global Viewing on NBA 2K Games

It’s not just big-ticket 2K events that are drawing new fans either. The original 2K League, in which anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to play, has been gathered millions of viewers since launching in 2017. The original league has been carefully nurtured by the NBA, which has made major inroads into emerging markets such as China, where many of the top players now originate. This, combined with sports networks in dozens of countries now applying for broadcasting licenses for future 2K League tournaments, demonstrates just how mainstream it has become in such a short time.

Another indicator of the strength of NBA 2K can be seen in the world of betting, itself a multi-billion-dollar market. Betting on video games is nothing new, with titles such as Activision’s online deathmatch game Call of Duty: Warzone now being well known for the flourishing betting culture that has sprung up around it. Although not quite as big as sports betting on tournaments such as the NFL League, it’s clear that basketball eSports betting is becoming an increasingly central component of bookmakers’ offerings. The global betting site Betway offers odds and betting on all major 2K leagues, which people in countries around the world can place a wager on. In addition, bookmakers now offer odds on individual games and gaming tournaments hosted by the world’s largest eSports company, ESL Gaming, which broadcasts gaming tournaments on Twitch that are viewed by tens of millions of people. If that’s not a sign that 2K has achieved the eSports dream of breaking through into the mainstream, what is?

Big Money Ballgames?

One key factor to watch in the months and years ahead will be money. While the NBA generates countless billions in sponsorships, player salaries, events, and broadcasting fees, 2K still has a long way to go.

Gamers that are drafted into the first round of the NBA 2K League will make about $35,000 for the season with other players earning about $32,000, according to the 2K sports magazine Hoopshype. Of course, players are welcome to sign endorsement deals with corporate sponsors, which is where the bulk of the money is made.

To name just a few recent 2K sponsors, Panera, AT&T, Bud Light, Snickers, and New Era have all signed deals with players and with the NBA this year. While the sums being paid out are nowhere near as large as NBA player sponsorships, they could get there in the near future.

NBA 2K is still in its infancy but has already shown immense promise. Watch this space to see where it goes in the future.