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October 28, 2019

NBA 2K League Review

In early February 2017 the National Basketball Association announced that it was launching an eSports league to be known as the NBA 2K League. This would be part of a joint venture between it and Take-Two Interactive, the publisher of the NBA 2K video games franchise. In May of that year, the league announced that 17 of the 30 teams in the real-life NBA league would be competing in the NBA 2K League’s debut season, which would begin a year later on 1st May 2018. These teams included the Boston Celtics (known as Celtics Crossover Gaming), the New York Knicks (known as Knicks Gaming), and the Toronto Raptors (known as Raptors Uprising GC). 

Affiliated Teams, Different League

The NBA 2K League has no bearing on the outcome of the real-life NBA league, and vice versa. For example, according to Oddschecker, the Los Angeles Lakers are currently the second favourites to win the NBA Championship. However, winning that title would provide no benefit to their eSports team through additional points or other perks. 

By having these affiliates teams, the NBA 2K League is able to tap into two different groups of fans. The first of these is existing NBA fans who want to support their NBA team in the eSports arena as well as on the real life courts. The second is comprised of people who are fans of eSports or the NBA 2K video game and want to watch professionals compete in an ultra-competitive environment. 

This helps to engage new fans who may not otherwise be interested in following the NBA or other professional sports leagues. Research has shown that the vast majority of people who follow eSports are younger, whilst most traditional sports leagues are struggling to attract this demographic. It is therefore hoped that eSports can be a means of inducing new fans to follow the NBA.


Qualification and Format

To decide who would get to play in the NBA 2K League’s first season, fans could qualify to enter the league draft by competing in Pro-Am games on the NBA 2K game for either PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Players who qualified then went into a combine that took place during February, with selected players from this being invited to join the draft. 

Once the players had been drafted onto their teams, the season could get underway. Lasting 15 weeks, the main season consists of 14 regular-season games over 12 weeks, with the remaining 3 weeks used for tournaments. Like in the real-life NBA, the playoffs follow the regular reason, with eight teams competing. The playoffs are formatted as quarter-final, semi-final, and final games, the former being single-elimination games and the latter two being decided by best-of-three competitions. 


For the 2019 season, four new teams were added, including the Los Angeles Lakers (known as Lakers Gaming) and the Atlanta Hawks (known as Hawks Talon GC). An additional two teams are planning to enter in 2020: the Charlotte Hornets (known as Hornets Venom GT) and a Shanghai team that will not be affiliated to an NBA team. The Shanghai team will be the first to play in the league from outside of North America and will be operated by Gen.G, a well-known eSports organisation. 

Big Name Sponsors

The NBA 2K League signed sponsorship deals with some big brands early on in the preparations for the league. These included deals with computer manufacturer Dell (News - Alert), who provide Alienware PCs for the competitors to play on, and Intel, who’s powerful chipsets are built into these computers. 

Is it Any Good?

Regardless of the league’s ability to attract some of the biggest NBA teams and sign sponsorship deals with some major brands, the NBA 2K League needs to put on a good show. 

The league’s games use a five-on-five format, which is designed to more accurately replicate real NBA games, instead of using a single player for each team like in other eSports leagues. This helps the players deploy tactics used in real NBA games in a way that would not be possible in a one-on-one format. Despite this, and despite the strong graphics of the NBA 2K game, the matches still cannot live up to the real games in the NBA. 

For many, the draw of watching people play a simulation of the NBA is never going to be as good as watching the real thing. The biggest flaw in the concept is that despite how advanced the NBA 2K game is, it still contains quirks that are inherent in computer programs. A pixel difference in player position could make a tactic work or fail, and there are odd times when a player may collide with an invisible object. 

Shooting percentages are also less realistic, as the league’s players have developed supreme-level mastery of the game’s shot system, making defensive efforts difficult and often fruitless. 

Some of the most gripping and entertaining parts of a sporting event are when a camera captures the emotion. The disappointment of a failed attempt at a basket, or the elation of a game winning shot, are some of the defining moments of a basketball game. The NBA 2K League has been successful in retaining this by cutting to the reaction of players after events within the game. Players are encouraged to be loud and emotional during the game to facilitate this.


The NBA 2K League is a demonstration of big money and big efforts being invested by a major sports league to get into the eSports industry. It is likely the first of many, as Major League Baseball has already announced it will also be launching its own eSports league in 2020. The signing of big sponsors and affiliations with the NBA’s teams are prudent moves that help to legitimise the league. 

The league has obviously been a success, as demonstrated by its continued expansion with new NBA teams and now a non-affiliated Shanghai team. The games themselves have been good, but they have many areas that don’t quite live up to the real-life equivalents. These may get ironed out over time as the league finds it feet more and the NBA 2K game is further developed. Regardless of these faults, don’t write off the league—it appears it is here to stay.

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