Let me preface this whole article by saying that I am old and not very “hip.” For instance, do people even still say, “Hip?” Accordingly, when I first heard about the NBA 2K League I pictured players picking their favorite current NBA teams and competing against each other like if you and some of your friends all sat around the basement playing. In my mind, Player A would select The Los Angeles Lakers and be switching back and forth between LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of their teammates. Player B would likewise do the same with the Brooklyn Nets.
Needless to say, I was very wrong about how the league is operated and the game is actually played. After some research, I realized what a big deal the NBA 2K League is and thought our readers would benefit from a deeper-dive as well.
If you’re not familiar with the game itself, the NBA 2K games are extremely popular. NBA 2K19 was the top-selling sports game in the United States and second globally. The game has almost two million daily active users. The overall 2K series has moved up to 6th all-time in “tracked full-game dollar sales.”
Why you should care
Now, this is inevitably where someone says, “But basketball is a ‘real’ sport so why should I care about a video game version of it?” You should care because the NBA cares. Prior to its inaugural season in 2018, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “We have the NBA, the WNBA, the G League, and now this is the fourth league in our family, and that’s exactly as we’re treating it.”
The NBA has realized that this is more than just a growing trend, esports is the next big thing. Per the Newzoo Global Esports Market Report for 2019, the global esports audience is set to exceed 450 million in 2020 and should generate close to $1.1 billion in sales.
Of any NBA owners, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has been an early advocate for the growth of esports. “Leonsis is also a co-chairman and owns a stake in aXiomatic, which has a controlling interest in Team Liquid, a global esports powerhouse with professional teams in 14 games. Axiomatic invests in Epic Games, creator of the wildly popular game Fortnite, and China’s Tencent also holds a stake in Epic,” per a Reuters article from 2019.
As a promoter of all Washington-area basketball franchises, WizardsXTRA intends to fully cover the local NBA 2K League team, Wizards District Gaming (we will have more on them in a follow-up article). The 2K League is made up of 23 teams, 22 of which are affiliated with NBA teams. The Gen.G Tigers of Shanghai, which is new to the league in 2020, is the lone team not tied to an NBA franchise.
In 2019, League-based content created 353 million video views across various social media platforms. The League and its various teams have more than two million combined social media followers.
As I mentioned above, I had a very misconstrued idea of how the game is actually played. Better understanding what they do and how they do it has given me a much healthier appreciation for the League and its players. Players create their own avatar, or playable-character, that falls into a particular archetype at their position of choice. For example, not all power forwards are created equal, just like in the NBA.
At each position, there are five different possible archetypes that each have primary and secondary characteristics that they emphasize. There is a “Sharpshooting Rebounder,” whose primary skill is rebounding and secondary skill is three-point shooting. Instead, a player could choose to be a “Slashing Stretch 4,” whose primary skill is three-point shooting and their secondary skill is driving and finishing. Every player’s skill set adds up to a 90-out-of-100 rating so that they are all on an even playing field.
Each position also has a pre-set height and weight. Point guards are 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, shooting guards are 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, small forwards are 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, power forwards 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, and centers are 7-foot-1 and 260 pounds.
To summarize, each playable character was uniquely created for this game and not based on any “real-life” NBA player. Every team has a 6-player roster (five starters and one substitute) and competes in 5-on-5 gameplay. Teams can fill out those roster spots with whatever archetype combination they choose. For instance, they could have a Sharpshooting Playmaker for a point guard, a Pure Sharpshooter at shooting guard, a Sharpshooting Rebounder at power forward, a Slashing Stretch 4 as another power forward, and a Pure Glass Cleaner at center. Teams also employ coaches, general managers, and even scouts if they see fit.
When and where
The regular season runs from April until August. Regular season games are played in the 2K League studio in New York City on weeknights (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday last year) and are live-streamed on the league’s Twitch and YouTube channels. Players live in their home markets during the season so they can practice together.
Fans can attend regular-season games but seats are limited and must be reserved through a ticket-request system. Most fans opt to attend one of the three in-season tournaments, which in 2019 were held in Las Vegas, Orlando, and New York City.
What are they playing for
Teams are competing for more than just bragging rights. The 2019 2K League prize pool was around $1.2 million dollars, with $360,000 of that going to the eventual champions. The remaining prize money was split among playoff bonuses and three regular-season tournaments. Beyond just earning prize money, players were paid around $35,000 for the 2018 season, plus housing and insurance benefits.
Teams were able to keep two players from last year’s roster. Their remaining four spots will be filled during the draft. The NBA 2K League Draft will take place on February 22nd at 6 p.m. EST at Terminal 5 in New York City. It will also be live-streamed on Twitch and YouTube.
Wizards District Gaming (DG) will have the first overall pick in the draft. Knicks Gaming will go second and Kings Guard Gaming will go third. Players had to go through qualifying, a League Combine, and interviews to become draft-eligible. With the addition of two expansion teams, the league will now have a total of 138 players competing.
Wizards DG and WizardsXTRA
As your one-stop-shop for all things Washington-basketball, we will provide detailed coverage of Wizards DG throughout the season. In a follow-up article closer to the draft, we will break down the Wizards DG team and how they may choose to fill out their roster during the draft. Stay tuned!