Alley-oop: The NBA will launch an e-sports league of its own

The basketball league teams up with the creators of the popular NBA 2K video game in search of a new generation of all-stars.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
2 min read
Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Gamers now have a chance to win an NBA title.

The NBA said Thursday that it's teaming up with Take-Two Interactive to create a competitive e-sports league centered on Take-Two's popular NBA 2K video game. The league would be the first of its kind run by a US professional sports organization.

The NBA 2K league is scheduled to begin playing in 2018, and it will likely feature teams owned by each of the NBA's 30 franchises. The teams will have five human players competing in video games stretching out over the course of an actual NBA season, complete with playoffs and a championship round.

"We believe we have a unique opportunity to develop something truly special for our fans and the young and growing e-sports community," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a statement.

About a year ago, NBA team owners began discussing ways to take advantage of surging interest in e-sports. Then in October the Philadelphia 76ers became the first US pro sports franchise to join the e-sports world, acquiring two teams and merging them under the Team Dignitas banner. The owners of the Golden State Warriors, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies have all bought stakes in e-sports teams.

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NBA 2K17 has sold almost 7 million units and is on pace to become 2K's best-selling sports title ever.

Take-Two Interactive

Competitive professional video gaming is big business, with about 292 million followers online and on TV and with nearly $500 million in annual revenue, according to e-sports data tracker Newzoo.

The NBA isn't alone in seeing the promise. Twitter has dabbled in live streams of e-sports events, while Microsoft's Xbox chief, Phil Spencer, believes e-sports will eventually be "as big as regular sports."

How serious does the 2K league want to be? There are plans to have a combine to scout out the best gamers and a draft to fill out the team rosters, the NBA said Thursday. Players will also get paid and go through actual training camps.

"With this new venture, Take-Two and the NBA aim to fuel the accelerating growth of e-sports," Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said in a statement.

The relationship between the NBA and Take-Two dates back to 1999, with the NBA 2K series selling over 68 million units worldwide. The most recent release, NBA 2K17, is the highest-rated annual sports game of the current console generation and the highest-rated title in the history of the NBA 2K series.

To date, NBA 2K17 has sold almost 7 million units and is on pace to become 2K's best-selling sports title ever, the game maker said.

The 2K league announcement comes two months after the NBA 2K17 All-Star Tournament kicked off, with teams of gamers competing for a $250,000 prize. The finals take place Feb. 17, during all-star weekend in New Orleans.

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