2017 is shaping up to be the biggest year yet for eSports, and this could be when we finally see them become a household pastime. In the past several years, eSports have gone from a niche competition generally enjoyed online into a huge business that can now be seen on primetime cable networks. In 2016, we saw the launch of ELEAGUE, a dedicated eSports league broadcast on TBS bringing the sport to millions of fans. This came in addition to some of the biggest international tournaments coupled with some of the most lucrative prizes we’ve ever seen. Now, the sport is set to build on that success with new partnerships and the continued growth of existing competitions.
One of the biggest developments has been the creation of a new eSports league specifically dedicated to the popular basketball sim, NBA 2K. The endeavor represents a partnership between the National Basketball Association and publisher Take-Two Interactive (owners of 2K Sports and Rock Star Games). Even more notable is that this will be the first official eSports league owned by a US professional league, adding an incredible amount of legitimacy right out of the gate.
The initial league will feature between eight and 12 teams, and each team will be owned and operated by the actual NBA teams they represent. The teams will be made up of five human players with the aim to ultimately have a team for each NBA franchise. There’s currently no word on which franchises will actually be the ones to be included, but more than a few teams have expressed their excitement about the deal. Among these is the current top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics. The franchise has been adamant that there will be an eCeltics, and have told the NBA that they are interested in participating in the project. Celtics management even said that they plan to have the team located in Boston. The Dallas Mavericks (owned by tech billionaire Marc Cuban), the Sacramento Kings, and the Toronto Raptors have also been vocal about getting in on this new endeavor.
We’re still going to have a bit of a wait for the digital tip-off. The inaugural five-month season is set to start in conjunction with the NBA’s 2018 campaign. As of now, no team has fully committed, but it will definitely be something to look out for during the summer. There’s no denying that having a beloved and established pro league get into the game is going to be good for eSports as whole. The NBA already has millions of fans, and the impact could be huge if it can convert even half of them into eSports enthusiasts. Similarly, if this is a success for the NBA, don’t be surprised if other leagues follow suit. Imagine a FIFA eLeague sponsored by the MLS or the NFL going one step further than fantasy football to create an official Madden league. It’s clear that the sky is the limit for the future of eSports.