(Reuters) — The inexorable advance of esports will break new ground next month when the NBA becomes the first American professional sports organization to operate an esports league.
Seventeen of the 30 NBA franchises have confirmed they will own NBA 2K League teams and the Draft Pick takes place in New York on April 4.
To be eligible for consideration for the new league, which will provide $1 million in prize money, players must be over 18 and have purchased a copy of the game for their Xbox or Playstation.
They also need to have graduated from high school and have won 50 games in the Pro-Am mode before January this year. Of the tens of thousands who participated, the top 102 ranked players will take part to the opening round of games in May.
The financial package of the NBA 2K League indicates how seriously it is being taken — first-round picks will pocket $35,000 for a six-month contract while other players will be paid $32,000 basic.
Like their real-world counterparts, the players will be allowed to sign endorsement deals and will receive paid housing and relocation expenses. Every gamer will also get medical insurance and a retirement plan along with travel and food costs.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has kept one eye on online gaming with good reason — there are an estimated 130 million competitive gamers who also watch gaming online, and esports is a huge growth market currently worth one billion dollars a year globally.
Lucrative tournaments are springing up across the world and professional teams compete for huge prize money in front of millions of mainly young viewers online.
“We believe we have a unique opportunity to develop something truly special for our fans and the young and growing esports community,” Silver said.
Nicola Piggott, co-founder of esports communications consultancy The Story Mob, told Reuters the NBA/NBA 2K partnership is a logical step for sports teams.
“Esports has so much to offer regular sport, with its intense tribalism, hyper-connected fanbase and the overlap between the two, so this makes a lot of sense,” she said.
“It also gives the NBA the potential to extend their brand to a completely new global audience. It really is a win-win for all parties.”