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How #NBA 2K And #Esports Are Filling Voids Left By The #Coronavirus Outbreak – SPONSOR: Esports Entertainment Group $GMBL $TECHF $ATVI $TTWO $GAME $ $ $

Posted by AGORACOM-JC at 3:50 PM on Monday, May 4th, 2020

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How NBA 2K And Esports Are Filling Voids Left By The Coronavirus Outbreak

By: Ben Dowsett

  • On a Saturday night at downtown Manhattan’s Terminal 5, the atmosphere resembles that of a primetime awards show
  • Flashing bulbs and cameramen line a red carpet, straining for shots of luminaries as they walk by
  • A line of spectators waits to be granted entry to an event promised to feature celebrities, musical guests and the best in the world at their craft being recognized

Only this isn’t the Oscar’s, Emmy’s or Grammy’s. It’s the 2020 NBA 2K League Draft.

The evening has all the makings of the big leagues. The venue, one that’s featured performances from the likes of Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg in recent years, sets the stage; players who spend most of their lives in relative anonymity are, for tonight, transformed into full-on celebrities.

“There are more than 50 million players who play 2K in some way, shape or form,” said Brendan Donohue, NBA 2K League Managing Director. “We’re ending up with the top 100 players in the world, so we want to make that player feels like he got to the highest mountaintop.”

Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis announces the first pick on behalf of Wizards gaming. Former New York star Allan Houston selects for Knicks gaming. It’s a watershed moment of sorts for NBA 2K and even esports as an industry, a sign of how far a once-niche pursuit has come in just a few short years and a clear notice served that this world isn’t going anywhere.

And within just a few weeks, it will be shattered by a worldwide crisis – replaced by a wholly different reality, one shedding a completely new light on the relevance and importance of gaming in our modern world.

On an early April afternoon, Ronnie Singh is sitting alone in his bedroom. Singh – better known in the gaming world as Ronnie 2K, Director of Influencer Marketing for NBA 2K and the franchise’s wildly popular public face, boasting over a million Twitter followers – is handling commentary and organization duties for a one-on-one tournament being played remotely between 16 NBA players, broadcast on ESPN.

He’s alone, as are each of the tournament’s participants, due to the coronavirus outbreak that’s swept the world in the weeks since he and other big names in the 2K realm convened on Terminal 5.

Scheduled 2K League play, the bulk of which is typically run at a central studio location in New York, was shut down. Players, like their NBA counterparts, began sequestering at home.

It was certainly an adjustment for Singh, who by his own admission hadn’t gone more than 10 days without traveling in four years. His efforts shifted to a support role, both for his staff and for the many players around the NBA with whom he’s developed close relationships over the years. He also took advantage of a rare chance to log a few more hours on the 2K sticks and connect with the community.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 05: Dwyane Wade (L) and Ronnie 2K attend the NBA 2K20: Welcome … [+] Getty Images for NBA 2K20

Quickly, though, his days were busied by helping fill society’s live competition void, starting with the ESPN collaboration.

“We had a responsibility to provide entertainment where there was a massive vacuum,” Singh said in a phone interview.

Some broadcast clunkiness aside (to be expected for such a unique first-time event), the tournament’s success was pretty undeniable. It was the single highest-viewed esports program in ESPN’s history, an early indicator of the public’s appetite for this sort of thing while traditional sports are shut down.

Secondarily, it was a chance to answer a question Singh and the folks at 2K have long debated: Who is really the best NBA player at the game? Competing schedules would normally keep such a dedicated competition from happening – dominant eventual champ Devin Booker and others might not have even been available to play otherwise.

“I think people really appreciated watching these guys get their competitive juices flowing in a game they love,” Singh said. “I think it was really well-received.”

So well, in fact, that there’s real interest in a sequel before long. Ronnie isn’t giving away any details, but keep an eye out – and in typical 2K style, expect a fresh format to keep fans on their toes.

NBA 2K League is set to begin play remotely Tuesday night, another big bridge for the sport to cross. It’s been no small undertaking, one facing similar challenges to the formation of the ESPN collaboration.

“A lot is going to be different about this season,” said Donohue. “We normally play most of our games in our New York studio. This year we’re going to be going to 23 different studios – teams will be playing from their homes or studios in their respective markets.

“We’ll be doing a broadcast right at those locations. They’ll be with their teammates – they’ve been living together for the last several months.”

The league is prepared to play remotely for as long as needed to ensure safety, Donohue says. At least six weeks are scheduled for now.

A contestant toggles a game controller during day one of the NBA 2k League (NBA2KL) professional … [+]

The difficulties of the shift have also offered opportunities to innovate. Instead of a single location in New York as the league’s hub, a virtual studio has been set up to serve every market playing. Play-by-play commentators will be located in several cities, but everything will feed into one centralized broadcast that can toggle between games.

There are tweaks abound for the tactical diehards out there as well. Based on feedback from players and team GMs, the league has expanded positional player “archetypes” – each of the five positions on the floor (point guard, shooting guard, etc.) now has eight such archetypes rather than five, opening up previously-unexplored strategic gold mines.

Twenty-three is the high-water mark for teams in the league in its third season, with a unique addition this year: The Gen.G Tigers of Shanghai will join, the first team outside North America to do so.

Who are the favorites?

“I think the T-Wolves, after winning last year, will come back strong,” Singh says. “The Blazers are always very strong.

“Celtics gaming, they have one of the best players in the league in Fab, they’re always going to be dangerous. There’s a lot of parity in the league for what I believe is the first time, so I’m fascinated to see the action when it kicks off.”

A distinct pride in their work is evident when speaking to Singh or others involved with NBA 2K. Between buy-in from the NBA superstars who define its identity and many of the franchise’s grassroots efforts, more than just a video game tropes don’t sound contrived.

Take a recent partnership with musical entity UnitedMasters to collaborate on the NBA 2K20 soundtrack. Up-and-coming artists from around the world were asked to submit tracks for consideration, with ten actually added to the game to help launch their creators.

“One thing we’ve done that’s different than a lot of other video game brands is adapted to the culture of basketball,” Singh said.

Now, though, the stakes are different. 2K League was already well on its way, with over a million unique viewers for last season’s finals, but no one expected this. As corny as it may sound to some outsiders, those involved feel a real sense of the gravity of it all: A pursuit that for so long has struggled for mainstream acceptance is finally discovering it right as our definitions of normal collapse.

“I’ll tell you what: I’m in my 30s, and just like everyone else in my generation I’ve had to defend our playing video games,” Singh says. “Now it’s an aspirational career.”

For many, at least right now, it might be even more than that.


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