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The NBA Launches Its Own Esports League

The National Basketball Association is betting on esports in a big way. In conjunction with Take-Two, publisher of the critically acclaimed NBA 2K series, the NBA will create the NBA 2K eLeague, a 30-team esports organization that will look almost exactly like the traditional NBA—aside from the fact that it's digital.

Every team in the NBA 2K eLeague will be owned and operated by an official NBA franchise, and the structure of the NBA 2K eLeague season—a regular season, tournament-style playoffs, and then a two-team championship match—mimics its real-life counterpart. NBA and Take-Two hope to launch the NBA 2K eLeague in 2018, although some NBA franchises may not have teams ready to participate in the eLeague's first season.


Five players will be on each NBA 2K eLeague team, who will be receive salaries and coaching as part of their employment. As in the actual NBA, players will be selected via draft. However, NBA 2K eLeague players will not control digital versions of existing NBA stars. Instead, they'll create their own avatars to use during competitive matches.

In addition to the games themselves, which will be broadcast both online and on television, the NBA and Take-Two hope to capitalize on the eLeague by selling tickets to spectators, rolling out exclusive merchandise, and snagging endorsement deals from corporate sponsors.

While the NBA 2K eLeague marks the first time that a professional sports league has opened its own esports branch, it's hardly the only time that traditional sports and esports have crossed paths. Paris Saint-Germain, France's biggest soccer team, created its own esports team in October, 2016. Last fall, the Philadelphia 76ers purchased the esports organization Dignitas, which competes in League of Legends, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, for an unspecified sum. In addition, former NBA champion Rick Fox also founded his own esports team, Echo Fox, after playing League of Legends with his son, Kyle.