Built for the indoors, esports is having a moment, which isn’t lost on pro sports’ biggest leagues. NASCAR has found a new audience by having its drivers compete in simulated e-races the previous two weekends. This weekend, the NBA will launch its own esports event, a 16-player made-for-TV event. Here is a primer on the NBA 2K Players Tournament:
Where can I watch the NBA 2K Players Tournament?
Beginning tonight at 7:30 Eastern time, the games will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 while also running on the ESPN app, the NBA app and NBA.com. The games will simultaneously stream on 2K and NBA social channels, including Twitter, Twitch, YouTube and Facebook. First-round games will be played tonight and Sunday, with the quarterfinals scheduled for April 7, and both the semis and the finals slated for April 11.
What are the rules?
The 16-player field will be miked up, playing from their homes in a single-elimination tournament on XBOX One. The games will have six-minute quarters. Each team will use rosters and 2K ratings that were last updated on March 11, the day Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus to force the suspension of the NBA season. Injuries will be turned off. Everything else operates according to standard NBA rules.
How were the players chosen and seeded?
The NBA and NBA Players Assn. worked with 2K to choose the 16 players, according to 2K Senior Vice President Jason Argent. From there, players were seeded based on their overall ratings in the game. Tiebreakers were settled by NBA tenure. Kevin Durant’s 96 rating is by far the highest, followed by Trae Young’s 90. Hassan Whiteside and Donovan Mitchell both have an 87, with the more veteran Whiteside getting the three seed. The bottom three seeds — Patrick Beverley, Harrison Barnes, and Derrick Jones Jr. — each have a 78 overall rating.
What prize does the champ take home?
The winner will choose a charity to receive a $100,000 donation from 2K, the NBA and the NBPA to direct toward coronavirus relief efforts. He will also be crowned “Ultimate NBA 2K20 champion,” whatever that means.
Why would anyone want to watch two guys play a video game?
Outside of the fact that there are no other live sports on? The best part of the NBA 2K League is the trash talk, which has inspired plenty of great YouTube compilations and is reminiscent of the feral barking you’d witness at Venice Beach or Rucker Park. The chatter has gotten so contentious and personal at times that the league has fined players. It likely won’t get that fierce at the NBA 2K Players Tournament, but we won’t object if it does. Watching these games will only be as entertaining as the soundtrack the players provide outside of Ronnie 2K’s commentary.
I’ve heard about the NBA 2K League. Is this the same thing?
No. This tournament is a one-off with real NBA players going one-on-one and has nothing to do with the actual NBA 2K League, in which professional gamers go 5-on-5. The NBA 2K League is a professional gaming circuit co-founded by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, the parent company of 2K Sports. In 2018, it became the first official esports league operated by a U.S. pro sports league. There are currently 22 NBA teams that have a 2K team; the eventual plan is for all 30 NBA teams to have their own squad.
Wait, so most NBA teams also have an NBA 2K team with a roster of gamers?
Yes. Each NBA 2K team has a roster of six players (five starters and a reserve) and each player earns about as much, and in some cases more, than G League players. All NBA 2K players who competed in the 2019 season and were retained by their teams receive a base salary of $37,500 for the six-month season. First-round selections in the 2020 NBA 2K League Draft collect a base of $35,000; players selected in the second round or later receive a $33,000 base salary. G League players earned a base of $35,000 during the last regular season. The 2K players also receive free housing in their home-team market during the season, plus relocation expenses, medical insurance and a retirement plan. Players on good teams can potentially earn six figures because the league awards $1.2 million in prize money throughout the season — with $360,000 awarded to the league champion.
Is this esports?
Yes, esports is any form of competition employing video games. The word “esports” is really as broad as the word “sports.” In the same way we refer to basketball, baseball, football, hockey, soccer, golf, tennis, etc. as sports, the same is true of esports, which encompasses a spectrum of games such as “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Call of Duty,” “Counter-Strike,” “Dota,” etc. So, yes, NBA 2K is an esport, but it is not one of the most popular esports. That would go to “League of Legends,” which has sold out Staples Center and Madison Square Garden within minutes for their world championships.
Can I bet on these games?
You can wager on just about anything at the moment, including Ukrainian table tennis, so of course you can place bets. Sports wagering sites are offering odds and allowing you to bet on the tournament winner and the winner of each individual matchup. Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, who told The Times this week he has been playing videos games between five and 10 hours a day since the season was suspended, is the current favorite on most sites.
Which participant has the most to lose?
Kevin Durant, and it’s not even close. It’s not because Durant is the No. 1 seed — the seeding doesn’t reflect actual gaming ability — but rather his polarizing status in the social (keywords: burner account) and online community. A quick exit here and Durant, who was sidelined with a ruptured Achilles this season after signing with the Brooklyn Nets, will hear it from all sides. We can already hear Stephen A. screaming about his loss to Derrick Jones Jr.
What would be the dream final?
Any final with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley. He’s the best trash talker in the league and there’s no way he’s on his best behavior for NBA 2K. If he gets matched up against his Clippers teammate Montrezl Harrell in the final, there will be no need for commentators, but they may have to have the five-second profanity delay. But we’re going with a Pat Bev-KD final, which will set the internet afire.