This past week, the NBA 2K League Tipoff Tournament began on May 1 and wrapped up on May 5. After four days of group play and one day of championship play that included the top two teams from each group, 76ers GC ended up victorious.
There are plenty of articles out there about the gameplay, presentation, format and commentary for the league’s opening tournament, so I will focus on other aspects such as viewership, sponsorships and viability of the league moving forward.
Just like in the NBA, there are seemingly endless sponsorship opportunities in the 2K League. From courts to hoops to scorer’s tables to jerseys, the opportunities are endless. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a lot of these opportunities being taken advantage of during the tipoff tournament.
With each team being responsible for their own sponsorship deals, there is a lot of competition for securing sponsors. This is especially true since the league considers itself non-terrestrial. For example, Heat Check Gaming is not Miami Heat Check Gaming, so they can get sponsors and fans from anywhere versus just Miami. Therefore, each team is essentially fighting for the same sponsors and fans, regardless of their location. With this setup, the strongest brand usually wins.
Also, the turnaround time from when the league was announced back in May 2017 until now was most likely less than ideal for most teams. Nonetheless, teams have an abundance of assets at their disposal to sell and continue increasing their revenue.
While there isn’t another esports league out there at the moment that can be directly compared to the 2K League, the most similar would be the Overwatch League. I know, Overwatch isn’t a sports game, but it is an esports league with city-based franchises that is made up of a team of drafted/signed players. Both video game franchises also experienced tremendous success on their own.
According to John Wall Street, the Overwatch League opening day in January drew 408,000 concurrent viewers.
As for the NBA 2K League opening day, viewership peaked at around 9,000. Throughout the inaugural tipoff tournament, viewership also seemed to have hovered around that number.
As a side note, no sports-themed video game exists on the New Zoo top 10 most-watched games list on Twitch. We know why the 2K League chose to have Twitch broadcast their games, to reach the esports audience. However, at some point, the league is going to have to decide if they want to attract traditional NBA fans and the casual NBA 2K fan, in addition to esports fans.
There are still a lot of games left to be played during the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League, but we can (and have) learned a lot from the opening tournament. Unfortunately, for the league and its teams to be able to capitalize on the abundance of sponsorship assets that I mentioned previously, viewership numbers will have to increase before brands will open their checkbooks. This will ultimately determine the success of the league moving forward.
While the opening of the 2K League was a slight disappointment in terms of viewership numbers, I wouldn’t count it out. The league consistently made improvements to the broadcast based on fan feedback and you can expect the same for the rest of the league. Also, with the backing of the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, the league will have plenty of opportunities to succeed.
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