U.S. sports league's ventures into esports

US Pro Leagues & EsportsWhile esports continue to boom across the globe, more and more professional sports leagues in the United States are finding their way into the industry. With esports set to become mainstream, now is the time to get in on the ground floor and leagues and investors have realized this.

In an effort to streamline the news about the creation of esports leagues/competitions by some of the more prominent U.S. professional sports leagues, we have created a running list for the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS).

Check back here for updates as these new leagues are created and more news is released!

NFL

Most would agree that the NFL and EA Sports started the trend for professional sports leagues in the U.S. of getting into esports by utilizing the Madden video game series to create a professional tournament. Even so, the Madden Championship Series is only in its second season of existence. When the series started in 2017, the initial prize pool for the champion was $500,000. This year’s prize pool consists of a cool $1.153 million.

Recently, the EA, Disney and the NFL announced a new broadcast deal for the Madden tournament that will air on ESPN2 and Disney XD from February 2 to April 28. The “Madden Bowl” will air live on ESPN2 from the 2018 NFL Draft.

NBA

Not far behind Madden and the NFL comes the NBA and Take-Two Interactive (parent company of 2K and publishers of NBA 2K18), joining forces to create the NBA 2K League.

The 2K League’s inaugural season tips off in May 2018 and will run through August. Prior to that, qualifications were held in January, a combine was performed in February and the initial draft will occur in March. The league will feature 17 NBA teams that have created an entirely new team for the esports league. For example, the New York Knicks NBA team has created the Knicks Gaming 2K League team. A full list of the teams can be found here.

There is still a lot we don’t know about the 2K League, such as how the draft will be conducted, who will broadcast the games, where games will be played, how sponsorships will be sold, what the in-game and real-life player jerseys will look like, etc. Check back here for updates as more news breaks!

MLS

Another partner of EA Sports, the MLS will be entering the competitive gaming arena in April 2018 with the creation of eMLS Cup. The eMLS Cup will be a competitive esports league utilizing EA Sports’ FIFA 18 video game and will feature “the best FIFA 18 players from the United States and Canada."

So far, 19 MLS clubs (out of a total of 23) have signed on for the eMLS Cup. Only Atlanta United FC, D.C. United, Los Angeles FC and Real Salt Lake did not join the inaugural season of the eMLS Cup.

The first eMLS event will be from April 5-8 at a popular gaming convention in Boston, PAX East. This event will decide the qualifiers leading up to the FIFA eWorld Cup in August. One player will represent each MLS club and compete for spots in international tournaments. Each player will also have the opportunity to select their own squad in the game. However, each player's squad must have three MLS players on the field at all times, including two from the club they are representing.

Finalists from the eMLS Cup will earn spots in the FIFA 18 Global Series Playoffs. From there, the top 32 competitors in the playoffs will advance to the FIFA eWorld Cup in August 2018.

As of now, the preliminary rounds of the eMLS Cup will be streamed on the MLS Twitch channel, as well as MLSsoccer.com.

NHL

On January 30, 2018, NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, announced that the NHL is planning to get involved in esports, involving EA Sports’ NHL 18 video game series. With this being the NHL’s first venture into esports, there isn’t a lot of information out there in terms of what the competitions structure and plan will include. As of now, the goal is to “unveil something before the end of the regular season”, which ends on April 7. 

UPDATE: On March 9, the NHL officially announced their plans for entering the world of esports. The 2018 NHL Gaming World Championship, a tournament that utilizes EA Sports' NHL 18 video game, will be held in Las Vegas in June. The tournament will be a joint venture between NBC Sports, Sportsnet and Viasat. Each broadcasting partner will also host a regional final and produce content to promote the championship. Qualifier tournaments will begin March 24 and be held over four consecutive weekends.

MLB

Even less far along than the NHL is MLB. As recently as February 19, 2018, MLB and MLB Advanced Media acknowledged they are “considering where and how they intend to enter the scene”. To this point, there are no specific plans for MLB regarding esports, but something similar to what the other major professional leagues in the U.S. are doing seems to be likely.

The intersection of professional sports leagues and esports is relevant for not only sports industry professionals, but also potential investors, potential sponsors, broadcasting/streaming companies and fans as each could be affected by how and when these intersections play out over time. 

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