Esports are passionately followed by millions of fans around the globe on a daily basis. With the games featuring a wide range of formats, competition types and schedules, Field Level Media is producing a series of overviews to introduce you to the most popular titles, teams and personalities.
Today, a look at an NBA 2K.
The NBA 2K series began in 1999, billed as next generation of basketball simulation games. From its inception, NBA 2K has allowed gamers to select an NBA team and compete against other NBA teams, using actual NBA team and player names.
The game's current version -- NBA 2K20 -- includes single-game, single-season and career modes, allowing gamers to compete as a player or team general manager. NBA 2K20 also includes 65 teams from past NBA seasons, and for the first time in the NBA 2K series, all 12 WNBA franchises.
Available only on Dreamcast in its inaugural release, NBA 2K is now available on all major gaming formats.
Like a regular NBA game, NBA 2K games are five-on-five in most modes. As it is in the NBA, the name of the game in NBA 2K is winning -- and nowhere is that more true than in the NBA 2K League.
Like the game upon which it is built, the NBA 2K League revolutionized the way professional sports leagues partner with their corresponding professional esports league, as it was the first official esports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league. Thus, the league's operational structure is similar to that of the NBA, including a tryout process and scouting combine for prospective players and a draft involving all 23 NBA 2K franchises.
With six players on each roster, there are 138 total players competing in the NBA 2K20 season. Unlike the standard at-home game play, however, five gamers play at one time for each NBA 2K League team, with gamers playing as their own unique players rather than real-life NBA players.
NBA franchises operate their corresponding NBA 2K League franchise, and they not only pay their players' salaries but also pay for housing in their host cities and travel to compete in games. In 2020, esports organization Gen.G will operate the Gen.G Tigers -- an expansion franchise headquartered in Shanghai (though the team will train at Gen.G's Los Angeles HQ this season).
A majority of NBA 2K games take place at the 13,600-square-foot NBA 2K League Studio in Manhattan in front of 200 fans, though the 2020 season is scheduled to see the NBA 2K League literally take its show on the road.
THE 2020 SEASON
Following the completion of the 2019 season, NBA 2K League teams retained a total of 70 players, leaving 68 spots open for this coming season.
The 2020 draft process began with the 2K League qualifier -- a process by which prospective players applied online, then competed in NBA 2K20's Pro-Am mode or at The Rec.
Players who won at least 50 percent of their games during the Oct. 22-Nov. 10 qualifying period then competed in the NBA 2K League Combine (Nov. 18-Dec. 9).
Following interviews with NBA 2K League representatives, the top 150 players were invited to be in the draft pool. The top finishers in invitational tournaments in Europe and Asia, as well as 11 Pro-Am tournaments hosted by NBA 2K League franchises in their home markets, comprised the rest of the draft pool.
The 2020 NBA 2K League Draft took place Feb. 22 in New York, and Wizards District Gaming selected John "JBM" Mascone of Irvington, N.Y. with the No. 1 overall pick. Hu "Lucky_Yi_Wesley" Yi was taken 55 picks later, becoming the first Chinese player ever drafted by the NBA 2K League.
In 2020, teams will compete for a $1.4 million prize pool across all tournaments. The NBA 2K League regular season is 16 weeks, with a trio of tournaments mixed in -- The Tipoff, The Turn and The Ticket. Nine teams qualify for the playoffs, with the remaining teams competing in The Ticket. The winner of The Ticket gets the final playoff spot.
This season, the NBA 2K League also added a series of round-robin events, each carrying a $20,000 purse and counting toward the regular-season standings. These six events are scheduled to be played in Orlando, Minneapolis, Toronto, Dallas, San Francisco and Washington.
The 2020 season -- the third in the history of the NBA 2K League -- was scheduled to tip off March 24. That date was postponed, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
To help fill the void left by the postponement, however, the NBA 2K League will host its first "Three for All Showdown" running March 27 through April 3. The online three-on-three event will feature fan-organized teams competing with top NBA 2K female players and social influencers for a chance to play NBA 2K League teams for a piece of a $25,000 prize pool.
PLAYERS/TEAMS TO KNOW
The defending NBA 2K League champions are T-Wolves Gaming, having topped 76ers GC 3-2 in a best-of-five NBA 2K League Finals. The win capped an amazing run in which the T-Wolves -- an expansion team in 2019 -- had to win seven consecutive games following a 3-6 start to the season just to make the playoffs.
Michael "BearDaBeast" Key was named Finals MVP after posting 23 points and six assists in the deciding Game 5, helping the T-Wolves to a 52-35 win and the $360,000 first-place prize.
"Last year, I didn't make it (into the inaugural NBA 2K League season), and then giving hope to people out there that pursue esports (that) if you don't make it one year, just come back and keep fighting an never quit," BearDaBeast, a 2019 first-round pick, told Cheddar esports of his emotions in the days following the championship.
"The next year may be your year. ... I felt like I was carrying that weight for not just everybody in the league but everybody outside the league, as well."
It was a different story for the inaugural champion Knicks Gaming. A season after going 5-9, Knicks Gaming went 4-12 in 2019. But unlike 2018 -- when Knicks Gaming gained an automatic playoff berth by winning The Ticket tournament and parlayed that into an unlikely championship -- the 2019 squad failed to make the playoffs.
The other teams sure to have extra eyes on them are the league's two expansion franchises for 2020: Hornets Venom GT, affiliated with the Charlotte Hornets, and Gen.G Tigers, the first NBA 2K League franchise headquartered outside of North America.
"This is a historic moment in the NBA 2K League's journey to becoming a truly global league with fans, franchises and players from all over the world," NBA 2K League managing director Brendan Donohue said when the league announced the awarding of a franchise to Shanghai in September.
WHERE TO WATCH
For those unable enough to attend the games in person, all NBA 2K League games are livestreamed on Twitch (https://www.twitch.tv/nba2kleague), and the league also posts videos to its Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube channels.
--Scott Moe, Field Level Media