NBA 2K League president says Indianapolis contender to host 2023 season

Bucks Gaming defeated Wizards District Gaming on Saturday, Aug. 27, to win the NBA 2K League 5v5 Championship at the Pavilion at Pan Am in downtown Indianapolis. (IBJ photo/Mickey Shuey)

The president of the NBA 2K League said this weekend that Indianapolis is one of four cities being considered for the league’s next season, but acknowledged that one of the city’s biggest hurdles is whether it can offer a venue to accommodate the event.

The esports league this season was hosted in Indianapolis—the final event concluded Saturday—with games played on a studio set downtown at the Pavilion at Pan Am, 201 S. Capitol Ave. But the facility is expected to be demolished in the coming months to make room for a new hotel and the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center. 

“As far as the city goes, right now, we’re in the process of exploring where we are going to reside next year,” Brendan Donohue, president of the NBA 2K League, told IBJ. “The building we’re in and love is not going to be in existence as a potential site, but we’re been looking at other sites in the city—we’re in that process right now.”

He said that if the Pavilion were not being torn down, the likelihood of Indianapolis retaining the league would be much higher, but noted the loss of the  facility isn’t a deal breaker.

“We have four cities left in the mix, and Indy’s one of them, so I think it’s there’s a good chance—no promises, though,” he said. ”If we could stay in the building, there would be a much better chance. It’s been fantastic here, and the relationship we have with the Indiana Sports Corp. is a big advantage.”

While Donohue declined to identify the other three cities with which Indianapolis is competing (or what locations in Indianapolis the league is considering) he said final bids were received late last week. A decision is expected within the next month. Donohue for several months has praised Indianapolis as a host city, and its potential as a hub for esports competitions.

The league hosted 10 of its 22 teams in the city throughout the season—including Pacers Gaming, which is under the Pacers Sports & Entertainment umbrella—while the rest traveled in on specific weekends and otherwise played their competitions remotely.

Todd Taylor, president and chief commercial officer for PSE, said he was pleased with how the season turned out, particularly with it being the first time the league has taken the event out of New York City. PSE has had extensive involvement in the season’s execution since it tipped off in April, alongside the Indiana Sports Corp.

“I would really characterize the entire thing as a learning opportunity,” he said. “We’d probably have a lot of adjustments we would make moving forward,” if we ultimately keep the event here in Indianapolis.”

Taylor said the fact the Pavilion will be gone is likely to be a challenge for hosting, but added there are other spaces that could be strong candidates.

“I know they’re looking at a few different locations, though I’m not exactly certain which ones those are,” he said. “But I think the opportunity they have as they move away from [the Pavilion], is that they might be able to design a space more specific to what their needs are. 

“One example, the mall—there’s open retail space in the mall and there’s a lot of downtown vacancies they can explore, and depending on what physical space there is, I think they’d have the opportunity to build it and customize it around what they want.”

Donohue said NBA 2K is exploring ways to expand its reach starting with the 2023 season, like being more connected to other events happening in the league’s host city—and even by adjusting the schedule on which the league operates.

He said if the league had given itself more time ahead of the 2022 season, it would have made multiple changes to how it marketed itself, in addition to hosting more community events like camps and clinics focused on esports. While many big events were heavily attended—the facility was able to accommodate about 250 spectators—the crowds for some days were more sparse. The league does not release event attendance figures. In-person viewing accounts for just part the league’s audience, with hundreds of thousands of people watching the events on Twitch and YouTube throughout the season.

“I think we want to keep moving our season earlier, because right now we’re finishing up our season in August,” he said. “In reality, I’d much rather have us playing games when people are deeply engaged with the game of basketball. Imagine our season being more in line with the NBA season.”

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