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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

Pacers launching team in NBA's new hoops e-league

May 4, 2017
KEYWORDS Sports Business

The Indiana Pacers are among 17 NBA teams joining the groundbreaking NBA 2K e-sports league for its 2018 launch.

The NBA 2K Facebook page stated: “We are creating the world’s next true ‘elite’ sport—virtual basketball.”

Specifics on the virtual league, the first one backed by a U.S. professional sports league, are a bit sparse. 

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., the parent company of NBA 2K creator 2K Sports, will run the league with the NBA. The name of the league is still being crafted, according to a source familiar with the e-league.

According to Take-Two officials, the NBA e-teams will be composed of five human players—mostly likely including professional video gamers—competing in five-on-five games stretching out over the course of an actual NBA season. There also will be playoffs and a crowned champion.

Professional sports teams over the last five years have been angling for a way to become more involved in sports video gaming. NBA officials think it’s a good way to cultivate new fans and market their sport to the growing legion of e-sports fans. And it also could represent a new revenue stream.

“We’re excited that once again the NBA has stepped forward and taken the lead as it relates to the world of e-sports. We are thrilled to be part of this league that is going to take Indiana’s game … to a whole new level.  We’ll be able to build a new fan base that without e-sports might never have become real fans of basketball,” Pacers President Rick Fuson said in a media statement.

Pacers officials referred questions Thursday morning to the NBA league office. NBA officials could not be reached before deadline.

“This is the first step in what promises to be an extraordinary league, bringing together the world’s best gamers and showcasing elite competition on an international stage,” NBA 2K eSports league managing director Brendan Donohue said in a statement.

It is unclear how the teams participating in the new league were selected. Teams in several key NBA markets, including Chicago and Los Angeles, are not currently part of the league. Nor have league officials said much about the possibility of near-term expansion.

Earlier this year, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver indicated the league would have a draft, be played in NBA venues and have a spectator component.   

“There’s a global pool of gamers,” Silver told USA Today. “They come in all ages, and sizes and ethnicities and sexes, and then we will at some point have a draft that will look somewhat similar to an NBA draft, in which the teams will select their [video game] players, and presumably on top of that they’ll have the ability to spot some great talent on their own, players who aren’t identified through sort of a league system. And that’s how we’ll form our teams.

“Fans and players of these games, who aren’t as expert as these professionals, want to come into an arena and watch the very best play. So you can imagine a scenario where, [say] the new arena in Milwaukee, where there’s five-on-five competition, just like NBA basketball, [and] it’s being projected on a huge, large high-definition screen, and fans are watching all the moves. There’s quarters, there’s halftimes, and everything that goes with it,” Silver added.

"It's fun, we'll be participating," Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O'Neil told ESPN.com. "There's still a lot to learn from our perspective as to how the league will work and the infrastructure, where the revenue is coming from, how will the draft will work. But we're excited, it's a good opportunity to reach younger fans in a different way and hopefully incorporate them into our fanbase and vice-versa. We're hoping to make Sixers, eSixers fans and bringing them into the Sixers fold."

The teams signed up to play in the inaugural season are:

• Boston Celtics

• Cleveland Cavaliers

• Dallas Mavericks

• Detroit Pistons

• Golden State Warriors

• Indiana Pacers

• Memphis Grizzlies

• Miami Heat

• Milwaukee Bucks

• New York Knicks

• Orlando Magic

• Philadelphia 76ers

• Portland Trail Blazers

• Sacramento Kings

• Toronto Raptors

• Utah Jazz

• Washington Wizards

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