When it comes to eSports, virtual sports simulations aren’t the focus of most e-athletes. Around the world, popular sports leagues from England’s Premier League to the NFL’s Madden 21 Champions Series have found success in launching associated eSports leagues.
The shift to creating virtual eSports leagues came from the rising popularity of gaming. For decades, the NFL has partnered with EA Sports to create its popular Madden franchise. The Premier League, on the other hand, isn’t the only football (soccer) league to partner with FIFA.
The NBA announced the formation of its NBA 2K League back in 2017 and launched its first tournament the following year. Like the examples listed above, NBA franchises launched their own gaming teams, which provide training for gamers who make the cut.
In other words, real-life teams like the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics build their own eSports squad, then battle it out in a simulated regular season. The 2021 season began on May 19 and will conclude September 4 in the 2021 NBA 2K League Finals.
There’s even a draft, where teams jockey to sign on the crème of the crop—international gamers included. So far, only 23 of the NBA’s 32 teams have launched eSports branches. And each team has had varying success so far.
Incremental Improvement for Some
At the moment, the Milwaukee Bucks gaming branch, Bucks Gaming, only just secured its first win in the NBA’s 2K League. Beyond the bounds of virtual basketball, the Bucks are looking to take home their first NBA Championship title since 1971.
Though NBA Championship winner betting odds from a variety of sportsbooks favor the Phoenix Suns to win, the (IRL) Bucks have one key asset: Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka the Greek Freak. The Bucks virtual squad, on the other hand, is still looking to find its breakout star.
Meanwhile, the Hawks Talon Gaming Club (of the Atlanta Hawks franchise) is banking on an exciting environment to help bring out a gamer’s best moves. The Hawks have set up a fully functional gaming center at their State Farm Arena home base, which means gamers get to do their thing with coaches nearby at the ready.
For the Hawks Gaming Club’s head coach, Wesley Acuff, one key element of success is building a team identity, similar to any sports team. Not only do gamers perform better together, but they also have more to fight for if they’ve created a sense of community around their team and franchise.
Both teams have a long way to go if they want to become champions. At the moment, the Hawks Talon GC is ranked 11 out of 12 in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks Gaming crew is ranked last out of 11 in the Western Conference.
T-Wolves & Wizards Topping Standings
Since the NBA 2K League launched in 2018, there have been three title winners; Knicks Gaming (2018), T-Wolves Gaming (2019), and Wizards District Gaming (2020). Currently, Grizz Gaming has an edge over the Wizards in the Eastern Conference with fewer losses.
The T-Wolves, on the other hand, have a short lead in the Western Conference due to loss differentials between them and the Pacers. With ample time left this season, standings will change with each two-game match series (which are played three times per week).
The T-Wolves have a strong player in ShiftyKaii, who’s scored a total of 28 points per game so far this season. The Wizards, on the other hand, will be leaning on player JBM (24.8 points) to help carry them through the rest of the season.
Expanding the League
There’s a new team in town that others will need to keep an eye on. The NBA decided to open its 2K League to international gaming groups via invitationals (held in Seoul, South Korea in 2019). It then welcomed the team Gen.G eSports into the tournament.
NBA’s 2K video game franchise has a reputation for bugs in its latest iterations, but budding interest in professional basketball abroad has helped spark interest from gaming groups the world over. With a prize purse of $160,000, there’s also plenty of incentive.