There are an estimated 1.6 billion basketball fans worldwide, which the NBA 2K League sees as plenty of opportunities to grow its brand recognition overseas.
Since its inaugural season in 2018, the 2K League has seen growth both in reputation and size. Heading into 2020, league content has generated more than 306 million video views across all NBA and NBA 2K League social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, Twitter and YouTube.
Even viewership has risen significantly year-over-year. During the 2K League’s second season, President Karl Slatoff of Take-Two Interactive – which owns 50% of the 2K League – said during the company’s earnings call that overseas viewership both live and on-demand increased 34% from 2018.
Now the league is looking to assist that international growth even further by hosting its first-ever qualifying event in Europe.
Called the NBA 2K League European Invitational, the two day-event held in London on December 13 to 14 features several European players who will become eligible for the 2020 NBA 2K League Draft upon passing a background check. Players from countries like Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom will be competing in the invitational.
Along with competing and participating in scrimmages and a double-elimination tournament, players will also interview with league representatives and team managers.
For fans looking to watch online, the double-elimination competition on Dec. 14 will be live-streamed on the 2K League’s Twitch and YouTube Channels. When the event wraps up, a committee of league reps and team managers will identify several players for next year’s NBA 2K League Draft, which took place this year on March 5.
When 2K League play began in 2018, 17 of the NBA’s 30 franchises participated. In 2019, four additional teams signed on – the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves. Already, two more are expected to join in 2020, bringing the total number of 2K League teams to 23.
The 23rd team that will be joining is coming from esports organization Gen.G, which will be fielding a Shanghai-based team. It’ll not only be the first 2K League team based outside of North America, but it’ll also be the first without an NBA team affiliation.
“We think there’s a great opportunity to scale,” said NBA 2K League Managing Director Brendan Donohue. “Getting more players, fans, and franchises outside of North America as well – we think that’s a perfect opportunity for us.”
Beyond 2019, it’s just as important for the 2K League to continue its domestic expansion, said Donohue. Launching alongside Gen.G’s Shanghai club is Hornets Venom GT, which will be based out of Charlotte under the ownership of the Charlotte Hornets.
Even some 2K League teams are taking it upon themselves to further their league’s growth. Of the 2K League’s 21 active teams, four have public-facing esports facilities: Blazer5 Gaming (Portland Trail Blazers), Mavs Gaming, (Dallas Mavericks), T-Wolves Gaming (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Cavs Legion GC (Cleveland Cavaliers), according to the league.
The Cavaliers’ esports team became the latest to break ground on a facility when they had the grand opening of their Legion Lair in late November.
“This is another fantastic move for the NBA 2K League and hopefully we will see similar announcements from other teams going into the new season,” said Manny Anekal, founder of The Next Level Media, which covers the esports business.
According to Donohue, there is an abundance of avenues that the 2K League can use for growth in the coming months. With the streaming success that it has seen thus far, there’s a possibility of taking the 2K League to linear television.
There’s also the potential of 2K League teams to host games for the first time ever, giving local fans a chance to attend. Through the first two seasons, events were held at 2K League Studios in Long Island City, New York.
“We expected to see this growth,” Donohue said. “Esports is growing at such a rapid pace and we think we have a great place in it. So I think you’ll continue to see us evolve and improve our entire fan experience.”