ESports gamers believe their professional leagues and tournaments are not too unlike that of professional sports organizations, and this week the emerging industry received more credibility in making that claim.
In February, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced the formation of the NBA 2K eLeague, and this week professional basketball revealed 17 teams will have video gaming franchises. The concept, developed by the software company behind the “NBA 2K” video game series, will mimic that of the regular real-life NBA season.
Five players for each eLeague franchise will be drafted virtually to form a roster. They will then play an 82-game season, followed by the playoffs and finals. The 17 teams that have joined the eLeague include the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, winners of the past three NBA titles.
Last November, the Nevada Gaming Control Board tweaked its regulatory laws to allow casinos to apply for and obtain eSports betting licenses. The William Hill sportsbook inside the Downtown Grand became the first licensed eSports facility that same month.
Nevada is also currently considering a more thorough betting expansion bill that would enshrine eSports gambling into law, and also potentially liberalize wagering on events like the Oscars.
NBA Assisting eSports
The NBA is certainly doing more to help eSports than any of the other big four professional sports leagues. The NBA Playoffs are currently underway, and any viewer watching games televised on TNT have noticed the heavy eSports presence.
TNT, owned by Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), is a main cable TV partner to the NBA during the regular season and playoffs. The network is also partnered with ELEAGUE, a professional video gaming tournament series that airs on the channel.
In the first two seasons, the ELEAGUE game was “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” while this season is “Street Fighter V.”
ELEAGUE advertisements and promotions have been running to coincide with the NBA Playoffs, and with viewership up 12 percent during the first round from 2016, plenty of basketball fans are hearing, many for the first time, about eSports.
“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,” Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil told ESPN.
TNT Looks to Las Vegas
ELEAGUE is currently being produced at the Turner Broadcasting studios in Atlanta, Georgia. But that could change, as the network says it’s keeping close tabs on Las Vegas, and the city’s efforts to become the eSports capital of the US.
In addition to William Hill’s eSports gaming lounge, the Millennial ESports Arena opened in March at the Neonopolis on Fremont Street. Luxor is currently in the process of renovating its former nightclub into an eSports space.
“There’s a real opportunity for any city potentially which is willing to make the investment to end up being a true hub for eSports,” Turner Sports Chief Content Officer Craig Barry told the Las Vegas Sun recently.
Las Vegas is hoping its eSports bets pay off, and millennials that would have otherwise stayed away from Sin City venture to the desert.