ATLANTA – Video gamers now have a chance to compete for an NBA title, in an actual NBA arena and get paid by the some of the same people who pay LeBron James and Steph Curry.
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That's right, the "NBA 2K eLeague" is coming — the first eSports league operated by one of the four major pro sports leagues in the United States.
The NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software announced early Thursday morning that they are bringing some of the world's best gamers together to compete while representing actual NBA teams, a competition Commissioner Adam Silver hopes will continue to expand his league's global brand.
"The large part of my mission is to grow the game of basketball," Silver told The Associated Press. "There's going to be an opportunity for this first of a kind league to attract a group of gamers who might be playing some other game. Now, they can say 'Maybe I couldn't play for the Knicks, because I didn't have the physical prowess to compete at that level. But I do have the mental and physical prowess to compete as an egamer for the eKnicks.'"
"NBA 2K eLeague" is scheduled to debut in 2018. The league will start with about 8-12 teams — Silver did not say which teams, but noted that eventually all 30 NBA teams will be represented. Each NBA owner is being given the opportunity to build teams at their own pace.
"The idea sounds amazing," said Stephon Johnson, an Atlanta native and frequent online video game player who attends Grambling State University. "Combining NBA 2K gamers with the actual the NBA would be awesome. A lot of us gamers had once dreamt of playing in the NBA."
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Gamers will be chosen through a recruiting process by NBA teams and Take-Two. They'll go through a virtual version of a combine and be selected in a draft, which Silver says will either be televised or streamed online.
Each NBA franchise will select five gamers to represent its team.
From there, the team of gamers will play in an 82-game regular season, advance to a playoff and the top teams will compete for a championship, which most likely will take place at an NBA arena, Silver said.
"We want to make this as real as possible," said Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two, the parent company of 2K games. He said there will be a cash prize for the winner similar to some of the past NBA 2K tournaments that awarded a $250,000 grand prize.
Silver said his avatar will present the championship trophy to the winner.
The idea to create the video game league morphed out of the success of the "NBA 2K16 Road to the Finals" video game competition before the NBA championship last year.
Zelnick said there were more than two million matches at the tournament hosted by Indiana Pacers star Paul George. The Take-Two CEO said NBA teams could train selected gamers, who will use their own consoles.
"People already have their own consoles and computers," he said. "I do think that teams will be fully engaged with training players. That could mean providing gear, but it won't be a very significant investment."
Though it could pay significant marketing dividends. There are similar soccer leagues in Europe for gamers.
Ryan McCaffrey, an executive editor at the entertainment media company Image Games Network, said the NBA's joint venture is a smart move.
"There are risks, but if this does work, this will pay off enormously," McCaffrey said. "Not necessarily for the financial in the short term, but more of the longevity and health of the NBA and brand with retaining that young audience. I think them tying the eLeague to the actual NBA teams is brilliant."
Follow Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mrlandrum