The NBA has enlisted 17 of its 30 teams to participate in the upcoming NBA 2K League, a joint project between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, it was announced Thursday morning.
The NBA 2K league will debut in 2018, and will feature the 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 and Washington Wizards. Each team has agreed to participate for three years, worth about $750,000 per team, sources told ESPN.com.
"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. "Our teams have expressed tremendous enthusiasm for esports, and we are looking forward to forming something truly unique for basketball and gaming fans around the globe."
In February, the NBA and Take-Two announced they would pursue the creation of the league, making the NBA the first traditional sports league to move into the esports space directly. The two parties then named Donohue, the former NBA senior vice president of marketing and business operations, as its managing director.
"It's fun, we'll be participating," 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."
Many of the participating teams or their owners are already involved in esports. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was the first NBA owner to invest in esports in early 2015 as a part of funding for esports sportsbook Unikrn.
The 76ers and the Heat co-own esports organizations Team Dignitas and Misfits, respectively. The Heat told ESPN that their team, Misfits, will actively operate their NBA 2K team. The Sixers said they would determine their course at a later date.
"2K is uniquely positioned as a professional sport video game title to be able to reach fans that are esport fans as well as NBA fans and 2K fans alike. The opportunity here is to be able to reach fans that are in vastly different markets but all with a common thread, which is their love of the NBA and/or video games." Misfits CEO Ben Spoont told ESPN.com.
Since 2015, more traditional sports owners have become involved in esports. Kings co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov founded NRG Esports, and Grizzlies owner Stephen Kaplan invested in Immortals in 2015. In 2016, Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis purchased majority stake together in Team Liquid, and Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens started esports arm FlyQuest. Most recently, Celtics ownership group Raptor Group invested in European team Fnatic.
ESPN senior writer Darren Rovell contributed to this report.