NBA welcomes Hawks, Nets, Lakers, Wolves franchises to NBA 2K League

The NBA is welcoming franchises owned by the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves to its NBA 2K League ahead of its second season.

The four franchises will join the 17 NBA teams that participated in the inaugural NBA 2K League season, which began in May and will conclude with its first finals event on Aug. 25 in New York. The expansion price for the second season is the same as the first: $750,000 for three years of participation, according to sources.

"Welcoming these four world-class organizations and their passionate fanbases to the NBA 2K League is an exciting moment not only for the league, but for the entire 2K community," NBA 2K League managing director Brendan Donohue said in a statement Wednesday. "From their innovative spirit to their global reach, we know each of these teams will be a tremendous addition, and we are thrilled that this growth offers the opportunity for new players, coaches and support staff to join the league."

NBA 2K19, the latest version of the popular basketball simulator, will release on Sept. 11. The NBA 2K League is expected to host its expansion draft on Sept. 28, league sources said.

With the additions, the league will increase to 21 participating teams. The Hawks, Nets, Lakers and Timberwolves will create affiliated brands that will look similar to their basketball franchises.

In early 2018, Mississippi-based creative firm Rare Design constructed the initial sister brands for participating NBA 2K League franchises, at the expense of the league.

However, according to sources, the four expansion franchises will be responsible for overseeing the creation and incurring the costs of their new brands. Rare Design previously created the most recent rebrands for the Timberwolves in 2017 and Hawks in 2015.

The NBA 2K League inaugural season has had mixed feedback both internally among league executives and participating team owners and staff, and externally among fans and industry peers.

The league has averaged around 10,500 concurrent viewers per broadcast on Twitch since July 13, according to TwitchTracker. The NBA previously told Forbes it reached from 130,000 to 285,000 average unique viewers per broadcast.

The NBA announced the NBA 2K League in February 2017 after several years of its team owners investing in other non-sports simulator esports titles, such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch.

Since June 2015, 14 NBA teams or part of their ownership have invested in or partnered with non-NBA-affiliated esports teams. In October 2015, NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered a presentation on esports during an NBA board of governors meeting in New York.

Prior to that presentation, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban invested in esports wagering site Unikrn in June 2015 and Memphis Grizzlies minority owner Steven Kaplan become a shareholder in esports team Immortals in October 2015. Other NBA owners, such as Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and Milwaukee Bucks majority owner Wesley Edens, expressed their interest at that time in esports to Silver, the league and their peers.

Since then, the landscape of the relationship between the NBA and esports has rapidly evolved.

From League of Legends to Counter-Strike to Overwatch to Super Smash Bros., major esports events have taken over NBA arenas in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Salt Lake City and Oakland, California, in the past few years.

Of esports' most popular league, the North American League of Legends Championship Series, nine of 10 participating teams have shareholders that include current or former NBA owners and players. Comparatively, in the Overwatch League -- the wealthiest league in all of esports -- five of 12 teams have a similar affiliation.

The 2K League itself has garnered both positive and negative feedback among some of its team ownership and staff, sources said. Many owners believe that testing the format and giving owners not invested in esports outside of the 2K League a chance to experience the industry for the first time is healthy, according to sources. However, others have been disappointed by the viewership and engagement that have led to struggle in advertising and partnership sales, sources said.

The $750,000 franchise fee for the 2K League and subsequent team operating costs are minuscule compared to the level of required capital to enter the more popular esports titles. The League Championship Series required its owners to commit to a multiyear contract that would see its teams pay $10 million to $13 million in franchise fees. The Overwatch League, in its first season, required $20 million over multiple years in franchise payments -- and for its second season, it has sold teams for more than $35 million, sources said.