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Pay-for-Play: Is Professional Video Gaming a New IT Frontier?

Big money video game tournaments have been around for a while. But a new partnership involving both pro sports and e-sports could move gamers closer to the 9-to-5 realm.

Basketball and e sports moneyE-sports, or competitive video gaming, is big business. The makers of games like Dota 2, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive shell out millions of dollars a year to the winners of their tournaments. Top players get brand sponsorships, make millions, and get scouted and recruited.


And while e-sports is not yet big enough to compete seriously with any of your grandfather’s spectator sports, it is big enough that those pastimes are starting to take notice. Some of the more forward-thinking NBA teams have already made investments into e-sports, with the 76ers going so far as to purchase an e-sports team of their very own.


And now, the NBA itself wants some of that sweet, sweet digital action.


Last month, the NBA announced that it was teaming up with the makers of NBA 2K to create a digital basketball league. Tentatively scheduled to debut in 2018, the virtual league would closely mirror the real league, and each of the flesh-and-blood franchises would also own a complementary e-team.


This means that drafts will be held, players recruited, and brackets drawn up. The only difference is that the players can sink that buzzer-beater layup without risking a hamstring. For the first time in history, fathers might start pushing their children to play inside.


NBA E-League Not a Slam Dunk


If you’re wondering who on earth would watch the games ... well, you’re not the only one, though it may not be for the reasons you think. Despite its somewhat misleading name, the popular e-sports tend to be action-packed shooter games or colorful fantasy-based team strategy games.


Conspicuously absent are games based on actual, flesh-and-blood, tear-your-ACL-type sports. It should also be noted that, out of the top five e-sports, all five are played on PC, and two of them are 100 percent free-to-play.



All these factors, taken together, present some substantial “blocks” for NBA 2K to overcome. First, it’s not as visually stimulating as the most popular e-sports tend to be.


Dota 2 is filled with fantastic landscapes and interesting creatures that you can enjoy even if you don’t fully understand the game. Counter-Strike lets you ride with the player in first-person, looking down their scope and taking their shots with them, and you can come into it fresh and still have a firm grasp of the rules after a single match.


NBA 2K requires you to already understand the rules of basketball to even begin to enjoy it, and because it’s based on a real sport, populated with real athletes who have real ACLs, it can seem absolutely plodding compared to the frantic command-making in Dota 2 or League of Legends, or the split-second response times required for Counter-Strike.


NBA 2K has another problem; it’s primarily a console game. Being able to buy it for PC, XBOX, or Playstation has boosted sales, but when it comes to e-sports things get a bit hairy. There’s no cross-platform mechanic, so Playstation users can’t play against XBox users, who can’t play against PC users.


That hasn’t been a big deal in the past, when play was casual and players didn’t stand to lose money. To build an official league, however, the NBA will also have to sanction an official platform. They’re going to have to step on the toes of Sony, Microsoft, or both, and generally speaking that’s not a great way to go.