Can The NBA 2K League Become "The Greatest Show on Earth"? Here Are 30 Ideas.

Industry Guest Post: Brett Morris is a former Senior Vice President for Mark Cuban (MarkCubanCompanies.com) and former President/COO of esports innovator Super League Gaming (SuperLeague.com). He’s now a consultant in esports and other emerging technologies and can be reached at Brett@MorrisStrategic.com


Last week I wanted to completely change the perception of the NBA 2K League from “video game basketball,” (which one journalist recently called it) to the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

So I invited showmen P.T. Barnum and Evel Knievel to a brainstorming session. They invited their friends Roone Arledge (Monday Night Football creator) and Bill Veeck (innovative baseball promoter). Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis’ manager) showed up a little late.

The goal: Take an NBA 2K League broadcast and turn it into must-watch entertainment for gaming, esports and NBA fans — of all ages and levels of interest — while painstakingly retaining the authenticity of the core games of basketball and NBA 2K.

The perspective: To succeed in esports/gaming programming, one must constantly blow the viewers’ doors off. Non-stop flame throwing. Keep in mind, this is an industry that saw its second-most-watched game, PUBG, be replaced by a similar, yet new and now most-watched game, Fortnite, almost overnight.

The brainstorm rules: You can’t recommend changing any of the core programming that Visual Concepts and Take Two Interactive continue to perform miracles on to get ready for the inaugural NBA 2K League season. Any ideas must be additive to the core game. (i.e.: no recommending four point shots, etc).

So, after many drinks and much reminiscing (Knievel’s Wembley Stadium jump stories are tough to beat), here’s just some of the ideas we came up with. Like any brainstorming, some are wacky and some are great, and some we’re keeping secret for other potential clients. In no particular order :

  1. Trash Cash: Reward players who do the best trash-talking and have Twitch viewers chime in with their favorites.
  2. Live Twitch viewer rewards: “Twitch chat participant John Z, you get $100 if Knick Gaming scores on their next possession.”
  3. For casual fan perspective, make sure every NBA 2K League player has an NBA player comparison in terms of describing their game.
  4. In-game money challenges. “Next team to score six points wins $500.”
  5. Hand Cam. Casual fans have no idea how great these guys really are with their stick skills. Show it.
  6. Who’s working on real nicknames, not mostly lifeless gamer tags? And casual fans still want to know real names too.
  7. Pressure? Let’s hook them up to heart monitors and put those stats on the screen.
  8. Savage Interview. Pause the game and interview the player: “Why did you just make that crazy pass?”
  9. Live head coach microphone and cam. Can coaches really make a difference in esports, especially during a game?
  10. Pause the game and let Twitch viewers call one offensive play for each team.
  11. Dedicate one practice game per week as amateurs versus pros with the amateurs being from the home team’s city (and put live on Twitch).
  12. Position games as “shows” and not “events.”
  13. Dedicate a Thursday night game to traditional broadcast TV. Make it the “pub game” of the week and encourage micro bets at local watering holes.
  14. Constantly talk about prize money. As in, if this guy doesn’t step up his game he’s literally handing $5 thousand to his opponent.
  15. Make all the different team uniforms unique and original. Don’t do what Overwatch did and make all the team jerseys the same construction (just with different logos/colors).
  16. Speaking of uniforms, make them complete uniforms from head to toe— i.e., give them pants too (maybe shootaround type pants), not just random jeans players wear in other leagues.
  17. Don’t schedule matchups until the previous week’s contests are complete. Creating early rivalries are key.
  18. Pay Nike or Adidas or Supreme or Wieden+Kennedy to do an ad campaign featuring their products on NBA 2K League “athletes.”
  19. Don’t be afraid to constantly promote individual greatness and create discussion around it. As in, “Fresh Prince JT is the current favorite for MVP.”
  20. Make play-by-play and color casters/announcers a priority. Pay them really well. Nothing will sink the league faster than bad casters. And make sure they know both 2K and basketball — there’s a difference.
  21. Listen-ins to player conversations in headsets.
  22. Come up with interesting new stats like “number of ankles broken,” “number of posters created,” etc.
  23. Make sure to always mention players’ hometowns.
  24. Coach draws up a play viewable to the audience watching online.
  25. Create a dope soundtrack by pairing a classic stadium organist with a DJ.
  26. Hire KingSwish to do more of these play recreations. Nothing shows the realism of 2K better.
  27. Make sure there’s at least one player face on the screen at all times.
  28. Create villains first. Then heroes.
  29. Use halftime to connect with pop culture with music videos and movie trailer premieres.
  30. In future seasons, every team roster needs to have at least one international player or one player from the team’s city.

An Overview Of Console Esports - Microsoft

Industry Guest Post: Jonathan Pan is an Esports Instructor at the University of California, Irvine. He has over 13 years of experience in management, strategy, or business development roles across companies small and large. After serving as a Product Manager at Riot Games, he co-founded and served as CEO of Ember, an esports team. He has also delivered one of the most viewed TEDx talks on esports. 


In Part 1 we looked at mobile, a framework for analysis and Nintendo's esports strategy and Part 2 focused on Sony's esports efforts. Today will conclude with Microsoft.

 

MICROSOFT

Microsoft’s esports strategy appears to be growing the competitive communities of these first-party games: HaloGears of War, and Forza. Halo esports has been around for a long time and has kick-started the careers of some famous players today. In fact, the most popular streamer today, Ninja, was a former pro Halo player. However, he had some choice words to say about why he started taking a break from competitive Halo last year.

Gears of War appears to be doing better in terms of esports teams/player relations. Last week, they announced sharing 50% of revenues from skin sales to esports teams. Here’s how Complexity team owner Jason Lake responded:

On the input device front, the Xbox Elite controller is a hit. The controller is customizable with various features to help competitive gamers play better such as rear triggers, bumpers with adjustable sensitivity, adjustable sticks and better grips for long play sessions. Also, more button placements allows players to do more actions more comfortably, increasing performance.

On the platform services front, Xbox Arena allows players to create their own tournaments. It remains to be seen if tournament organizers will adopt to use Xbox Arena to create tournaments are continue to use established third-party tournament platforms such as Battlefy and FACEIT. Battlefy powers Nintendo’s Splatoon 2 tournaments as mentioned earlier. FACEIT became “one of the first Tournament Organizer partners for the Xbox Live Tournaments Platform” in 2016.

 

WHICH STRATEGY IS WORKING?

It’s too soon to tell if Sony or Nintendo’s strategies are working, but they are on good footing. The PS4 is the established market leader with 73.6 million units sold as of December 31, 2017. While Microsoft has not announced sales figures for Xbox One, analysts estimate that figure to be around 30 million. Size matters and Sony is well positioned to leverage their large install base once they have a first-party esports game.

In the meantime, positioning itself around the Call of Duty franchise in a time when Activision-Blizzard is making significant investment across all of their esports games, especially on the tournament administration and broadcast front, is a smart move as gamers won’t likely hear the words that plague other console esports efforts — “lack of investment” or “poor production.”

Nintendo is well-positioned to leverage Smash’s vibrant competitive community while continuing to build up the Splatoon 2 competitive community. The main complaint about Nintendo is that they haven’t done enough to support their esports efforts —now we have an opportunity to see what they will do in 2018.

Microsoft is on shakier ground. They clearly recognize what esports can do for its ecosystem and its games, which is why they have made significant investment in full-fledged esports leagues. However, the main hurdle seems to be spotty execution and not going all in when they need to. This is to be expected as many companies underestimate the amount of money it takes to run in-house tournaments with accompany broadcasts or outsourced ones.

An Overview Of Console Esports - Sony

Industry Guest Post: Jonathan Pan is an Esports Instructor at the University of California, Irvine. He has over 13 years of experience in management, strategy, or business development roles across companies small and large. After serving as a Product Manager at Riot Games, he co-founded and served as CEO of Ember, an esports team. He has also delivered one of the most viewed TEDx talks on esports. 


In Part 1 we looked at mobile, a framework for analysis and Nintendo's esports strategy. Today we continue with Sony.

 

SONY

Sony doesn’t have a first-party game like Super Smash Bros or Splatoon 2 that they can build a competitive ecosystem around just yet. In the meantime, Sony’s esports strategy appears to be positioning itself around the most popular console franchise, Call of Duty, while making improvements in input devices and enabling tournament participation directly from the PlayStation 4 (PS4).

The Call of Duty franchise is widely acknowledged as one of the most recognizable esports to mainstream audiences. Starting in 2015, PS4 owners started getting timed exclusivity for Call of Duty DLCs. The Call of Duty World League, which started in 2016, is played on PS4. Sony announced in March that they will reorganize in an effort to focus more on first-party games. If this effort yields first-party games with esports potential, they may shift their esports strategy.

On the input device front, Sony has partnered with Razer and Nacon to create two pro controllers: the Razer Raiju and the Nacon Revolution. There are two reasons for creating these: 

First, console competitive gamers have needs that are more unique than the average console gamer. For example, Call of of Dutyplayers put their hand in a shape of claw in order to hit circle (crouch), move the right stick to aim and R2 to shoot all at the same time. However, pro controllers have input buttons on the back, so this allows them to map circle (crouch) to the back, so they can hold the controller normally without straining their hand.

Second, there is pressure from Microsoft and unlicensed third-party manufacturers such as Cinch and SCUF, who are modding PlayStation controllers. This helped push PlayStation to license pro controllers to stay competitive and to show an understanding of the competitive community’s needs.

On the platform services front, PS4 players can play in ESL tournaments directly from their PS4.

 

Tomorrow will continue with Microsoft's esports efforts.

An Overview Of Console Esports - Nintendo

Industry Guest Post: Jonathan Pan is an Esports Instructor at the University of California, Irvine. He has over 13 years of experience in management, strategy, or business development roles across companies small and large. After serving as a Product Manager at Riot Games, he co-founded and served as CEO of Ember, an esports team. He has also delivered one of the most viewed TEDx talks on esports. 


It seems like records are being broken every other day in esports and streaming. The International 2017 had a record $24.8 million dollars in prize pool. The ELEAGUE Major broke the peak concurrent users record on Twitch two years in a row, with a peak of 1.13 million users watching the final match. Most recently, the Ninja — Drake stream has brought all of these topics into the attention of mainstream media.

All of this record-breaking is happening with PC games and console makers — Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — are looking to get a piece of the action too, each pursing a distinct strategy. Before we dive into each company’s strategy, we should take a look at what mobile esports has tried to do and is trying to do. It is arguable that mobile esports is the first non-PC platform to explore what esports means for their platform.

When I say mobile esports, I’m focusing on the big three — VaingloryClash Royale, and most recently Arena of Valor (the Western adaptation of Honor of Kings). Collectively, they’ve tried everything: pay esports teams to get involved, created leagues, hosted tournaments, created esports broadcasts, and more. Yet none of these efforts have gained as much traction as PC esports has.

And that’s okay, because the industry has yet to define what a successful “mobile esports” looks like. While I don’t have a definition, I offer the opinion that mobile esports is more suited as a participatory esport rather than a spectator esport. And as a participatory esport, mobile esports may be doing quite well. But it’ll probably never eclipse PC esports as a spectator esport.

Therefore, the biggest lesson learned that console esports can learn from mobile esports is to define it’s own success criteria.

 

STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK

Looking from the outside in, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft’s esports strategies seem to focus on one to three of these areas: first-party/exclusive games, input devices, and platform services.

  1. Creating an esport requires esports potential, financial investment, developer buy-in, and most importantly, community buy-in. In total, it’s a big commitment and only makes sense for first-party and exclusive third-party games where the publisher has influence or control over these inputs.
  2. Another lesson learned from mobile esports is that input devices matter. High-level and professional players of mobile games use keyboard and mouse when available because it offers more precision and complexity than the touch screen. We’ve seen this in the past with Vainglory and more recently with mobile PUBG. That’s also why arcade sticks are used by most professional fighting game players.
  3. Platform services make participating and watching tournaments easier. Tournament participation has demonstrated increased retention and monetization for some companies. For example, players in World of Tanks who participate in esports tournaments have 3x longer lifespan and 3.5x higher spending. Meanwhile, gamers watching esports on consoles can help console makers prove the case that watching esports can lead to increased engagement.

 

NINTENDO

Nintendo has taken an about face on esports. After years of actively suppressing the Super Smash Bros competitive community, most notably at Evo 2013, Nintendo recently announced hosting the first official Super Smash Bros tournament and the first Splatoon 2 World Championship tournament at E3 2018.

Nintendo’s esports strategy appears to be focused on growing their two first-party games, Smash and Splatoon 2, on the Switch. Smash already had a vibrant competitive community before Nintendo’s official involvement. If Smash represents Nintendo’s past, Splatoon 2 represents Nintendo’s future. The team-based, family-friendly, third-person shooter has a burgeoning competitive community with professional and amateur teams. The Switch trailer in October 2016 ends with two teams playing Splatoon 2 in front of a huge live audience.

The Switch is interesting as it seems to straddle the unique space between console and portable. If you recall the participatory esports distinction I made earlier, the Switch definitely enables participation as you can bring it to tournaments — enabling larger brackets. There’s much more friction in bringing a PS4 or Xbox One and their accessories around. Outside of being a unique input device, the Switch has been a major commercial success. Nintendo has sold 14.86 million units of the Switch in 2017 with 52.57 million units of software sold alongside the system. It broke the U.S. record for the fastest selling console ever, with 4.8 million units sold in just 10 months.

 

Tomorrow will continue with Sony's esports strategy.