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.

NBA 2K League and the Jersey Opportunity

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


Now that the NBA 2K League’s month-long combine is complete, the most important decision may not be who among the 70 thousand hopefuls will don the League’s official jerseys, but what the 17 team jerseys actually look like. To some, the jersey designs may seem trivial, but what they mean to the marketability of the new league could dictate the success of its first several years and potentially all esports. Here are eight critical questions and why their answers matter:

ONE: Will the dominant front graphic highlight the city/state name or the team mascot? 

WHY IT MATTERS: I still contend that one of the biggest ways to attract a casual esport audience is by gaining “home team” fans, much like traditional sports. And in esports, the opportunity is massively untapped, regardless of game. With the Overwatch League first out of the gate with city-based franchises, I thought they were going to capture this initial market. I’m a huge fan of their League product, but they may have missed on the home city opportunity by their jersey design alone, which screamed the mascot logo/name much more than the city it represented. Intentional or not, you can’t even see “Los Angeles” on either the Valiant or Gladiators Overwatch jerseys.

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TWO: Will the overall jersey construction lean toward NBA heritage or esport team norms? 

WHY IT MATTERS: The traditional esport jerseys are easy to define — usually a slick, synthetic fabric, loud colors and patterns and as many team and sponsor logos as a Nascar driver suit. Can the NBA devise a short-sleeved jersey (as seen in many of the pictures here) that leans on its basketball tank heritage, or will it try to blend in with the rest of the esport franchises? A more wearable, sleeved version of an NBA jersey is something The Association has been searching for for decades. Adidas’ NBA sleeved jersey introduced in 2012 largely failed because the players weren’t comfortable wearing. But with esports athletes not needing the same mobility/performance as the NBA players, this could give the sleeved jersey concept an important second life.

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THREE: What do the jersey sponsorship deals look like? 

WHY IT MATTERS: Unlike most other esports, the jersey the real life players are wearing could mimic or closely resemble the same as in the game. At least I think they should. Will sponsorship deals include both in real life and in game? And if they do, that would set an interesting precedent for the other sport video games preparing for their recently announced inaugural seasons.

FOUR: Who will be the team jersey sponsors? 

WHY IT MATTERS: By many accounts, including the GumGum Sports research cited in this article, this first season of NBA jersey sponsors has been successful. Not just for the teams which were reportedly asking anywhere between $5–10 million per year, but the sponsor media value ROI has exceeded expectations. However, I’d be surprised if any of them had the foresight to be included in the NBA 2K League when the deals were negotiated. Will they ask to be part of those deals and will any new sponsors create some confusion in the market, especially if the jersey designs are similar to the NBA on-court jerseys? And will the NBA ask the NBA 2K League to give priority in any deals to current NBA sponsors?

[Edit: One deal has already been completed between Cavs Legion Gaming and Hot Pockets.]

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FIVE: Will the NBA allow a version resembling its existing jerseys? 

WHY IT MATTERS: While the NBA 2K League teams have different logos than their parent clubs, all the primary color schemes are the same and the team names are closely related with many simply using a variety of “Gaming” or “Gaming Club” designations (i.e: Utah Jazz Gaming). The success of jerseys that closely resemble their NBA team’s jerseys is obvious, but will the NBA prohibit that from happening because the potential for confusion in the marketplace? Also, it’s important to note that while many sports franchises have invested in other esport teams, this will be the first to actually carry the parent team’s name.

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SIX: Which type of player name will be on the back? 

WHY IT MATTERS: Because the NBA 2K game was completely re-engineered to not involve artificial intelligence in the gameplay itself — it’s five actual players vs. five actual players — will the player names on the backs of jerseys be their actual name or their avatar name? Many of the players are only known online and in game by their gamer tags and esports tradition is to use them, but will the oddness of some of the names hurt the players’ and the League’s marketability to the casual fan? For example, one of the combine’s leader in points per game is “lightskinpapi” and one of the leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio is “vdh2677.”

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SEVEN: Will there be a “female cut” jersey? 

WHY IT MATTERS: Try finding an official women’s cut esport team jersey on the web — for any team or any league. Ridiculously, they are nearly impossible to find. The NFL still credits its fan base of nearly 50 percent females to its introduction of a women’s apparel line decades ago. And it’s hard to dismiss just about every bit of esports market research that identifies female players and fans as a massive market opportunity.

EIGHT: Will Nike be the jersey’s “official supplier?” 

WHY IT MATTERS:Nike’s stamp of authenticity (and potential co-marketing) would be a major endorsement of esports (and potentially the players’ athletic skills). But would it be better to tap into the potential of hot streetwear brands like Supreme or Champion (yes, Champion’s super hot in street fashion these days) for this younger audience?

As we get closer to the launch of NBA 2K League, these questions will be answered.

The Branding Behind The NBA 2K League Team Logos

THE BRANDING BEHIND THE NBA 2K LEAGUE TEAM LOGOS

NBA 2K League and Team Logos (Photo: NBA)

NBA 2K League and Team Logos (Photo: NBA)

TNL Take: This week saw the release of the NBA 2K League logo as well as the reveal of the individual team names and branding.  

The NBA 2K League Logo was revealed first:

  • The NBA 2K League logo uses the colors and shape of the NBA logo and incorporates the font of the NBA 2K logo
  • Unlike traditional sports leagues, there is no human silhouette, a nod to the inclusive nature of the league 
  • Centerpiece of the design is a basketball

The Next Level also spoke with individuals at Wizards District Gaming, Pacers Gaming and Jazz Gaming for their take on the team branding.

 

WIZARDS DISRICT GAMING

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You can clearly see the color connection with parent company Monumental Sports and Entertainment and the Washington Wizards with the familiar red and blue. The 3 stars in the logo represent not only the 3 stars in the DC flag, but also the communities of DC, Maryland and Virginia.

“We couldn’t be more excited to unveil the branding for Wizards District Gaming. Our logo is the perfect extension of the values that are reflective of the MSE family of teams: inclusivity, diversity, and a desire to be the best. We are confident that fans our franchises, as well as the DMV area as a whole, will be able to appreciate our approach to representing our home in an authenticate and meaningful way.”- Grant Paranjape, Director of Esports Business & Team Operations

 

PACERS GAMING

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Who doesn't love Boomer, the Indiana Pacers mascot? The Pacers Gaming logo is a new interpretation of the familiar feline.

“Boomer, the Pacers Panther mascot, is part of our heritage and symbolizes confidence, courage, and power. This new modernized version of the Pacers Panther is also sleek, confident, sly, and ready to pounce. We're proud, we're confident, and we know the game of basketball better than anyone else. This is Indiana. This is Pacers Gaming.” - Cody Parrent, Director of eSports Operations

 

JAZZ GAMING

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The Jazz Gaming logo keeps the traditional Utah Jazz colors in place while also cleverly combing the J and G together. The alternate logo even mashes up the music background of the organization.

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“We wanted our logo to showcase the state of Utah and show its part in video game history as well. It also gives you the look & feel that it belongs together with the other franchises at LHM Sports & Entertainment. We are very proud of the logo and look forward to what we build behind it.” - Josh Barney, Director of Esports and Tech

 

While the NBA 2K League will not showcase current players or teams, every logo and brand asset pays homage to their traditional sports counterpart. Will be interesting to see the crossover appeal between a basketball fan and a NBA 2K fan once the league launches next year.

Esports Week In Review | NBA 2K League, Twitch Top 10, Podcast and 5 Questions With

ESPORTS WEEK IN REVIEW | NBA 2K LEAGUE, TWITCH TOP 10, PODCAST AND 5 QUESTIONS WITH

Esports Week In Review

Esports Week In Review

TNL Take: This week we looked at how the NBA 2K League could affect traditional sports, Fortnite rising on the Twitch Top 10, TNL esports podcast featuring Brett Lautenbach (President of NRG Esports) and 5 Questions With Stéphane Gambetta from Esports BAR.

 

MONDAY 12/4

10 Ways The NBA 2K League Could Change All Sports Not Just Esports

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Have a great weekend!