Yesterday was a pivotal moment for the NBA 2k League, and the Esports industry as a whole. For the first time ever, a professional traditional sports league has created and funded an Esports league in its image. While it was a great step in the right direction, not everything the league did was a slam-dunk. Let’s review what did and didn’t work at the inaugural NBA 2k League Draft.
Pre-Draft Hype: Didn’t work
This league’s success, as commissioner Adam Silver indicated, will be determined by viewership. Currently, there are approximately 72,000 people worldwide who are NBA 2k enthusiasts. For the sake of argument, let’s round that number up to 100,000.
At its peak viewership on Twitch, the NBA 2k League Draft topped out at about 30,000 concurrent viewers. These aren’t bad numbers, but let’s put it in perspective. The broadcast of the draft was the eighth most popular stream of the day at its peak.
Meaning, individual streamers without the NBA backing and brand were garnering more viewership. To be fair, it might be too early to measure their success against other established streamers on Twitch. However, those people are going to be their competitors, and eventually, they will have to rival them.
There are two things they could have done to expose this event to a wider audience. First, the league could have put some type of content on their channel leading up to the draft to create some buzz. Even if they just post interviews or highlights of players, it at least lets everyone on Twitch know they’re here.
Second, there didn’t appear to be any advertising of this event on Twitch. Wouldn’t it make sense to sponsor a large streamer just to talk about the NBA 2k League Draft, or play with/against one of the top prospects? Wouldn’t it also make sense to have one of their NBA players do a similar type of event with a prospect on stream?
Overall, I trust the league to make good decisions and come up with smart campaigns. Since I have no idea what their promotional budget was, I can’t definitively say they made a mistake. But, it’s fair to say there were missed opportunities that could have helped boost initial viewership.
Pre-Draft Press Conference: Worked
While it was standard in terms of media press conferences, it was incredibly smart to broadcast it before the draft. For the first time, we had the three most important people in this league on record at the same time. The press conference did a few things well, but there’s one thing it did that was incredibly important for the entire Esports industry.
First, this event further legitimized the league because of the wide range of media outlets in attendance from ESPN, to the Washington Post, to the Sports Business Journal. Having members of different types of media outlets attend and ask questions signals that this league is legitimate and warrants professional coverage moving forward.
The second, and potentially most important, thing this press conference did was categorize these players as athletes. While it doesn’t seem like a big deal, the idea of Esports players being athletes has been a point of contention for both sides. It was monumental when Adam Silver said that he in fact views these players as athletes.
“I do see them as athletes…it takes a unique combination of physical and mental skills to excel. It’s not that different than the NBA, where you have to have incredible physical skills, but our very best players bring a certain mental focus and prowess to the court as well.”
– Adam Silver
If the commissioner wanted to dodge this question he certainly could have. His media training and experience would allow him to give an answer without addressing the question, like so many high profile athletes and CEO’s do. The point is, he felt comfortable calling them athletes, justifying why he thinks so, and putting on the record.
Event Production: Didn’t Work
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. While the concept of the NBA 2k League Draft was great, it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been. For example, the twenty minute delay wasn’t good. Given the production value of the Overwatch League and League of Legends, this kind of delay is unacceptable if you’re trying to establish yourself as a premiere Esport.
Once the draft started, there were some things aesthetically that didn’t work. The NBA 2k League should be commended for their efforts in broadcasting this draft. It was well done in terms of its quality. However, there were clearly some things they would address if given the chance to do it again.
First, there needed to be some kind of background filler after a prospect was selected. Another way this could have been handled was to play highlights of each player until they reached the stage. It would have been a great opportunity to display their skills for all the viewers even if it was just a few clips.
Second, the interviews were lackluster. This was because the questions being asked were generic and there wasn’t enough time between picks to ask questions that would elicit a thoughtful, interesting response.
Draft Format: Worked
Plain and simple, the snake format worked. It was the best way to ensure a level playing field among all the teams. It also added another layer of strategy when it comes to team building. The franchises at the top got the best prospects, but as a result, they have to adjust the most given the amount of time between their picks.
Now, that can be applied to every team. However, it impacts the teams at the top slightly more because of the difference in skill between their best and their second best player. Thus, they have to have a strong strategy and execute it.
Despite the initial technical difficulties and the awkward moments, the NBA 2k League Draft was a success. The next step in the process will be promoting the league and the players moving forward. If viewership is the key performance indicator of success, the league will have to find a way to compete for audiences’ attention on Twitch and tapping into a whole new audience altogether.
Featured Image Courtesy of Darren Rovell Twitter (@darrenrovell)
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