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The emergence of NBA 2K esports: a Q&A with managing director, Brendan Donohue on its marketing prospects

Seventeen of the NBA’s 30 teams will participate in the inaugural season of the NBA 2K eSports league

ESports is growing like a wildfire with the Esports ad industry worth $280m in 2016 is set to breach the billion mark by 2021.

With the ever growing marketing prospects of eSports and the inclusion of it it next year's Asian Games, now is the time for sports organizations to invest in the sector. In the US, NBA has led the way by becoming the first pro sports league to co-own an e-sports organisation.

The Drum spoke to NBA 2K eSports new managing director Brendan Donohue to enunciate his plans for the league.

What prompted the NBA to start its own NBA 2K esports league?

We, along with 2K, recognized a tremendous opportunity. Esports is another great way for us to engage with NBA fans and NBA 2K players. We know our fans are digitally/tech savvy, our audience is young and diverse, and they are global. This aligns perfectly with the eSports space. We’re launching the NBA 2K eSports league because we see a tremendous opportunity in the space to engage a burgeoning community and grow the game of basketball.

What benefit does this bring the very game and the sport?

NBA 2K is the most popular sports video game in North America and, more importantly, the top rated by users. This will allow us, along with 2K, to create a way to bring together the elite players in the world to compete. Other eSports games have proven there is a significant appetite for people to watch that.

What it brings to the game of basketball is another great way to engage with our fans on a global level and allow more people to experience the game of basketball.

We are looking forward to forming something truly unique for basketball and gaming fans around the globe.

We believe this league, supported by the NBA, our teams, and 2K, could be industry defining. This is the first, team-driven eSports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league. Plus, the five-on-five eSports format – where each player controls only one player on screen – creates a true team dynamic by having to rely on your fellow teammates.

How much funding is this venture getting?

While we won’t discuss financial details, we will say that the NBA, 2K, our teams and our partners are making a strong commitment to the league.

What are the expansion plans?

17 of the NBA’s 30 teams will participate in the inaugural season of the NBA 2K eSports league, while our other teams have expressed tremendous interest in the league. We fully expect more teams to jump on board starting with Year two.

What has been the response of other NBA teams?

The response for our teams has been terrific. More than half of our organizations will participate in the league’s inaugural season. All 30 teams are big believers in what we are doing and they know that this is great for the NBA.

Are there any plans to broadcast it and if yes, where?

Yes. We’ll be making announcements about our media plans in the coming months.

What are the difficulties you expect to face and how do you plan to overcome those?

This idea is new so we’ll need to build an audience, but the great news is that we are not starting from zero. NBA 2K is already the most popular sports game in North America and that will give the NBA 2K eSports league a great initial boost. We’re excited for the challenge as we bring together the NBA’s league operations experience and 2K’s gaming expertise.

Your forte is marketing. How do you plan to use all your experience in marketing of this new eSports league?

I’ve been interested in eSports for quite a while. I plan to use what I have learned over the past two decades to create the most exciting, engaging and game changing experience for players and fans.

Find out more about the marketing opportunities for e-Sports at The Drum's dedicated news section.

The Drum is investigating the Fifa eSports phenomena in a documentary called eSports: Football Rebooted. Sign up for the free viewing event 3 August in London here.

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