The NBA is considering launching a Chinese esports league
After the National Basketball Association convinced 17 U.S. teams to be part of the inaugural NBA 2K esports league, it's now setting its eyes on the Chinese market. NBA China CEO David Shoemaker told CNBC that the league is exploring its esports options in China—by far the largest market globally.
"When you factor in not just filling arenas, but the content offering and what that can do with the millions of people watching it online, we think the sky's really the limit," Shoemaker said.
Creating a stand-alone Chinese esports league isn't the only option, though. Shoemaker also highlighted the possibility of including Chinese teams in the U.S. league.
The franchised NBA 2K esports league is set to start in 2018 and include many clubs that have previously engaged in esports, including he Philadelphia 76ers, which own and manage Team Dignitas, the Boston Celtics, which invested $7 million into Fnatic, and the Sacramento Kings, whose owners are involved in NRG Esports, to only name a few.
In China, the NBA has found a strong partner in internet giant Tencent. China's biggest gaming company partnered with the league to deliver "real-time content in the best mobile format possible," Shoemaker told CNBC.
"The reality is most of our fans still can't buy that ticket and 99-point-something percent of our fans will never get to go see an NBA game, so we're focused a little bit on tech and how we can use tech to bring that NBA experience to our fans," Shoemaker said.
While that partnership isn't about esports, it certainly helps NBA China to have a foot in the door at the biggest gaming company in the world. After all, the Chinese market is an attractive one to conquer. In May, a report by research institute IHS Markit suggested the number of gaming-related video streams delivered in China totaled 11.1 billion in 2016. Compare that with the second largest market, North America, with "just" 2.7 billion streams.
Be that as it may, with a majority of NBA teams involved and the outlook of even more joining, NBA 2K esports has to deliver next year. Facing the same question every other sports simulator game faces—why not watch the real thing instead?—the game now has a one-off opportunity to step up in esports relevancy.