I have zero understanding of esports or its popularity, but the NBA is taking it very seriously.
The NBA 2K League — an organization cofounded by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software — held its inaugural draft at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York on Wednesday, and it got the official treatment, complete with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski scooping the No. 1 overall pick …
Mavs Gaming will select Artreyo Boyd, aka Dimez, as the No. 1 overall pick in the inaugural NBA2K Draft, league source tells ESPN. Draft starts soon, with Commissioner Adam Silver at the podium.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 4, 2018
… before NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Artreyo Boyd’s name at the podium:
The historic 1st pick of the #NBA2KLeagueDraft!
— NBA2KLeague (@NBA2KLeague) April 4, 2018
Boyd, a 23-year-old Cleveland native, went first overall to Mavs Gaming — one of 17 2K League teams owned by NBA franchises — meaning Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will be his new boss.
And, yes, they get paid — more than G League players, in fact. Boyd and the other 16 first-round picks will earn a starting salary of $35,000, while NBA 2K League players selected in rounds two through six will make $32,000. There’s also a $1 million prize pool dispersed over the league’s three in-season tournaments and playoffs. On top of that, the 2K League will cover travel and housing costs as well as medical and retirement benefits for their players, who will take up residence in their host cities.
G League players, meanwhile, earn either $19,000 or $26,000, depending on which tier they’re assigned to. The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement did allow for teams to sign a pair of two-way players to starting salaries of $75,000 in the G League and as much as $275,000 if they play in the NBA.
If you’re like me and have no concept of what a 2K League would look like, each draftee controls his own player, so five of the six team members play on the court together. In other words, Boyd will play as himself, better known as Dimez to 2K followers — a point guard he says has the handles and scoring acumen of Kyrie Irving crossed with the leadership and passing ability of Chris Paul.
“They call me the LeBron James of 2K because this year alone I’ve been to six out of eight finals, and out of the six we’ve been to, we’ve won four in a row,” Boyd told The Postgame prior to being drafted No. 1 overall. “They call me LeBron James because he always goes to the finals, no matter what.”
Boyd has something else in common with LeBron: He comes from humble beginnings in Northeast Ohio — East Cleveland, to be exact. Count his parents among those who were skeptical that all those hours spent playing video games would lead to a career, but Boyd erased all doubts when his team captured a $250,000 prize by winning the NBA All-Star Weekend Tournament Championship last year.
If the dollar figures are starting to sound a little crazy, there’s good reason for them. With the 2K League, the NBA is trying to capture a healthy portion of the expected 250 million viewers of esports gaming by 2020, when estimates peg the potential viewership of a title game at roughly 70 million.
I also have no idea what sort of viewership there is for a G League finals game, but I can assure you it’s a small fraction of that number. So, all you kids out there, the next time your parents tell you to stop playing video games and go outside to play, feel free to remind them that Dimez started playing NBA 2K in 2008 and has been playing video games steadily for a decade, so there’s work to do. I guess.
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