The NBA 2K League will celebrate its fifth season this year, a milestone that comes as its big brother, the NBA, celebrates year 75.
But the NBA 2K League isn’t waiting around, resting on its laurels and waiting for fans to come to them. The league has decided to make a number of changes ahead of its fifth season with the aspiration of bringing in new fans, new gamers and a new understanding of how professional esports players compete throughout the year.
For the fifth season, the NBA 2K League — the NBA’s esports league where official NBA teams compete by playing the NBA 2K video game — will be hosting a number of tournaments in order to determine its champions, allowing teams to win major prize pools.
Not only that, but the NBA 2K League will host a number of 3v3 tournaments that offer amateur talent a chance to showcase their skills. Anyone can compete in these tournaments and compete against real professionals.
“The biggest thing for a fan to understand this year is we’re playing roughly the same number of games, only it’s going to be higher stakes on all the games,” NBA 2K League President Brendan Donohue told me in an interview.
The shift, truly, is about bringing the league to fans and connecting with anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.
“You’ll start to see a kind of consistent theme come across throughout the whole season,” he said.
What’s next and what to watch for
The NBA 2K league season will have two types of tournaments during its season from April to August. The league will have a number of 5v5 tournaments between the 2K League teams. So we’ll see the Utah Jazz Gaming take on Warriors Gaming, like we do every season. Group play will lead into a tournament play, giving each team a chance to snag a bit of the prize pool.
There will be six tournaments throughout the year — The Banner Chain (which includes the Tipoff, The Turn and The Ticket tournaments), the Coinbase 2K League Blacktop series (which includes the Slam Open, Switch Open and Steal Open tournaments) — followed by the NBA 2K League Playoffs, with the NBA 2K League Finals after that.
There is only one place to be crowned in season 5, Indianapolis… the city of champions 🏆 pic.twitter.com/3YiTeVs5mk— NBA 2K League (@NBA2KLeague) February 9, 2022
The Banner Chain and the 2K League Playoffs will contain only NBA 2K Leagues. The other tournaments can feature non-league teams, including amateur players.
At the same time, there will be 3v3 tournaments that allow amateur gamers to compete against professionals. Any top-tier NBA 2K star can form a team to face off with the likes of Splash, Ria and the rest of Utah Jazz Gaming. At the same time, the 2K League will have its own 3v3 champion.
The 3v3 style of play brings something different to the league.
“It’s just really fun to watch,” Donohue said. “You get to see the creativity of how good those players are.”
The shift, in part, is because the NBA 2K League has seen how fans watch their Twitch streams. Regular league games aren’t as popular.
“The fans have always come out stronger for tournaments,” Donohue said.
But this season will be different than the last two years, as the NBA 2K League will resume in-person competition. So gamers will be facing off not only on their screens but in person at the NBA 2K League studio in Indianapolis.
“When we get face to face, the players just emerge as different individuals,” Donohue said.
Indeed, players like Splashy will taunt their opponents. Or they’ll hop up in excitement when they score a big basket.
Hit the game-winner in the #2KLThreeForAll quarterfinal. My buddy filmed the stream and it’s dope. pic.twitter.com/aVIG88wjJ7— Herb Scribner (@HerbScribner) April 10, 2021
But the season isn’t only about what it’s showcasing. It’s about connecting with everyone playing NBA 2K22.
NBA 2K22 is packed with different modes — from the MyCareer city streets to the MyTeam triple threat games. There are millions of people playing this game but only a select few competitors in the league.
“I just think this year is gonna be our big shift,” Donohue said. “We’re still gonna have the best players in the world. But we want to talk to the 2 million people that are playing the game every day, and [make] them more feel closer to the league.”
How the 2K League plans for the future
Donohue admitted that the league is always focused on the day-to-day. The daily grind is always front and center.
But you have to keep an eye on the future, he said.
The league has a committee of general managers and coaches who speak about potential changes to the league. At the same time, there’s a business council that meets to discuss new opportunities. The NBA team presidents meet, too, to figure out what’s next.
This year, the league has added a former 2K League player — Anmool “ChaChingSingh” Singh — to help the league understand the wider NBA 2K community.
“We’re trying to get smarter about our diversity of thought and bringing in different people,” Donohue said.
He said bringing in former players is important because they “are way more qualified to make” decisions about the community.
“It’d be stupid for me to not add that sort of expertise,” he said.
The NBA 2K League is always speaking with the NBA 2K developers, too, about what it wants to see in the next version of the game, Donohue told me. There are always considerations about what can be done for the league and how the game can adapt for the next season.
In fact, Donohue told me the NBA 2K League has already spoken with developers about NBA 2K23 and what changes could be made for the league.
“We’re having consistent meetings with them about that and their feedback is incredible — what they can do and what they’re capable of doing,” he said.
This article has been updated with fresh details.