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Wednesday, August 5, 2015 7:39:32 PM America/Los_Angeles

NBA 2K16, which will release late next month, features stars James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Stephen Curry on the American version of the cover (Operation Sports)

With the NBA 2K series, it's pretty much become a given over the past couple of years what we'll get -- awful servers, zig-zag cheese (and not the good type of zig zags) a heavy focus on microtransactions and the game modes that live off them, and a decent enough soundtrack to where we don't want to play the game muted. 

But NBA 2K16 featuring eSports? That's...unexpected and expected at the same time. 

As part of their weekly Twitch stream to discuss what's going on in the 2K world, Visual Concepts' Community Managers, Chris Manning and Ronnie Singh, talked about Germany's Gamescom convention (which willnot feature a 2K demo because 'the types of people there normally aren't NBA fans,' according to Singh) and a few tidbits of information relating toNBA 2K16. Yes, there was actual information released this time...

Though there's no official gameplay videos released yet -- they'll 'be out soon' according to the 2K marketers -- we did hear that there will be some classic teams in this year's game beyond the already-announced 1999-2000 Toronto Raptors, 2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers, and 2007-2008 Boston Celtics and that the servers will be better online due to the removal of 'We Got Next' spots. Better servers for ProAm?

But, as Operation Sports' Jayson Young mentioned in his wrap up column of the stream, one of the more intriguing things revealed by Manning and Singh was that the all-new Pro-Am mode will have "eSports elements" with more details to come in the following weeks. It may not be gameplay videos or proof that the zig-zag cheese is gone, but that's some really important information that the two managers made note of. 

For those not familiar with eSports, and I'll admit to being one of those people when 2015 started, it's defined as "organized multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players." In other words, it's like a tournament of you and your friends at a college dorm playing Madden NFL 16, but these guys are professionals. Those of you who follow sports media closely might remember that ESPN, who is trying to get into the eSports game, aired a tournament of 'Heroes of the Dorm' on ESPN2 back in late April...

...and though they flopped in the views department, getting just 96,000 people to watch while Mets-Yankees over on ESPN averaged nearly 2 and a half million viewers, it got people talking about other people playing competitive games. In today's social media world, such a feat is called generating buzz, and though more people spent that Sunday night watching more 'traditional' sports like baseball, the NBA playoffs, and MLS, the Twitter world was still very active in talking about Arizona State and California facing off in video games. 

While the emergence of eSports has resulted in a cringe-worthy interview with 'YouTube star PewDiePie for ESPN The Magazine' that was done mostly to get people who may not normally give a sports network a chance to, well, give it a chance (you know, despite the fact that he doesn't really fall under the eSports category), it's also gotten more and more 'non-gamers' to learn what the sport is and what falls under it. In a column published after the aforementioned ESPN2 airing of eSports, SB Nation's James Dator did his best to help the uninformed understand just what was on their TV instead of a poker tournament re-run. 

"Not every video game is an eSport, despite popular assumption. Games that ascend to recognition on a competitive level are balanced, compelling and have to be deep enough to be played and mastered for years," Dator explained. "There are only a handful of games that satisfy this criteria."

According to the aptly-tited, the top five eSports games in 2014 based on total earnings (welcome to the Department of Redundancy Department), were Dota 2League of LegendsStarCraft IICounter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Call of Duty: Ghosts. For those wondering about the sports games that fell under the top earners, only three games that fell under that genre -- and when I say sports game, I mean something like a Madden or a FIFA, not Mario Baseball -- and EA'sNHL 14 (ranked 41st) was the only one that focuses mainly on an American sport; FIFA 14 and FIFA 15, ranked 23rd and 33rd respectively, also made the list. 

Even with that being the case, eSports still have found a way to mix with the mainstream sports games. Sure, they're not RPGs with gremlins or first-person shooters like Call of Duty, but people like that there's even more of an incentive to beat their friends' asses in an online game of hockey or basketball. 

"As you look to eSports as something for viewership, or something that will be cross-media — whether it be television, live events, second-screen — I mean, sports games are easy to understand. They make a lot of sense," Virgin Gaming CEO Rob Segal said in October 2013. "Even if you're not a gamer, you understand what a touchdown looks like; you understand what a goal looks like. They're a lot easier to follow in the large tournaments."

So, how might eSports work in NBA 2K15? Well, there have been tournaments of the game in years past, notably a 2013 partnership between 2K and Virgin Gaming that saw the winner of the 'NBA 2K13 New Dynasty Challenge competition' earn a trip to Houston for that year's tournament championship...and a chance at a Kia Optima SX. At the time, Virgin Gaming president Bill Levy said in a press statement, "Not only will the top gamer win one of the biggest NBA 2K prizes ever, players will be competing on one of the biggest stages. It’s a real testament to the popularity competitive gaming has gained in this community."

If a tournament -- or tournaments, I should say -- with prizes is what Singh and Manning were hinting at, then even I'd have to admit that I think it'd be a cool addition. Not only would it bring in more cash from people who might not normally give NBA 2K16 a chance just because it has the eSport elements and a prize, but it'd give people incentive to play the mode even if the servers aren't working too well...

Alright, all unfair jabs aside at the servers aside, 2K should take the idea of having ProAm tournaments and run with it; for a smaller tournament, have the prize be something like an exclusive MyTeam card (card, not code) that can't be sold by the owner and can't be purchased by the casual fan yet. When it comes to the bigger tournaments, though, have there be a much bigger prize -- something like come out to California and tour the 2K offices, or an opportunity to travel to the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto. 

With a mode like this and the inclusion of eSports, tournaments would be a perfect idea, but there would have to be measurements taken to make sure there's no cheating or usage of players that look like they'd be on the Monstars. If you're caught cheating in ProAm, whether it's a tournament or a standard game, you're banned for good. 

Granted, it's all speculation on my part and none of this could happen, but I like to think of how modes like this could work for both the hardcore and the casual fan. Why? Mainly because this franchise is in need of a boost to make the frustrated fan stick with 2K over NBA Live, and also because I like to think everything has potential if done right. 

Posted in Nba By

Jake Elman