Is the NBA Obsessed With Esports?

The NBA has seen a resurgence as of late, and its viewership and attendance numbers are doing really well. There are a lot of reasons why this is happening. One involves the NBA taking cues from esports. Here’s a look at just how deep the league’s relationship with the gaming world really is.

Highlight culture

In esports, highlights are king. Esports are free-to-watch on platforms like Twitch and YouTube. Whenever anything exciting happens, fans will create highlight videos and post them on social media. This allows the game to reach a larger audience, as many people will see those highlights without having to watch the games live.

Highlight culture is why the NBA has recently embraced basketball highlights on social media. A lot of traditional sports don’t do this due to legal reasons, but the NBA realized a lot of fans, especially younger ones, want to see highlights and they prefer to see them on social media. By embracing this highlight, the NBA has attracted many new fans.

A partnership

The NBA is embracing more than just the highlight culture of esports though, the league is actually getting into games themselves. Recently, the NBA started an esports league based off of its own game series, NBA 2K. It’s already expanding this league into other countries, like China, too. By combining the best of both worlds, the NBA hopes to make its esports league huge in China. 

According to a report by CNBC, 300 million people already play basketball in China. For reference, this is as if almost every American played basketball. Esports is similarly big in China. Last year, during the League of Legends World Championship finals, a Chinese team played against a European team. And over 200 million Chinese viewers tuned in, according to Esports Charts.

There’s no guarantee NBA 2K will become as big of an esport as the more established games, but the NBA thinks that it can do well. This investment in esports goes beyond the NBA 2K League. Many NBA teams and personalities are involved with other esports games.


Until recently, Rick Fox, who helped the L.A. Lakers dominate the league in the early 2000s, owned a major esports team involved with League of Legends. Unfortunately, Fox was forced to sell his team due to a conflict with a racist investor, but many fans hope he makes a return. 

Another Lakers alumni, Shaquille O’Neal, is invested in esports. Along with other NBA investors, O’Neal created NRG Esports. This organization participates in multiple popular esports games like Overwatch and Super Smash Bros. Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is also dipping his toes into esports. He recently invested in an esports gaming company, and he’s notably looking for new esports investments.

Although Cuban was close to buying an esports team, many NBA owners and teams have already made the leap. The Golden State Warriors formed the Golden Guardians, an esports team that competes professionally in League of Legends. Other teams, like the Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, and Cleveland Cavaliers, also own an esports team.

The future

The simple reason why the NBA is getting involved with esports: That’s what a lot of young people enjoy doing. In fact, many younger NBA players enjoy playing video games and talking about esports, too. For example, Jeremy Lin loves playing DotA 2, and Gordon Hayward enjoys playing and sometimes even attending professional League of Legends events.

As the NBA continues to draft these young gamers, the relationship between the league and esports will only grow. With the NBA investing in esports in many ways and in many countries, the future of the league is bright.