As the NBA 2K League begins its first ever playoff today, you may be wondering what it is all about? How did we get here? How did this happen? If you’re not paying attention to eSports and it’s growing popularity, see here about the rise of competitive gaming. To understand how we got here, let’s take a brief look into the history of 2K.
The year is 1999, SEGA releases their long-awaited follow-up console to the SEGA Saturn, the SEGA Dreamcast. The Dreamcast had the unfortunate history of being released a year prior to arguably the greatest video game console, the Playstation 2. 1 year after the PS2, the Original Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube were released and all excitement for the Dreamcast had dissipated.
Though this would end up being SEGA’s final system, a couple of gems were created from its time in the sun, Crazy Taxi, Soul Caliber, Jet Set Radio, & Shenmue to name a few.
Enter the “2K” franchise.
2K became the official sports game of the Dreamcast when Electronic Arts (EA) and SEGA failed to agree on a deal which would see EA Sports coincide with SEGA’s own sports franchise, thus creating a rivalry for years to come. EA would release its games via the PS2 and Nintendo consoles as a result. This disagreement would go on to have drastic long-term effects that would change the entire sports video game industry.
Personally, I never owned the Dreamcast but my childhood best friend received one as a gift and we broke it out and played many tournaments against each other. Our favorite competitions would be within the “2K” universe. NFL, NBA, and MLB 2K were our favorites and on par with the Madden, Live, and Triple Play franchises EA offered. Knowing what we know about economics and competition, naturally some games would go on to be better than their counterparts.
The major trajectory for sports games would focus heavily on the NFL franchises (insert football-centric social commentary here). When NFL 2K and Madden 2000 launched IGN.com gave 2K a review of 9.7 while Madden received an 8.4. Instantly, there was a healthy competition for the top spot. The 2 franchises would jockey back and forth for superiority for many years.
NBA Live and NBA 2K were both good games and MLB 2K wasn’t too bad but once Triple Play became MVP Baseball in 2003, EA had the better baseball experience. There were other football games in the market (NFL Gameday and NFL Fever) but these were inferior games to the 2K and Madden franchises.
In 2004, SEGA Sports released the best football game in history (My Opinion) ESPN NFL 2K5. 2K released at a $19.95 price tag (oh the days where it wasn’t 60-70 bucks for a video game). This was $30 cheaper than Madden’s $49.95 and naturally sold astronomically well. It looked like 2K was about to become the king of football games. Then, in a move that is the equivalent of Jose Ureña drilling Ronald Acuña Jr with the first pitch on Wednesday, EA decided to not play the game and just end the streak.
EA Sports bought exclusive rights to use NFL licensing and ended any “NFL” competition indefinitely (It’s 2018, still no competition). SEGA Sports would become “2K sports” and focus solely on NBA, NHL, and MLB franchises. In a retaliatory and defensive strategy, 2K games bought the rights to MLB licensing, eliminating EA’s MVP baseball franchise.
“This is my personal take but the wrong franchises bought the wrong licensing. 2K was a better football game and MVP was a better baseball game. We have been deprived of the best possible MLB and NFL games as a result of these moves.”
The NBA decided against exclusivity rights and so NBA Live and NBA 2K were able to coexist. After many failed attempts to put out a decent MLB game, 2K decided to end their MLB franchises and focus their resources on the NBA 2K franchise.
NBA 2K would benefit heavily from a fully focused developer standpoint and turn into arguably the best “sports” video game in the marketplace. The team at 2K have made the most immersive and entertaining NBA game possible with multiple innovations along the way. One of these innovations leads us to today.
In 2017, Take-Two Interactive and the NBA partnered to create a competitive NBA 2K eSports league. The league launched May 1st, 2018 and ran through August 2018 with the playoffs starting August 17th. The playoff bracket sees the following matchups:
Blazer5 Gaming vs Knicks Gaming,
Raptors Uprising GC vs Cavs Legion GC,
Pistons GT vs Heat Check Gaming
76ers GC vs Wizards District Gaming.
The teams win prize money, fame, bragging rights, and the right to go down in history as pioneers in “Sports”-based eSports. We’ve truly came a long way in society when you can live stream an eSports playoff match from your phone, and to think when 2K and EA were battling it out, playing online wasn’t even an option.
The feud dating back to 1999 is a good example of how some decisions by the few can determine a drastically different outcome in the future. 2K probably never envisioned they would be where they are today when the “2K” games launched almost 2 decades ago. The 2018 season is the first of many with more sponsorships and investors looking to get in on the action. In a move that indicates where things are heading, the NBA 2K League announced Wednesday it was expanding the team landscape with additions of Atlanta, Brooklyn, L.A., and Minnesota franchises. The league is new and in its infancy but with a focused team looking to create the best possible experience for the gamers and fans, I’ll be highly interested to see where things go from here.