To anyone who's ever thought they could take on the professional gamers who make up the NBA 2K League: your shot is coming.
Among the many innovations ahead of the league's fifth year in 2022 is the creation of 3-on-3 tournaments (sponsored by cryptocurrency platform Coinbase). Amateur teams can enter qualifying events to earn spots in the group stage of these tournaments with a shot at the prize pool.
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"What we realized, in listening to the 2K player community, is there is a massive number of players playing 3v3 in the park that we weren't really catering to," 2K league president Brendan Donohue told USA TODAY Sports. "So I think what's going to be fun to watch is a totally new community that's kind of coming now into the league."
The 2K League will shift from a normal "regular season" and primarily focus on tournaments (and qualifying events for those tournaments), a differentiator esports at large has tried to capitalize on compared to traditional sports, which cannot afford to schedule high-stakes tournaments year round.
The 5-on-5 model for the league's 24 teams will continue and will determine postseason qualification. Players will also participate in three separate 3v3 tournaments during the season, which run from April to August (games are broadcast on YouTube and Twitch in the U.S.).
That means the best players are going to have to excel in both formats, Donohue said. They will have to prove to the average Joes looking for a challenge why they are considered the professionals.
"Now we can answer that question," Donohue said. "We think this is going to be really popular with the player base."
The total prize money handed out by the league last year was $1.5 million, but this is "by far the biggest" pot in league history, Donohue said, although the final financials aren't yet set. Separate prize pools exist for the different tournament formats.
Donohue expects 2K teams attached to NBA franchises (Knicks Gaming, etc.) will do more in their local markets. But engaging with the broader player base through innovations such as the 3v3 tournaments is the first step in becoming more integrated with the "retail experience," giving players the chance to unlock apparel (or other products) within the game.
That shouldn't be much of a problem. According to Donohue, the average fan of the 2K League plays 30 hours of video games per week.
"It's a super-engaged audience," he said.
Donohue also hopes that the 3-on-3 tournaments further integrate the league with "influencer" culture, so those individuals don't have to commit to being a full-time 2K player and can compete in the amateur tournaments while hanging onto their Internet hustle.
The 2K League played the majority of last season online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but hosted playoffs and finals in-person in Dallas and first in-person All-Star Game in New York after the season.
That experience will influence how the league conducts the 2022 calendar.
"I think we'll always carry the hybrid model, but it's going to be much more heavily in-person, where it will be a good mix of both, but our biggest moments of the year will be in person," Donohue said.
Last year's Finals drew more than 1.2 million unique viewers on Twitch, the league said.
And with the new tournament-focused format, the league is hoping to attract even more attention in 2022.
"We wanted to take the same number of games," Donohue said, "but make those games more important."
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA 2K League 2022 season brings new rules, 3-on-3 amateur tournaments