Mark those calendars for May 19, fans of the NBA 2K League.
The fourth season of the competitive esports circuit, backed by the NBA, will return that Wednesday to start a 16-week schedule that will conclude Sept. 4 with the 2K League Finals.
Playoffs will begin eight days earlier with more teams than in the past, as the postseason field will be expanded to 12 (up from 10) in 2021. For the first time in its four-year history, the NBA 2K League has introduced conferences, Eastern and Western, for its 23 teams:
Eastern: 76ers GC, Celtics Crossover Gaming, Gen.G Tigers of Shanghai, Grizz Gaming, Hawks Talon GC, Heat Check Gaming, Hornets Venom GT, Knicks Gaming, Magic Gaming, Nets GC, Raptors Uprising GC and Wizards District Gaming
Western: Bucks Gaming, Blazer5 Gaming, Cavs Legion GC, Jazz Gaming, Kings Guard Gaming, Lakers Gaming, Mavs Gaming, Pacers Gaming, Pistons GT, T-Wolves Gaming and Warriors Gaming Squad
"We love the idea of rivalries kind of being created," Brendan Donohue, NBA 2K League president, told USA TODAY Sports.
Groups such as the competition committee and team business council – each comprised of players, coaches, executives and owners – played an influential role behind the changes.
"There was a lot of feedback of wanting to expand the playoffs," Donohue said. "We thought it was a great idea … it was the teams and (the league) deciding to expand this."
Teams will play games remotely from their local markets, although Donohue said returning to in-person events and tournaments is a goal for 2021. The 2K League is fortunate to have some of the best medical advice in the world at its disposal, thanks to being a subsidiary of the NBA, he said. Nonetheless, it'd be premature to specify a date.
Until then, matchups will be simulcasted on the league's Twitch and YouTube channels — both of which are vital to the league.
Twitch is an important partnership because of the broadcast experience, the immediate feedback and the general interactivity, Donohue said. NBA and 2K League fans go to YouTube for quick-hitting content and highlights.
The 2K League has been on Twitch since its first season and YouTube became a partner the next year.
"A lot our decisions we’re making now are influenced by the feedback we’re getting in real-time on Twitch," Donohue said.
The league will hold three in-season tournaments, same as it did last year. All teams will compete in the first two tournaments, while 10 playoff teams — the top five in each conference — won't participate in the third one, which will be a play-in tournament into the postseason for the two teams who emerge.
Games will take place Wednesday through Saturday (first tip-offs at 7 p.m. ET) over the course of a week, and regular-season broadcasts will feature nightly themes:
“NBA 2KL Block Party Wednesdays”: Highlights voices around the NBA 2K League community, including influencers -- a big party for fans.
“NBA 2KL Bounce Pass Thursdays”: The most fast-paced nights of gameplay, with four matchups in a three-hour window. Three games could be happening simultaneously and broadcast should have a "Red Zone" feel to it.
“NBA 2KL Friday Night Fire”: Spotlights the week’s marquee matchup with the Game of the Week.
“NBA 2KL Saturday Night Showdown”: Explores new broadcast elements, with a focus on "hardcore" 2K fans.
"We want to have something fun and different every single night of the week," Donohue said.
Earlier this month, the league revealed all games will be played on PlayStation 5, the latest-generation system manufactured by parent company Sony.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA 2K League 2021 schedule features expanded playoffs, conferences