Yesterday, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced the suspension of the season until further notice. The risks from players infected with coronavirus and crowded arenas became too high.
Just a few hours after that announcement, however, the Phoenix Suns announced they would play their canceled game with the Dallas Maverick online. Pro athletes are set to become pro esports athletes in the game NBA2K.
The season isn’t over yet...— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 13, 2020
We will continue to play the Suns season games on @NBA2K!
Saturday’s game will be moved to tomorrow. Join us live on @Twitch as we take on the @dallasmavs! pic.twitter.com/745QIuvCMc
NBA2K already has a thriving esports league. Its 23 teams were set to start competing on March 24, but the league has also suspended their season. The games are played live in front of an audience as are NBA games.
So the only NBA game in town, for now, is the Phoenix Suns vs. the Dallas Mavericks, set to be played on Twitch tonight. No other teams have announced that they will play their canceled games in NBA2K.
It’s surprising that more NBA teams, and more professional leagues, aren’t doing something similar. Two other sports with large esports competitions, hockey and football (soccer), are also facing match cancellations. The NHL suspended all matches as of yesterday. Many European football leagues are bound to do the same and follow the example of the French Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, which announced this morning the temporary suspension of matches.
The moment is perfect for esports to help keep sports fans engaged. Many fans will be stuck at home, just like the players themselves. Not much in sports can be done remotely, but recording players taking control of their digital selves could entertain fans while they wait for the real games to be played.
The main goal of these particular esports competitions is the promotion of the real sports they represent. For example, the NBA invests millions in organizing NBA2K league events and paying out prize money. FIFA and the NHL have similar operations. Although specific numbers aren’t available, it’s doubtful the events themselves break even. They are part of a larger marketing operation.
As the coronavirus pandemic forces more leagues to take a break, we’ll see if professional athletes can succeed in working remotely as marketers. Or as esports athletes, if you prefer.