A month into the NBA 2K League regular season, and the audience figures seem disappointing. Each episode of the fourth installment of LeBron v. the Warriors in the NBA Finals is, of course, pulling in millions of viewers. In the last week of May, the Overwatch League, one of the NBA 2K League’s big competitors, counted more than seven million total views, with 136,000 viewers tuning in at the same time. In comparison, the NBA 2K League had just 400,000 total views, and a peak of 6,000 concurrent viewers.
The league, though, seems unfazed. Several NBA 2K League team employees told me that the league’s primary focus and early indicators of success are not actually based on its concurrent streaming numbers. Dallas Mavericks and Mavs Gaming owner, Mark Cuban publicly chimed in with a short Tweet: “Patience. We are just starting.”
Patience. We are just starting
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) May 26, 2018
Instead of worrying about the total number of live stream viewers, the league and the teams are focused on the overall “impressions” (total views) that the content receives. As of Jun. 4, the NBA 2K League Twitch channel had a little over 4.5 million total views, spanning the league’s entire run, and just under 47,000 followers. The largest current video clip has almost 18,000 views with several others each having over 10,000.
A team employee also stressed to me how important local and national media coverage was to the league. On May 20, ESPN Sportscenter produced a feature on the league. Mavs Gaming’s Artreyo “Dimez” Boyd, the number one overall pick, also has made several television appearances, including playing NBA 2K with Conan O’Brien’s Aaron Bleyaert and appearing with hosts Tracy McGrady and Byron Scott on ESPN’s The Jump television show. Players have also featured on local radio, from Boyd on Dallas’ The Ticket to Blazer5 Gaming’s Dayne “Walnut” Downey on NBC Sports Northwest.
However, even if the league doesn’t want to focus on raw viewer numbers right now, that will eventually become a priority. Perhaps the total will simply creep up with time, but the Twitch stream has undergone a series of changes over the initial weeks of play, suggesting that the league is still zeroing in on a perfect recipe. The stream is now displaying previous games’ final scores on a “ticker.” In-game player box scores and shot charts are also displayed, and the stream now uses split-screens featuring a player on one side and live gameplay on the other.
There are more things that could be done in the stream, especially to bring the viewer closer to the players. Additional player information when a gamer is displayed, such as age, hometown, and social media information as well as the gamer’s current or season game statistics, could help. Bringing in a competitor who isn’t currently playing to answer viewer questions or provide expert commentary could be a great idea. But there might be are other options, too.
Fans love free stuff, perhaps the league in conjunction with the game developer, Take Two Interactive, could continue to host giveaways of virtual currency or credits that could be used on league related merchandise, or just give away merchandise itself. Users might tune in simply to get their hands on a free team or league hat, but that still generates viewership and intrigue. NBA 2K League team-branded hats, sunglasses, hoodies, or sweatpants turn fans into walking billboards for the league. The league could also extend opportunities to affiliates and sponsors to host product giveaways during the streams.
Another way to target current NBA 2K users would be to make the live Twitch stream directly accessible through the console game itself. This would enable a gamer to simply click on a link and be taken directly to the live NBA 2K League channel. The same NBA 2K League score ticker could even be included in the actual game to update those playing with what is going on throughout the league. For close games, that might encourage individuals to stop playing and tune in to watch how the action unfolds.
Whatever the perfect solution to boosting fan engagement might be, the NBA 2K League has been actively soliciting fan input. “Dear 2K fam, never stop giving us feedback and suggestions,” wrote Sam Asfahani, the league’s director, on Twitter at the end of May. “Every week we make changes and try to improve. The latest changes are more stats and new ESPN style tickers that share latest results and info. Hope you enjoy the progression and keep giving us new ideas.”
Dear 2K fam, never stop giving us feedback and suggestions. Every week we make changes and try to improve. The latest changes are more stats and new ESPN style tickers that share latest results and info. Hope you enjoy the progression and keep giving us new ideas. #NBA2KLeague
— Sam Asfahani (@samasfahani) May 30, 2018
As the league searches for ways to increase its audience and gain respectability with both traditional sports and competitor esports, expect more changes to come.