Since the introduction two years ago, the National Basketball Association's e-sports arm has struggled to draw viewers.

Then, with Americans forced to shelter in place in early March, the N.B.A. had a captive audience.

Within days, players for the N.B.A. affiliate, known as N.B.A. 2K League were livestreaming games. The league leaned on on its counterparts on the courts, setting up online tournaments with W.N.B.A. players.

N.B.A. stars even staged their own tournament which was telecast on ESPN and drew as many as 387,000 viewers. Sportsbooks took bets on the action.

Even before the pandemic, the N.B.A. showed a penchant for exuberance, announcing team rosters for the e-sports league in a flashy ceremony in New York in February that mimicked the draft for professional sports.

The strategy appears to have helped increase the audience for the N.B.A.'s e-sports venture, in which video game players compete in professional matchups. 

The N.B.A. 2K League still has only a fraction of the viewers that some other leagues draw, but as it wraps up its third season, which concluded with a championship game last week, there are signs of growth.

This season, the audience for games on the Amazon-owned Twitch service increased 76 percent over the year before, to an average of 416, 865 unique viewers per game, a spokeswoman for the league said.

During the championship game, about 1.1 million unique viewers watched on Twitch, the league reported.

The N.B.A. through 2K has been able to have content flowing through the entirety of coronavirus,'' said Rod Breslau, an e-sports consultant known for as Slasher.

Created by Take-Two Interactive, the N.B.A. 2K videogame has sold about 94 million copies worldwide. Hoping to capitalize on the success of the series, the N.B.A. started a partnership with Take-Two in 2017 to form the 2K league.

The N.B.A. kept building its e-sports program, saying it generates sponsorship revenue and provides valuable data on viewing habits of cord-cutters.

Now 22, N.B.A. franchises own an e-sports team, with an additional team in Shanghai.

''I think basically it's a way to try and reach Gen Z consumers,'' Jason Chung, executive director of e-sports at the University of New Haven, said of the N.B.A.'s ties to the 2. league. ''It's an avenue they don't want to miss out on.''

But some cast doubt on the viability of the league when stacked up against more established competitors. 

Sports video games generally have a harder time captivating audiences than fantasy games, Mr. Breslau said, adding that the biggest criticism throughout the N.B.A.'s 2K League's existence is ''No one's watching.''

The honor and serving of the latest global operational research on Video Games and Fantasy Games, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Seth Berkman.


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