It’s peculiar to think of an esports team backed by a prominent NBA sports franchise as a startup. But that’s exactly what most teams in the NBA 2K League consider themselves. Case in point: Magic Gaming, the esports arm of the Orlando Magic.
The NBA 2K League, comprised of 23 teams, was founded in 2017 in the midst of what was a seismic shift in how investors and the sports business industry began to view competitive gaming. Its popularity is highly attributed to both millennial and Gen Z generations that grew up playing popular titles such as Call of Duty, League of Legends, and Overwatch.
Streaming services like YouTube and Twitch have only helped to grow the appeal of esports. The result is that revenue for the global esports industry is projected to reach $1.1 billion in 2019, a growth rate of 27%, according to market researcher Newzoo.
But for the NBA, esports offers up a bit of a conundrum for participating franchises. On one hand, the NBA 2K video game series is one of the most popular annual releases for sports fans, but it isn’t one high up on the list for the hardcore esports gamer. Magic Gaming’s goal is to help bridge that gap, according to Ryan Devos, director of Magic Gaming.
“As the league continues to grow, it gives us a platform to make a true business case for our esports business,” said DeVos. “Esports is such a fun space to be in because everyone is still trying to figure it out, and it gives you the creative freedom to run with it.”
The Orlando Magic franchise sees an opportunity to grow its brand through esports to appeal more to younger generations, DeVos added. The same opportunity is also afforded to the NBA, which is the preeminent sport of choice for millennials and Gen Z fans. Tie in basketball’s growing popularity internationally, and it’s the perfect marriage on paper.
“NBA 2K is a very popular game for esports and casual gamers, but like other sports games, is not seen on the same level as more ‘traditional’ esports games,” said Joey Gawrysiak, esports director and director of sport management at Shenandoah University. “Every game that has a competitive scene will be popular with the people that play that game, and we do not see a lot of crossover for people to watch games that they do not understand.”
The advantage sports gaming leagues have, however, is the support of their established professional leagues, Gawrysiak said. “That is not true of Overwatch, League of Legends, or Call of Duty as they continue to develop their franchise-based leagues,” he added.
Magic Gaming hopes to be compelling enough as a brand to appeal to traditional basketball fans, but also convert esports enthusiasts into Magic Gaming and Orlando Magic fans, according to DeVos.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for us, as we try to walk that line,” he said, adding that Magic Gaming team member Brandon Raudeneush was a professional Halo player before joining the squad.
Magic Gaming is already working on racking up partnerships to increase the exposure of its brand to gamers. The team has active partnerships with established esports-focused companies, such as chair manufacturer GT Omega and Dell subsidiary Alienware. Another partner, Esport Management – a gaming academy for players looking to hone their skills – and Magic Gaming are also set to host an NBA 2K tournament the week of October 20.
Additional Magic Gaming team sponsors include the likes of Papa John’s, Box Water, Full Sail University, and Orlando Health – the team’s official shirt sponsor. Established relationships with the latter two organizations earned Magic Gaming two awards from the NBA 2K League this month for partnership and local activation of the year.
“We’re excited to partner with the best brands we can attract,” said Devos. “Magic Gaming serves as a guide to brands in the esports space. Some have more experience, but we are happy to introduce newcomers to it through a brand they know and trust, which is the Orlando Magic.”