Cayle Drabinsky: "It's only a matter of time before all thirty NBA teams become a part of the NBA 2K esports League"



Competitive basketball, a sport watched and enjoyed by many people from around the globe, will soon have its own esports league.

Esports has been gradually growing over a long period of time. By having no restrictions on age, gender, and physicality, video games are enjoyed by a wide demographic of people. As esports started trending and its potential was recognized, many organizations - including traditional sports teams such as Golden State Warriors - started investing in the digital sport. 

Throughout 2017, the NBA made consecutive announcements regarding their plans for their own esports league. A total of 17 teams were announced, with the estimate that there will most likely be two virtual NBA 2K arenas in the US.  And among those 17, there are the Milwaukee Bucks, who are more than excited to be a part of this new league.

Cayle Drabinsky, the director of business operations at Milwaukee Bucks, was eager to share his insights regarding the new NBA 2K esports league. He is and will be in charge of co-managing the team with Colin Hayes, who is the director of business development. He'll also be working alongside Andrew Buck, Milwaukee's new esports manager, who Drabinsky has said is a figure who is very experienced in working on the esports scene.

We at Inven Global had the opportunity to speak with Cayle about the new league, Bucks' expectations of it, and more.

In what ways will NBA 2K differ from what fans have come to expect from NBA basketball?

When I look at the NBA 2K League, what makes me so excited about the long-term success is the inclusive nature of the league. As long as you are 18 or older, any type of player can try out, young or old, male or female, based domestically or abroad. This is a unique aspect of the league that is different from traditional NBA basketball.

The NBA 2K League wants to find a balance between taking the best parts of the NBA and combine that with the best parts of esports. A great example of that is the schedule of the NBA 2K League. Like the traditional NBA schedule, there will be a draft, a regular season, an all-star game, playoffs and Finals, but the NBA 2K League will be different in that it will feature in-season tournaments to raise the stakes of regular season play. The NBA is finalizing media rights so there should be some news about the unique scheduling of the NBA 2K League in the near future.

The athletes of the NBA 2K League will be different as well. Players will use custom avatars and a finely tuned archetype that will shape how they play on the court. The NBA 2K players will not be playing with current NBA superstars such as Kevin Durant, Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Our job at Bucks Gaming is to build the profiles of our gamers, showcase their skills and make them marketable like an NBA star.

What do the Milwaukee Bucks hope to gain from this new league?

Esports is truly a global phenomenon and the Bucks are embracing esports as an integral part of our brand. We see the NBA 2K League as the start of our long-term participation in esports. The NBA 2K league provides a lot of new opportunities for our organization.

First off, the NBA 2K League is a great chance to tap into a younger demographic, [moreso than] the traditional NBA. The consumers of the game skew younger than traditional NBA fans and they are highly engaged. 1.6 million fans play the NBA 2K game daily, and they are playing on average for 90 minutes a day. We would love to convert those NBA 2K players to Bucks Gaming fans and Bucks basketball fans.

The Bucks are also excited to explore the digital platforms that gamers use on a daily basis. We understand the incredible engagement on Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Facebook Live, and Mixer, and we are excited about the opportunities to start activating these platforms.

The Bucks also want to be seen as a catalyst for bringing esports to the Midwest on a large scale. We would love to host eSports events in our new arena opening in 2018, which will be wired for esports tournaments big or small. 

▲ To come in 2018

Will sponsored teams replicate the names of their NBA team or will they have different names?

I think this has been answered since the identities have been released.

How will players be selected for these teams? And, will there be global competition for these slots?

Players must win 50 games in NBA 2K18’s Pro-Am mode [between January 1st -31st] and complete an online application [at] during that time frame. The qualification is open to anyone around the world who is 18 or older [Playstation or Xbox]. Players that meet the above requirements will advance to the tryout stage in February. More details are coming regarding this stage, but this is where overall skill is of most importance.

▲ Bucks' Cayle Drabinsky

Commissioner Brendan Donoghue has stated that NBA 2K teams will be equal digitally in terms of avatar skills and capabilities so that no specific team will benefit from its sponsored team’s excellence. How will this be implemented?

There will be more details to come on this.

The league has announced that teams will be based in their sponsored towns, but that competitions will take place at designated arenas around the country. Have those locations been selected yet?

Unfortunately, there has not been any news about the exact locations of the studios. I know the league is hard at work completing a media rights deal. Once that deal is completed, I do expect we will all find out where the one or two centralized studios will be located.

There are currently 17 NBA teams that have signed on for the inaugural league. Do you expect this to expand ultimately to all NBA teams?

I do think it’s only a matter of time before all thirty teams are part of the NBA 2K League. I believe that after the first season, a lot of the teams currently not in the league will be looking to jump in for the second season.

▲ Bucks' Colin Hayes

Can you envision a day when the NBA 2K league expands internationally? And if so, do you think Asia would have the first international team?

If the NBA 2K League is a success like we all believe it will be, I think international expansion is a logical next step after all 30 NBA teams are involved in the NBA 2K League.

First off, the NBA is really an international game. Two-thirds of the NBA's followers on social media are from outside the US. The NBA2K game has been well received outside the US as well. NBA 2K offers a free version of the game in China and has over 34 million downloaded users.

Because of this global demand, the NBA is looking at this league as a global entity from the outset. The NBA 2K League will feature NBA 2K players from around the world, and the NBA couldn’t be more excited about this global representation.

There is a real possibility that all 5 players on the Bucks Gaming roster will be from 5 different countries.

To answer your question about where the first international team would be, I think that question is better suited for the NBA to answer. However, I do think Asia would make a lot of sense if the NBA were to expand the NBA 2K League in the next few years.


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