The skill it takes to be great at something like NBA 2K is very different from playing basketball in real life. There’s nuance and an opportunity to appreciate both for what they are. Getting people to buy into that idea, however, is not always easy, but that’s where the 2K League has been trying to find new and creative ways to bring in fans and viewers.
One way they’ve been doing this is by creating offseason tournaments that keep players engaged and competing beyond the playoffs. These tournaments allow them to try new things with how they approach 2K. There is, of course, the traditional 5-on-5 basketball that pits the league’s best against one another in traditional 2K League matches, but they have also been experimenting with new formats such as a 3-on-3 tournament.
This new format isn’t new to the sport of basketball, or even to casual 2K players. But for the 2K League, it’s an opportunity to let players break from the norm and play a different style of basketball. Ryan “Dayfri” Conger, a player for Wizards District Gaming, tells UPROXX that “the preparation process is a little different,” and that when you’re playing 5v5, it’s a little easier to be able to survive a bad day.
“But if you’re in 3v3 and you only have three guys playing,” Conger says, “if I have a bad scrim day, then that’s something that I need to be working on.”
This was echoed by everyone we talked to about the 3v3 tournaments. Similar to actual basketball, there is the ability to hide someone having an off game in the corner or on a weaker player in 5v5 matchups. When it gets into the open world of 3v3, though, everything changes. Weaknesses are exploited and the best players find ways to seek them out.
“I think the biggest difference, for sure, is the spacing of the court,” says Jomar “Jomar” Varela-Escapa, a player for Pacers Gaming. “It’s a lot more space with three players on the court. So as a player, understanding that in 5v5, you have help on both sides of the court — like, you got people on the wing and the corner at the same time, you got the centers rolling, the court gets shrunk. So for sure, without a doubt, the hardest thing in 3v3 compared to 5v5 is the spacing of the court and how much harder it is to play defense, because offense is a lot easier”
This adds a new element for the viewer. There’s an old adage that defense wins championships but offense sells tickets, and in a way, that is what the 3v3 tournaments encourage. It’s a chance to give these incredibly skilled players more space to put up points, do so in a hurry, and showcase their best skills to the viewing audience. It’s that extra spice that an esports league like the 2K League can as it works to continue establishing itself.
While the 2K League has the backing of the NBA and 2K Studios behind it, that means nothing in an industry where fans can grow tired and move on to something else at a moment’s notice. Esports is not a kind industry, and even the most popular among them are always coming up with new ways to keep viewers engaged while compelling new folks to tune in. Thankfully for the 2K League, there are a number of different ways to play the game of basketball that they can use as a blueprint.
“Whatever makes this league grow, I’m down for it,” says Nick Gartrelle, coach of T-Wolves Gaming. “Let’s say they want to make it more streetball. You could pull off cooler moves, like maybe letting you throw the ball between your legs. Making it more of a streetball feel would be cool. I also feel like they should put every build out there, personally. Every build should be able to get a bucket.”
This is yet another idea to add even more life into a league that, while potentially very fun, needs a little more variety. Thankfully, the league recognizes this, which has spawned new ideas like its latest 3v3 tournament, the Coinbase NBA 2KL 3v3 SWITCH OPEN. With a pool of teams featuring both pro and amateur players, there’s never been a better time to watch.