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eSports Evolution Continues with NBA 2K20 Tourney

The sports betting world isn't giving up during the COVID-19 pandemic – that's for sure. This weekend, eSports took center stage with the "NBA 2K20" Players-Only Tournament, an entertaining virtual replacement for real NBA action. The tournament tipped off Friday with a slate of four games, broadcast on… where else… ESPN. While the airing of the games can be seen everywhere, unfortunately New Jersey is the only state that will allow live betting on the tournament – for the time being at least.

The tournament runs for 10-days and features real-life NBA players in heads-up matches in the 2K20 video game. It is real NBA competitors, doing what they do best – competing for bragging rights in this time of total sports shutdown. Will eSports catch on in other states with legal betting platforms? Will sportsbooks accept what is right in front of them instead of trying to find action on the weather in Ft. Lauderdale or how many times coronavirus will be mentioned by 2020 Presidential Candidates? It remains to be seen.


What it means for eSports and the legal sports betting industry

eSports betting, although popular in Europe, has been a non-factor in North America. With the global pandemic, things in the US are about to change on that front. Unforeseen and unprecedented exposure has a chance to thrust eSports into the mainstream, giving the platform a better chance to become a larger part of the US sports betting landscape.

“The people that have started consuming esports content for the first time have generally done so because they are at home with more time on their hands, and they’re looking for something new to engage with,” Mark Balch, head of product and partnerships at Bayes Esports Solutions said. “It’s rarely a case of a traditional sports fan replacing that interest with esports. So, when traditional sports do return, we shouldn’t lose a lot of those new fans we’ve attracted. The amount of time people are able to dedicate to playing and watching esports will likely decline, but the increased interest in esports will persist once traditional sports resume.”


The tournament

As mentioned, the NBA 2K20 tournament started Friday with four games. The tournament is made up of 16 NBA players who obviously have a familiarity with the video game. It seems natural that NBA players would hold such a competition in this down-time – while on the road or on the team plane, NBA 2K is an obvious time-filler.

Some of the best the NBA has to offer including Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Patrick Beverley, Damontas Sabonis and Demarcus Cousins have signed on to determine whose video game chops reign supreme. ESPN is providing live coverage with odds for each match determined by sportsbooks. There is also a pretty decent variety of prop bets available for the tournament.

The 16 players were all seeded and Friday's results included No. 16 Derrick Jones Jr. beat No. 1 Kevin Durant, No. 10 DeAndre Ayton defeat No. 7 Zach LaVine, No. 2 Trae Young beat No. 15 Harrison Barnes and No. 14 Patrick Beverley take out No. 3 Hassan Whiteside. Kevin Durant falling to Derrick Jones on Day 1 proves that virtual doesn’t always dictate real-life, but it does follow the theme of “anything can happen in sport”.


Bottom Line

NBA 2K20 seems to be making a good case to relax the restrictions and allow people all over America to bet on athletes making the most of a bad situation and paying homage to the sports that have made them successful. Already a $30 billion global market, eSports is conservatively expected to double as we all search for alternatives to our beloved sports. iRacing has already made its debut and other virtual sports are ready to launch.

All that’s left is the individual states climbing aboard and accepting something a few months ago they wouldn't have considered. Simply put, sports betting has been good for participating states and in order to keep it afloat, eSports is the only game in town that can make it happen.