Comparing the NBA 2K League In-Studio Experience With Twitch
By Justin M. Jacobson, Esq.
The inaugural season of the NBA 2K League tipped off from the league’s studio in New York on May 1. As an esports attorney and a fan, I was lucky enough to get inside the 200-person venue for the first ever matchups in the new league. And when the action finally finished, I headed home to re-watch those games the traditional way, on Twitch.
This year, I’ll be following much of the NBA 2K action. In-person when I can, and on the live stream when I can’t get away from life long enough to be there through a six-hour long session. And I’m hoping to write about the league as a guest columnist for SportTechie, looking at different aspects of the fan and athlete experience. First up, the dilemma that every fan of every sport faces: Stay at home, or go to the game?
The NBA 2K studio features 10 fully furnished gaming set-ups in a circle facing each other. Every player has a PC console, headset, and the gaming controller of his or her choice. Above each gamer were large screens zoomed in directly on the player’s faces. Other screens showed the in-game action. Behind the players sit several rows of chairs for spectators. The arena is tech-filled but intimate. The audience assembled for the first night of action—members of the press, team and NBA league personnel, 2K league competitors who weren’t in action on day one, and other 2K community members—numbered just 200 people.
Twitch, in comparison, screens on your computer—you can watch it in whatever environment you want to. The Twitch browser window includes a video in the center, some navigation bars at the top and on the left, and a rolling stream of comments from other viewers on the right. The view is relatively familiar to anyone who has watched videos online, but a lot different to sports fans who usually watch games in-person.
The overall crowd and streaming viewer reaction seemed positive, especially for a sports debut, but I think there are a variety of ways to enhance both the in-studio and at-home experiences. The stream peaked at around 13,000 viewers, but most of the time only a few thousand people were watching. A typical Overwatch League regular season game on Twitch instead receives over 150,000 viewers. With the league studio only having a limited capacity, the league’s goal centers on growing the online audience. In large part, I think the NBA 2K League might be able to learn from what major non-esports leagues already do.
One important enhancement for both formats would be mentioning each individual gamer’s social media information. That could include displaying the player’s Twitter or Instagram handle alongside their name when it is shown on screen. This would be beneficial in developing the player-fan relationship by enabling the viewer to easily follow and interact with a particular gamer.
Besides a simple tweak like increasing the number of highlight replays and showing box scores more frequently on both the in-studio and stream broadcasts, another idea might be creating a unique esports point of view: a hand cam. For many of these gamers, in particular the point guards, their top-flight “stick” (controller) abilities and really showcase how skilled they are. Zooming in on their hands will show a physical side of esports that is usually overlooked.
There are also a few ways to easily enhance the live in-studio viewing experience. One essential addition would be to include the full team box score on the large in-studio televisions, the same way stats are shown in-stadium for regular sports. For most sports fans, especially those interested in fantasy sports, a player’s statistics are of great importance. While the in-studio screens above each player prominently display their name and tag, they should also display a gamer’s current game statistics and their tournament and season averages. That way fans can see how each player is currently performing and compare that to their overall season stats.
Based on the Twitch alterations from Day 1 to Day 2 of the Tip-Off Tournament, I would assume that the NBA 2K League is actively working to improve its stream viewing experience. The stream has already begun to include more in-studio and player specific content, including a split-screen showing both the game-play and one of the players at the same time.
The stream coverage should increase its focus on the most engaging players. The gamers who are most animated and really show their emotions. Players like Blazer5 Gaming’s OneWildWalnut, Cavs Legion Gaming’s Hood, and Jazz Gaming’s, Tifeworld. The stream also needs to show more of the crowd’s reaction and jazz up the player introduction segments. Like boxers or professional wrestlers entering a ring, perhaps each gamer or team needs their own entrance song or performance.
During time-outs, between quarters and while shooting free-throws, the full-team box score statistics could be displayed on stream to keep the viewer updated on their favorite player’s current game. Think about the on-screen stats you might see on TV broadcasts of other sports.
Spotlights on players who just made, or missed, a big shot might add another level of excitement. Esports specifics like a gamer’s player archetype could also be shown, informing viewers of what builds a player is utilizing as well as reinforcing the capabilities of each archetype and its impact on the game. But at the same time, announcers need to be careful to educate the casual viewer on player archetypes, explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each and why players may have selected a certain build. One element of growing the league’s footprint is making the coverage accessible to non-fans.
Overall, the in-studio viewing experience, especially the circular “arena” set-up, created an amazing atmosphere to witness the competition. The Twitch stream seemed to change throughout the tournament, each day further refining the presentation and further spotlighting the players. Whether or not the league takes my suggestions, I’m expecting both experiences to evolve, and as they do, I’ll be reporting back from the front lines.
This article was originally posted on Sport Techie.