Desperate for a way to reach fans during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the NBA is trying something new: A players-only video game tournament between star players broadcast on ESPN.
The competition, which begins Friday, is a nothing-to-lose endevor for the league with the real-life NBA season on hold. Sixteen competitors, including Kevin Durant and Trae Young, will square off on "NBA 2K20" in a four-round bracket.
The NBA perhaps saw the recent emergence of eNASCAR during the pandemic as inspiration to jump headfirst into a TV event of its own. Over the past three weeks, NASCAR has had its drivers battling on the simulator "iRacing" in a series broadcast on Fox and FS1. Early viewership returns paint it as a smashing success.
NBA players are also accustomed to spending time on the sticks, often streaming video games on their own time.
There's incentive for this competition, too. Here's the reward breakdown for claiming the first-ever Players Tournament:
"NBA 2K" Players Tournament prize money
The NBA player that wins the tournament will claim $100,000 to donate to a coronavirus-related charity of his choice.
While players will not pocket income of their own for winning, they do claim bragging rights and potentially hardware to display at home. If there is a trophy, however, it better be sanitized multiple times before being shipped out.
Which charities will receive donations?
This will be dependent on the winner of the competition, as each player has his own organization picked out.
It will be a particularly meaning prize for players considering how close COVID-19 has cut in the NBA community. Two "NBA 2K" competitors, in fact, tested positive for the coronavirus before making full recoveries (Donovan Mitchell and Kevin Durant).
NBA 2K Players Tournament entry list
Below is the list of participants and their seeds in the tournament, which are determined by in-game player rating and real-life NBA tenure.
Michael Porter Jr.
Derrick Jones Jr.
14. Patrick Beverley 78
What virtual teams will the players be using?
Before the tournament starts, each player selects their own eight-team pool from which they're allowed to use. Teams can't be re-used by a player; for example, Kevin Durant could only play as the Nets once before moving on to his other seven choices.