We get the first update of the season from Knicks Gaming, and much like their non-virtual counterparts, the esports team isn’t doing so well.
The honeymoon is over. Excitement for both Knicks Gaming, the New York Knicks’ official NBA 2k18 team, and the 2K League in general has dwindled considerably after just five weeks of operation. It seems like ages ago that Knicks super-fan Jerry Ferrara, famous for his role as Turtle on Entourage, was leading the charge for the Knicks’ intriguing foray into the world of esports.
After five weeks of play, Knicks Gaming off to a rocky start at just 2-3. They picked up their second win of the season last Friday over Raptors GC and lead last place Pacers Gaming (0-4) by just four spots in the standings.
Individually, Knicks Gaming has just one player in the top five of any statistical category (power forward Dayvon “G O O F Y 7 5 7” Curry, New York’s first-round selection, is currently fourth in steals per game at 2.4). As Knicks Gaming’s ninth overall pick, Curry leads the team in scoring as well with 20 points per game.
The team’s second and third picks in the draft, Nate “NateKahl” Kahl and Eric “YEYNotGaming” Ward, have struggled. Kahl is averaging just 12.6 points per game along with a paltry 2.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, while Ward is putting up an even quieter 6.3 points, 0.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game.
Like the 2K League as a whole, Knicks Gaming seems to have peaked in week one when the Knicks pulled out a back-and-forth nail-biter against Warriors Gaming, the Golden State Warriors’ 2k affiliate.
Since then, interest in 2k has tanked. On the first day of the league, viewership on streaming platform Twitch hit around 13,000 concurrent viewers. Numbers have dropped to around 4,000 during some games, according to Sporting News. “Playoff 2k” didn’t fare any better, by the way, with league’s first tournament finals barely reaching 7,000 viewers even with a close, competitive game between Wizards District Gaming and 76ers Gaming, the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers’ respective 2k clubs.
The 2K League is owed a grace period. Adam Silver and the NBA have made significant investments in the league’s success, and there’s reason for hope; sure, viewership is in the bin, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. The spectator camera angle, mirroring that of a traditional basketball broadcast (side-angle), isn’t the same as the one most 2k players actually use (back angle). There’s also the matter of the video game itself (2K18) predating the league, which means none of the in-game mechanics are specialized for both esports gameplay and esports spectatorship. Will 2K19 or future iterations incorporate different things into the game to help make the 2K League more interesting?
It’s worth wondering if the 2K League is at the end of its rope, like many fear after its cratering viewership statistics, or at the beginning (contingent on making major improvements to the spectator experience). Just how long that rope is will depend on how much patience its investors, the NBA and sponsors, have amidst these early failures. If the answer is “not much,” then we might see the last of Knicks Gaming, and the 2K League as a whole, sooner than any anticipated.