The first sports-themed video game I ever owned was NBA Live 2002:
I remember the first time I popped the disk into my Playstation 2 and started selecting my virtual team. As my game started, my cousin walked in asking who was winning the game between the Warriors and the Celtics. Back in 2001, the graphics were that good!
Back then, game developers like EA Sports were in the business of reproducing the likeness of real basketball players, arenas, and even the personalities of real-lire commentators into video game format. 16 years later, the NBA's 2k League draft in Madison Square Garden shows that e-sports have reversed that dynamic.
Every aspect of this event was identical to your run-of-the-mill NBA draft session, complete with a similar setting, journalists, men in suits, screaming fans, announcers and commentators. Instead of game developers drafting real-life NBA players into their games, however, NBA teams were now drafting e-athletes into their teams.
This blending of traditional NBA draft aesthetic in a video-game centric event is not by accident. 'Traditional' e-sports drafts are not usually done with such fanfare. It's a much more somber affair where players tend to get picked almost anonymously based on their online stats.
Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming (MMOG) had developed into a competitive e-sport quite a while ago with the rise of professional StarCraft leagues, Counterstrike, and so on. This event, organised barely a year after the NBA's 2K league's formation, marks the point where e-sports officially merge with real competitive sports.
The message from the NBA 2K League draft is as intentional as it is clear: E-sports have matured, and they are to be taken seriously. Some would argue that just like other fan-driven sports evolved into competitive professional franchises (think Rugby, billiard, poker?), e-sports' time to shine has finally arrived.
The only thing left now for such a gamble to work is for this franchise to pull butts into seats.