NBA enters a virtual world

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, poses for photographs with gamers at the NBA 2K League draft Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in New York. Launching in 2018, the league will feature the best NBA 2K players in the world and will draft players to compete as unique characters in 5-on-5 play against the other teams in a mix of regular-season games, tournaments and playoffs. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) NYFF101
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, poses for photographs with gamers at the NBA 2K League draft Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in New York. Launching in 2018, the league will feature the best NBA 2K players in the world and will draft players to compete as unique characters in 5-on-5 play against the other teams in a mix of regular-season games, tournaments and playoffs. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) NYFF101
Published April 5
Updated April 5

On Wednesday, the NBA held a draft at Madison Square Garden, complete with players parading around stage after they were selected.

Except these players will never see the court, at least in live action. Instead, they will be playing as simulated versions of themselves.

In an attempt to capitalize on the esports craze, the NBA has launched the NBA 2K League, named after the popular video game.

There are 17 NBA teams with franchises in this newest venture, including the Orlando Magic (Magic Gaming) and Miami Heat (Heat Check Gaming). They all went through six rounds of drafting gamers to fill their rosters.

The players will compete against each other in the NBA 2K video game during a 12-week regular season, followed by another two weeks of postseason play. There is $1 million in prize money that can be earned throughout the season.

With the first pick the Dallas Mavericks (Mavs Gaming) selected Cleveland-based Artreyo "Dimez" Boyd, who is considered the LeBron James of 2K.

In all, 102 players were selected, including eight from Florida.

Magic Gaming took Christopher Cantrell of Jacksonville in the first round (eighth overall). Heat Check Gaming picked Juan Gonzalez seventh overall.

The first round selections will make $35,000 on a six-month contract. The other draftees will make $32,000. They will all have health benefits and live in a team training facility.

Rather than take control of actual NBA players, the gamers will play a 5-on-5 format of the video games as themselves.

The game has a function where you can create your own player, even yourself. Last year there were video tutorials on how you could create former Tampa Catholic standout Kevin Knox, who just finished his freshman season at Kentucky.

The NBA hopes to have franchises for all 30 teams in the league within three years. There is even talk of international expansion.

"They were playing and becoming the best players in the world out of a love of the game, and because of the love of competition," NBA 2K managing director Brendan Donohue told ESPN. "And today, it's exciting because we're going to reward them for that genuine passionate dedication to the game. I'm excited to kind of see today through their eyes."

Esports will soon be a $1 billion industry. It has spawned all kinds of leagues and other ventures.

There are 60 colleges that provide scholarships for esports. Last year, the Marreese Speights Foundation partnered with High Point Gamer and 2K for the first annual Stix to Glory Scholarship Gaming Tournament in which players from four St. Petersburg area high schools competed against one another in the NBA video game for a $5,000 college scholarship.

IMG also started a week-long summer boot camp for gamers who specialize in playing Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

There are even "Little Leagues" created for esports, including one in Tampa called the Dungeoneers, who play Minecraft at movie theatres and other community venues.

The Dungeoneers belong to Super League Gaming, which is holding the Minecraft City Champs Season 3 at Studio Movie Grill starting April 28.

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