TORONTO — The search for the world's best NBA video gamers is officially on.
With the NBA 2K League set to tip off next May with the Raptors and 16 other teams taking part, the first stage of gamer qualifying kicks off Jan. 1.
Players have to be 18 and over and need to win 50 games in NBA 2K18's Pro-Am mode on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One and complete an online application by Jan. 31. Brendan Donohue, managing director of the NBA 2K League, expects as many as 10,000 to 15,000 gamers could make it though the first hurdle.
"But that number could go higher, just based on interest and excitement," he told a media conference call Friday.
Those who progress will have to go through more exacting tryouts set for February with the best players heading to an official league draft in March.
Each team will select five players who will play the game using unique characters/avatars. Draft order will likely be determined by a lottery.
Teams have unveiled their nicknames and logos. Toronto's entry will be known as Raptors Uprising GC (Gaming Club).
Other virtual squad are Celtics Gaming, Cavs Legion GC, Mavs Gaming, Pistons GT (Gaming Team), Warriors Gaming Squad, Pacers Gaming, Heat Check Gaming, Grizz Gaming, Bucks Gaming, Knicks Gaming, Magic Gaming, 76ers Gaming Club, Blazer5 Gaming, Kings Guard Gaming, Jazz Gaming, and Wizards District Gaming.
There are still details to be worked out, however.
The league has yet to decide whether the virtual gamers' faces will be scanned into the game, as the real players are. Donohue was also unable to provide information on how much the gamers will be paid.
"We do know it will be a competitive salary, plus benefits," he said.
Teams will also offer housing.
The games will take place in "a studio or two" with gamers flown in on a weekly basis over the virtual season, expected will run for about three months. The games will be broadcast live, although exact details are not available yet.
Most of the venues currently under review have a capacity for a studio audience as well.
"It's really not a huge factor in our decision which one to choose but it is nice to have," said Donohue.
Teams and the league will be able to use the virtual contests for in-game advertising.
While other gaming titles have more developed leagues or series already in place, Donohue says several NBA teams have already branched into other games.
Cleveland, Golden State, Houston, Milwaukee and Washington are among the NBA owners involved in the "League of Legends" North American League Championship Series. The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Lighting also have a stake in the "League of Legends" series.
And while the 2K League is new, competitive NBA virtual gaming isn't. The NBA 2K17 All-Star Tournament drew 500,000 competitors and 100,000 teams en route to the finale at the all-star game in New Orleans last February, drawing two million views.
"This isn't blind optimism," Donohue said of the 2K League. "We have some pretty good indication that there is an appetite for this."
The relationship between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, the parent company of California-based video game developer 2K Sports, dates back to 1999 with the "NBA 2K" series selling more than 68 million units worldwide.
In other news, the developmental NBA G League will stream six games a week live on Twitch, a popular social video service and community for gamers, starting Friday.
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