We are only into the first year of the eSports NBA 2K League and there couldn’t be a better time to discuss the need for a player union. As someone who has played NBA 2K for years and watched the conception, birth and growth of the game as an eSport, I imagined that this was a fire waiting it happen. All it needed was a match to light it.
NBA 2K League Needs A Player Union
Shoutout inaugural league champs KnicksGaming, NYC WE OUTCHEA, YOU SEE US
In my opinion, the league was established somewhat sooner than it should have been despite having done well thus far. My sentiments, along with many other 2K community members, while watching the inaugural season were:
“Who will really care about this? The game is broken.”
However, I was wrong. After seeing the reception of the first league championship, I came to realize people in fact care, even me. The playoff games were fairly exciting, the championship game was electric, and people were emotionally invested in its outcome. The event even had celebrities watching and tweeting about the game. That’s attention. For an eSports league, attention means money.
Whether or not the game is quality enough to us as 2K players seems moot. The NBA 2K League has taken off and gotten momentum underneath it. It only makes sense, the eSports business has only grown and will only continue to grow. According to Stratton Sclavos, a leader of Vision eSports LP, “leagues make 27 times the revenue” of teams.
With that in mind, many renown celebrities and former/current NBA players have invested accordingly. Ever heard of Team Liquid? Magic Johnson has a stake in there. NRG, a team predominantly geared towards League of Legends and CS:GO, is co-owned by Shaquille O’Neal. Rick Fox and Gordon Hayward are among more notable names to have their hands in the eSports cookie jar. Notice a lot of NBA players in there? Even Ashton Kutcher, who I playfully remember as “the dude who hosted Punk’d,” was one of the first notable people who saw the trend and invested in a service that allowed eSports fans to bet on matches in real time.
2K was smart to pounce on the opportunity to make this happen because basketball, rather sports games in general, had not quite ushered in an official eSports league of their own. Shooters and MOBA’s (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) were the main genres in which eSports had been trending.
The NBA 2K League has said that they’d like to be able to stand out from the crowd of e-leagues in the business. I strongly believe this is where they should start. As an example for this argument, I reached out to recently dismissed forward of WizardsGaming, Austin Painter AKA Boo.
In its inaugural season, Boo lead the league in scoring, averaging 32.3 PPG and was a popular personality in the league. This is exactly what the league needs to increase their monetary potential. However, there was a recent controversy that lead to him being relieved of his position on the team due to “violation of the code of conduct.” The details of his dismissal are still unknown to the public, however, having communicated with Boo recently after the decision, he seems to feel as if it was an unjustified action.
While researching, I googled “NBA Player Code of Conduct” and I found multiple sources of information that players must agree to, one from the NBA itself. Whether or not that is the official documentation players must agree to, I don’t know, but at least I was able to find something. If you google “NBA 2K League Player Code of Conduct,” the first and only articles you find are about Boo’s dismissal.
Now, the problem here is not only his dismissal, but how it was conducted as well. There was no chance at appeal, no opportunity for a lesser punishment like a suspension, just flat out “yeah, you’re done here.” So, if the league deems you have done something that breaks their mysterious code of conduct, it’s over. That feels incredibly unfair.
Boo was one of the best and most popular players in the league. Arguably, he is one of the reasons its inaugural season was a success; however, he was not given due process. Reason being, there is no group, person or organization to represent these players and make sure they are treated fairly. Suing isn’t really an option given the NBA 2K League, in partnership with the NBA, has the NBA’s lawyers and legal staff available to them. At best, it’s an uphill battle with a steep incline. To make it worse, most of the sources that first broadcast this information (ESPN & Sports Illustrated) spun a narrative that brought a negative light to Boo’s brand and public image. Simply put, these players are not protected and none of their jobs are secure.
One of the biggest stains on the NFL is that it’s an owner-driven league that almost seems like a dictatorship at times. The owners command an absolute control that does not protect the players monetarily or morally. This is not what any league should aspire to be.
After hearing and reading everything I could find, it felt only logical that this concept be presented: a player’s union. By definition, a union is a group of employees working collectively and certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is the watchdog/enforcer of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) passed by Congress in 1935. Per esportsobserver.com: “a union may be established in one of two ways: First, if at least 30% of employees sign cards or a petition saying they want a union, the NLRB will conduct an election. If a majority of those who vote choose the union, the NLRB will certify the union as its representative for collective bargaining with team owners and the league officials. Second, an employer may voluntarily recognize a union based on evidence – typically signed union-authorization cards – that a majority of employees want it to represent them. Once a union has been certified or recognized, the employer is required to bargain over the employees’ terms and conditions of employment with their independently-elected union representative.”
With all this legal jargon in mind, the conception of this players’ union is really up to the will of the players, and this is a bull they should take by the horns sooner rather than later. This league is a newborn right now and a tone needs to be set early by the product itself. If the NBA 2K League truly wants to stand out in the eSports crowd, why not embrace this concept? Take care of your players, not just the investors’ wallets. Be open to a Collective Bargaining Agreement by players and be as progressive as your real-life counterpart, the NBA.
The traction of this possibility will only pick up when enough players, especially notable ones, push for its conception. The all-star game draft wasn’t televised until Steph and Lebron said so, if you catch my drift.
Although Boo may sadly have to be the martyr for this cause, the amount of good this situation can be spun into is game changing. ESports leagues around the world have struggled to establish player unions, why not be the first to work towards this goal?
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