The NBA 2K League started off incredibly strong, touting numbers around the 650,000’s for their finals in their debut year. Unfortunately, numbers aren’t available for the 2019 but from an esports community perspective, the hype died off. New teams entered in the 2019 season (Atlanta, Brooklyn, LA and Minnesota), but this didn’t seem like it spelled any big upswing of the NBA 2K League itself. Most could argue that it’s affordable for NBA teams to open an esports division, as most teams are franchised and pull in insane numbers.
Then comes the 2020 draft, that just happened over the second last weekend in February. Where our story falls on Jame “DirK” Diaz Ruiz, or DirK_JDR. Once, a commentator of the esport itself, and also involved in both Call of Duty and Gears of War, he is no stranger to the esports community. DirK climbed through the League’s pro assessment system, which is essentially having enough accumulative wins and performing well in the combine.
Where there’s no debate DirK had the skills to compete against some of the other top prospects in the NBA 2K League, DirK had a massive thing many other competitors did not – which was a social media following. Many players sit in the low 1000’s as far as twitter accounts, nothing to laugh at but nothing spectacular either. DirK has 10 times this. Internet clout alone shouldn’t get you into a team itself, but at the same time, someone known across a variety esports and is already an accomplished personality, might be someone to consider.
With DirK’s social media following came the backlash of many questioning how someone could not pick up someone so well known. DirK is a common name in the community, well spoken and marketable. He is also the poster boy for any aspiring NBA 2K player. To myself and a good amount of the community it’s a shocker he wasn’t even picked up as someone to have as a 6th man.
This leads to many organizations having members who are not known to the community. It’s also painfully obvious that most of these teams do not know how to market themselves in an esport setting. Yes, promoting players when they’re live is great to see, but as far as “exclusive” or “insider” video footage, it’s basically nonexistent. DirK is someone who’s had to build a brand for himself because of his profession. Bringing him on as a social media advisor wouldn’t even be a horrible idea at this point. This is because most of these teams do nothing outside the bare bones of an esports organization.
Passing over players like DirK is something I could understand within an esport that is either grassroots (Smash) or massive (League of Legends), but unfortunately the NBA 2K League is neither. They need personality. Without personalities, they will simmer out and die, or continue to have money pumped into it and operate at a deficit that’s unmatched to any other esport.
There is a chance I’m wrong and the teams made a smart decision passing over DirK, but I represent the NBA 2K League target demographic – versed in esports, but don’t pay attention to their esport. That is the demographic they’re desperately trying to get a hold of. Time will tell if the league succeeds or dies, but in my opinion this was the first nail in the coffin.