Qualifying rounds began earlier this week for a brand new basketball team that will don the Memphis blues. But it's unlikely you've ever heard any of the players' names on ESPN.
The Memphis Grizzlies are a founding team of a new league. But it's unlikely any of those teams will ever meet face-to-face on the floor of FedExForum.
The new league is for esports, or electronic sports — video games — and right now thousands of players from all over the world are vying to join 17 brand new basketball teams for the very first season of NBA 2K League.
Anyone who grew up around video games knows NBA 2K. The game debuted in 1999 and looks like a real, live basketball game. The teams and players are real, too, down to the mascots and tattoos.
In esports, teams compete live and, yes, people tune in to watch the games. The industry is expected to grow to $1.5 billion by 2020, and the esports audience was expected to reach 385 million by 2017.
In Memphis, the Grizzlies have hired Lang Whitaker as the general manager of Grizz Gaming, the city's new esports team.
- Got e-grit? NBA 2K League try outs are in February 2018.
"As someone who has voraciously consumed both basketball and video games for my entire life, being the general manager of Grizz Gaming is, in many ways, the culmination of my life's work," said Whitaker. "I always told my mom that playing video games would one day pay off. Today is that day."
To qualify for invitation-only try outs in February, players must win 50 games in NBA 2K18's pro-am mode and fill out an online application by the end of January. The qualifier is open to anyone in the world who is 18 or older and has a copy of NBA 2K18 on either Xbox One or PS4.
Players selected from the tryout will be drafted to league teams in March. Drafted players will get a "guaranteed, competitive salary," according to the league's website, benefits, and housing, meaning each player drafted for Grizz Gaming will be brought to Memphis for the season.
Players will create their own player avatar, instead of playing as Marc Gasol, for example. Each game will feature two teams in five-on-five gameplay. The games will be broadcast, though "the league is currently in media rights discussions," according to the NBA 2K League website.
In a recent Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, the esports league's managing director, Brendan Donohue, said salary figures have yet to be finalized, along with other details like quarter lengths, and on which console games will be played.
"Grizz Gaming provides the Memphis Grizzlies organization and our partners with a new avenue to engage with a passionate and dedicated fan base through an esports team that reflects our culture and identity," said Jason Wexler, Memphis Grizzlies president of business operations.
NBA 2K league play tips off in May.