The Milwaukee Bucks add an eSports team to their roster. Yes, the gamers will be paid, housed and coddled like pros

(Photo: Michael Sears, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Milwaukee Bucks will chose their NBA 2K team Wednesday — professional video game players who will be paid employees of the team, provided with a luxury apartment and coddled like all-stars.

The six players will be selected as part of the first-ever draft for players of the NBA 2K League. A total of 17 NBA teams are choosing players who will compete against each other during a season that begins next month and ends in August.

The teams will compete in a series of regular season games, tournaments and playoffs. At stake: $1 million for the winning team.

The new league is part of the NBA’s efforts to tap into a large, young international audience. All 30 NBA teams will be included in the video game league in the next couple of years.

For the NBA and the Bucks, it’s a way of bridging their professional basketball franchise with the world of gaming, which has it’s own cadre of superstars. Some teams have brought out big names to draw attention to their NBA 2K operations — the Sacramento Kings, for instance, named Shaquille O’Neal as general manager for their team.

It’s also another way of building on the huge followings that the top players have built. For some, the world of gaming could be far more than long evenings spent in the family’s rec room with a bunch of buddies.

“This is like a job,” said Cayle Drabinsky, the Bucks director of business operations.

The first round pick will be paid $35,000, while the other five players will receive $32,000, he said.

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The creation of the NBA gaming league was led by Bucks co-owner Wes Edens in an effort to tap the huge interest in the eSports industry, which is expected to be a $1.5 billion business by 2020.

More than 9 million copies of the NBA 2K game have been sold worldwide. In China, there are 34 million people who play a version of the game using a download.

The league is a joint effort between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., a New York-based video game publisher-distributor that owns 2K Games and Rockstar Games.

The Bucks spent months scouting players who will be eligible for the NBA 2K draft.

That includes a recent trip to Chicago to meet with young men who play the video game for hours on end.

“We ordered a bunch of pizzas and we just talked with them,” Drabinsky said. “What makes them want to play for 12 or 14 hours a day?”

The afternoon-long draft based at Madison Square Garden was scheduled to start at noon and streamed live on Twitch, a website dedicated to online gaming. The 102 players eligible for the draft were put through a tryout and narrowed from a field of about 72,000 gamers originally deemed qualified to participate.

The Bucks have invested about $250,000 in the creation of their team, and have sold a variety of sponsorships.

Contractors working on a practice space that is being created for the Milwaukee Bucks new NBA 2K gaming team. Its in an undisclosed location. Each space shown will be utilized in some fashion for the team to practice in. Currently electricians are working on the space. At left electricians Tim Hobock, and at right Chadrick York work on the space. MICHAEL SEARS/MSEARS@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

(Photo: Michael Sears, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Bucks spent about $100,000 to renovate part of a warehouse near Schlitz Park into a training facility for the NBA 2K team. That includes gaming area, a lounge and a kitchen. The players will be housed at The Moderne high-rise and expected to report to the training facility a few minutes away every day.

The players will be equipped with state-of-the-art gaming consoles, headsets and chairs. A local team of gamers will serve as a “scrimmage team” to compete with the professional players, Drabinsky said.

And the players will have their own gear, including uniforms for training and game days.

“These guys are going to be decked out in the latest gear,” Drabinsky said. “Everything that you can market or sell they’ve thought of.”

The players won’t be using the names or likenesses of actual Bucks players. Rather they’ll create their own identities that correspond to their personalities and game.

“The NBA really sees this as their fourth league,” said Andrew Buck, the Bucks eSports manager. In addition to the main NBA teams, the league runs a minor league G League and the WNBA.

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