Let’s get this out of the way early: T-Wolves Gaming’s 2019 NBA 2K League Finals win was a great moment in NBA 2K League history. For an expansion team to win the Finals in its first season, for the T-Wolves to do so by essentially not losing a meaningful game (and they were all meaningful after starting 3-6) since July and for what the title means for the power dynamics among league players, T-Wolves Gaming’s title is a huge moment.
That moment, however, came about four hours late. The story of the Finals—really, the story of the entire weekend—is one of question marks, raised eyebrows and sheer frustration.
In the Finals, with $480,000 in prize money set to be distributed, the NBA 2K League played two games of a best-of-five series with the home team severely handicapped by circumstances beyond their control. Then, after trying to start the third game of the Finals on a different game build, the league stopped play for three-and-a-half hours in an attempt to fix the game’s issues. Then, beginning at around 10 p.m., the league began the final three games, seven hours after game one commenced.
That’s no way to conduct a finals series.
The tech issues that delayed the Finals gave the away teams in games one and two ridiculously easy wins. The away team outscored the home team by an average of 41 points, with T-Wolves Gaming taking game one more than comfortably at 71-36 and 76ers GC winning game two by the outlandish Finals score of 70-23.
In game one, Breadwinner’s shot meter simply didn’t work despite several hard resets. He only finished with six shot attempts and isn’t a crucial part of the team’s offense, but no team should have to play with one-fifth of the team so disadvantaged.
Clip of NBA2KLeague Playing NBA 2K19 – Clipped by josiahcohen13
The greater issue was that home teams “long-armed” shots throughout the first two games. Players indicated that their timing on shots was sped up and they were unable to fill their shot meters on the home side. That, on top of the standard home/away discrepancy, caused the 76ers to shoot just 43% (16/37) from the field and 23% (3/13) from beyond the arc. In the next game, new home team T-Wolves Gaming shot a paltry 37% (11/29) from the field and just 11% (1/9) from three. During the regular season, the 76ers shot 58% from the field and 48% from three; the T-Wolves shot 60% and 50% respectively, and both numbers only went up for both teams during the playoffs.
76ers GC vociferously spoke up after starting game three on the home side down 10-0. The league tried out a different court—the Ticket Tournament Final court (not a good look in and of itself—in game three after using the Showcase Exhibition Court, not the Finals court, which was apparently broken, for the first two games. League officials convened, conversed, considered. League Managing Director Brendan Donohue got involved. The league decided to postpone the games until a tech solution could be reached.
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We are testing the technology in the studio. Stay tuned to our social channels for updates.
That’s the right decision. With a trophy and hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, the league did the right thing by trying to fix a game-breaking issue rather than forcing things through. The 76ers would have lost in more comprehensive fashion had things continued, and while they did lose eventually, the final three games seemed about as fair as possible given the circumstances. Again, this is not the article to ridicule or besmirch the T-Wolves’ title. They won it deservingly.
Another issue is the mental strain placed on both teams by that taxing break. This was the first best-of-five series in league history, and while players have played best-of-fives in Pro-Am, this is completely different even before considering the stakes. It’s mentally draining to wait, uncertain, and furthermore be asked to test the game in the interval. That doesn’t produce peak performance for a championship series.
It certainly didn’t produce a peak crowd, which was mostly resilient but certainly suffered for the delay. The 76ers crowd thinned out; the T-Wolves crowd, to their credit, stayed strong. Crowds have been one of the league’s strengths during the playoffs, and for one that was particularly strong up to an hour before the series, the long delay significantly changed the studio’s atmosphere.
The bigger question is, how did this happen in the first place? The court changes seem to be a cosmetic change, not the cause of the whole issue. To not have the Finals court fixed in time for the Finals seems more than ironic. The Showcase is not a good method to test that court since half the players participating in the event don’t really know what they’re doing in the first place. Why wasn’t the testing fix—various league players and then the teams themselves testing the game during the long delay—done on the morning of? Why was the build different?
It’s hard to answer, because, while they’re certainly culpable, it isn’t entirely the league’s fault. The root of the issue and the root of the home/away side discrepancy all season (to what extent that discrepancy exists is still uncertain) is the lack of league build resources deployed by 2K. The more developers working on the build, the fewer issues there should be. The more attention given to the competitive esports side of what is a retail game, the more better that competitive esports side will be (allowing the retail game, in the long run, to sell more copies).
There should be some caution about the viewership of these Finals. The first Twitch stream peaked at 35,464 concurrent viewers and had 1,798,793 unique viewers (all numbers via TwitchTracker). The second stream peaked at 18,629 concurrent and brought in 554,892 unique viewers. The two streams combined for a total of 882 new followers (591 and 291 in the two streams). Last year’s Finals stream peaked at 61,813 concurrent viewers, tallied 903,551 unique viewers, and gained 1,023 new followers.
This year, of course, the league also streamed on YouTube. There (as of Sunday), YouTube finished with 55,201 views, which was slightly above viewership for other playoff games. The league admittedly doesn’t promote YouTube as much and it has never garnered the same type of viewership as Twitch has. A few people indicated that the peak concurrent viewership for YouTube was around 5,000, which would rank very highly in that category for the league’s YouTube streams.
The big question is how the Finals did on Tencent. I cannot overestimate how important that deal is for the NBA 2K League, for so many reasons. If the Finals were widely viewed on that, China’s massive multilateral platform, then these Finals were a success, no matter what. Tencent’s numbers aren’t immediately public, so we can’t really know how the Finals fared there. But that is the most important number for these Finals.
Let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about the showcase, which, simply put, “wasn’t it.” The celebrity extravaganza pulled just 1,642 peak concurrent viewers, all of 5,785 unique viewers, and 165 new followers.
The idea, on the whole, is a good one. Get celebrities playing the league build, talking about the league, endorsing and publicizing the league. That’s fine. But it’s hard to judge their impact after several celebrity appearances at several tournaments this year. Offering a stellar product is more important and successful in the long run than convincing celebrities to popularize an inferior product.
Furthermore, the live event seemed, at least to some people, to drag on way too long. Four games with uneven teams, several unexceptional players, and little on the line is a little too long. I didn’t see many meet-and-greet opportunities for fans to meet with the celebrities playing in the game. I think it could be best to distribute the celebrity appearances throughout the season, if possible, rather than concentrating them at tournaments and the Showcase. More individual face time—both ways—for each celebrity. More spread out celebrity coverage and endorsements.
My suggestion would be a slight amendment. Have two new teams of five celebrities each (with an NBA 2K League star coaching, not playing) play one game, with the winner facing the defending showcase champion. Two games in total. Use the extra hour for more meet-and-greets, photo ops, etc.
For both the Showcase and the Finals, the league has to prioritize the product on the court before everything else. The T-Wolves deserved their dramatic win for what they did on the court. It’s hard to say, however, that these Finals deserved the T-Wolves.