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The NBA 2K League expands beyond the NBA with new Shanghai team

Warriors Gaming Squad v T-Wolves Gaming Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA 2K League kicked off in 2018 with an interesting premise: a group of professional teams, each affiliated with an NBA squad, playing a virtual rendition of the sport. Now, after two seasons, the league is looking to expand beyond the NBA with a new club based in Shanghai. The Chinese team will be the first in the league based outside of North America and the first not operated by an NBA team.

The currently unnamed squad will be owned and operated by Gen.G, a multigame e-sports organization that currently has teams in PUBG, Fortnite, League of Legends, and also owns the Seoul Dynasty of the Overwatch League. The Shanghai team will join the league in 2020, and it will be based out of Gen.G’s Los Angeles office. Like all other 2K League teams, it will play games at the league’s studio in New York.

It’s not clear yet how the team will be connected to Shanghai aside from its name, but the expansion does show how the 2K League could differentiate itself from its real-world counterpart and potentially find new audiences in places the NBA can’t reach in the same way. “This is a historic moment in the NBA 2K League’s journey to becoming a truly global league with fans, franchises, and players from all over the world,” 2K League managing director Brendan Donohue said in a statement.

It also continues a trend of e-sports leagues attempting to become global, something that’s more challenging in traditional sports given the physical burdens of travel. Most notably, the Overwatch League — which has teams spread across North America, Europe, and Asia — will have teams play games based out of their home cities starting next season, as will the upcoming revamped Call of Duty professional circuit. Over its first two seasons, the 2K League hasn’t managed to garner the same scale of audience as its biggest competitors, but a global expansion could potentially help the league grow significantly.

“Gen.G’s unique core mission — to connect e-sports fans and athletes across the US and Asia — is meant for ambitious ventures like this,” Gen.G CEO Chris Park said in a statement. “We have big plans to help grow the NBA 2K League in communities around the world that are passionate about basketball and video games.”