ESPN hosted the first round of the “NBA 2K” Players Tournament this weekend to widespread interest over how NBA stars would fare against one another on the popular basketball video game.
With no live sports going on right now in the U.S. due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a virtual tournament is a logical way to keep fans occupied. For stretches of action on Friday and Sunday, the competition was tons of fun, particularly in games such as the one between Donovan Mitchell and Rui Hachimura that stayed close the whole way.
The TV production lacked in key areas, though, holding back a promising concept.
Here are problems we noticed — some of which will hopefully be corrected before the second round.
Way too much Ronnie 2K
Despite ESPN and its network of talented announcers and producers hosting the tournament, viewers were left with Ronnie 2K, the digital marketing director of “NBA 2K,” spending significant amounts of awkward time on screen. Not only is Ronnie 2K (given name Ronnie Singh) a polarizing figure who just this past week called entrant DeMarcus Cousins a “d—” on a live stream, but he is also an unpolished cable TV host. He offered forced analysis during game breaks and stale interviews with NBA personalities. He at many times seemed to be reading an off-screen prompt in a distracting manner.
It makes sense to have the game’s brand ambassador around the broadcast in some capacity, but he probably shouldn’t be such a key figure in a show centered on the players.
No esports commentators
ESPN decided to keep the “NBA 2K” in-game announcers providing the canned commentary everyone who owns the game is tired of at this point. That choice took away from the intensity of the action, the script-reading of virtual Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller not providing the energy and specific reactions an ESPN broadcast crew could have delivered.
Not enough topical guidance for players
There was a lot of pressure placed on the players to be interesting through all four quarters, even if they didn’t know each other very well. Montrezl Harrell and Domantas Sabonis, for example, did not have natural chemistry and were seemingly given only one pre-planned subject: Asking how the other person had been spending their time in quarantine.
These broadcasts are ripe for sharing the kinds of behind-the-scenes NBA stories fans crave, as well as unique opinions. It would have been fascinating if the players were encouraged to share on-court battle tales, and such conversation would have let the broadcast flow better until things tightened up in the fourth quarter.
No live stream on Twitch
Leading up to the tournament, it sounded as if every game would be streamed on Twitch (and YouTube) in addition to ESPN’s TV broadcast. Fans scrambling to figure out why nothing was showing up on Twitch at the scheduled start time Friday were disappointed to learn there would not be a free live online option. It seems a bit silly for the NBA to miss a chance to get its stars in front of more eyeballs, but it’s likely ESPN pushed for exclusivity. Games are available on streaming platforms only after the fact.
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