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NBA expansion coming to Atlanta: Hawks to have 2K League franchise

NBA expansion is coming to Atlanta.

The Hawks will be one of four franchises added to the NBA 2K League by joining the esport next year for its second season. The Hawks, Nets, Lakers and Timberwolves will bring the total to 21 of the 30 NBA franchises to participate in the joint venture with Take-Two Interactive as a professional league playing the NBA 2K video game.

The NBA 2K League is nearing the conclusion of its inaugural season. A number of major projects prevented the Hawks from being a part of the considerable venture from the start. The day they could join for the second season, the Hawks were all in.

“We only sat on the sidelines because of the scale of the practice facility, the arena transformation and our (G League team and arena in) College Park project,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said. “We thought we would take the year to observe, learn, visit and talk to teams. We have traveled and met with teams and met with several folks to learn because it is the first professional sports league to have an esports league. We were the first to raise our hands because we believe this is a way, not only to extend the Hawks season but to extend the Hawks brand.”

Koonin says that 99 percent of NBA fans never walk into an arena on a global basis. The e-sport league gives the Hawks a chance to reach fans, old and new, and offers advertising, promotional, sponsorship and content opportunities that didn’t exist before.

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The NBA 2K League team will be named Hawks Talon Gaming Club, the Hawks announced Wednesday night. Other important aspects such as a team logo, color scheme and staffing will come at a later date.

The NBA 2K League began in May with 102 players competing on the 17 teams. The 17-week season, with teams competing head-to-head, culminates with the championship on Aug. 25 as the playoffs begin this week. 

Teams must live in their home markets and compete in weekly 5-on-5 games with unique characters (not current NBA players) at the league studio in New York City. Games are streamed on Twitch.

The league began with two stages of qualifying from a field of 72,000 players. A field of 250 players was further reduced to the 102 who were eligible for a draft held in April at Madison Square Garden.

There will be an expansion draft in the fall for the new franchises.

“We're very excited about the four teams, but we're extremely confident that the other teams are eventually going to join the league,” said Brendan Donahue, NBA 2K League managing director. “Many of them really kind of were back and forth this year before we got our final decisions. The league is a significant commitment, and we're actually glad that teams take that thought seriously. We think it makes sense for teams to join when it's best for them. … I would say the 30 teams overall, having spoken to all of them, they're very bullish on what we're doing.”

The commitment is considerable with a $750,000 expansion cost. In addition, players receive a salary of up to $35,000 for the six-month season. They also receive housing and insurance. This season there is also an opportunity at a share of $1 million in prize money.

Individual teams will support the NBA 2K franchise with team personnel including a general manager, coach and support staff. Koonin said the Hawks are still determining how they will fill new positions and job responsibilities but it could include the new team’s new G League team.

“It’s a significant commitment,” Koonin said. “We also feel it’s a very good business for us. … The NBA has become a 12-month a year sport over the past couple of years and this is just another arrow in that quiver.”

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