Deep Dive into NBA 2K League Season 1 Viewership

In February 2017, Take-Two Interactive Software and the NBA announced their intentions to launch a league around the NBA 2K franchise. An ambitious plan was set to professionalize the game’s competitive scene into teams owned and operated by NBA franchises.

The plan continues to unfold as the NBA 2K League gears up for Season 2 by adding four additional NBA teams. Everything seems on track for further success in 2019. However, there have been concerns about the league’s viewership and how that impacts the long-term viability of NBA 2K as an esport.

To investigate if there is validity to the concerns surrounding viewership, FanAI dug deeper into the NBA 2K League Season 1 audience. Using Twitch viewer data, made available by our recent acquisition of Waypoint Media, we examined the league’s audience at the unique individual viewer level, rather than just the top line numbers reported by others.

How many people did the NBA 2K League Reach?

Over the course of the inaugural season, the NBA 2K League reached 656K total unique viewers, 366K of which were logged-in to Twitch when watching. This accounts for viewers that tuned in at any point in the season, including those that watched multiple weeks and the viewers that only watched once.

The distribution of unique logged-in viewers per week shows that the league caught the most eyes during the Tip Off Tournament, which kicked off the league, and during the Ticket Tournament, which aired in the latter half of the season.

The largest number of viewers showing up to watch the Tip Off is not a surprising result for a variety of factors. There was more than a year of hype built up between the announcement of the NBA 2K League and its debut. The additional novelty of the first esports league owned and operated by a traditional sports league certainly contributed to increased interest during the opening weekend.

It is more difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for the uptick in viewership for the Ticket Tournament. One factor could be the prize afforded to the winner: a guaranteed spot in the NBA 2K League playoffs. This may have been enough of an incentive for fans of teams mathematically eliminated from contention to return to the broadcast. The upset of No. 1 seed Blazer5 Gaming in the first round by No. 15 seed Knicks Gaming likely didn’t hurt either.

Returning Viewers

Once logged-in unique viewers were identified for the season, FanAI tracked each to see which of these fans returned in subsequent weeks.

Throughout the season, returning fans comprised between 33% to 64% of the unique logged-in viewers. In general, weeks with above average viewership had a lower percentage of returning viewers. This is to be expected since there is a larger potential pool of viewers from Twitch who have not tuned in to pull from. And, as games rise in viewership so too do they on Twitch’s listing of live channels which can increase visibility for new viewers.

But that isn’t to say that the viewership numbers for the league were stellar. By the numbers, returning logged-in viewers per week averaged 13.3K viewers throughout the season. Only the Ticket Tournament managed to capture more than 20K returnees out of a possible 283K at that point in time.

Returning Does Not Equal Dedication

Let’s dig further into these returning NBA 2K viewers. One might expect that returning viewers are alike, coming back to watch consistently throughout the weeks. Interest is a spectrum after all, and wouldn’t it be fair to assume that there are as many loyal fans that will show up for the first week as will show up during the second and third weeks of play?

Well, that’s where you’d be surprised.

This and previous data shows that leagues are more likely to get their most loyal viewers in the first week. From Week 1 of the regular season until the playoffs, viewers from the Tip Off Tournament made up on average 25% of the logged-in audience.

If we zoom in to look at just the returning viewers, we can get an even clearer picture of how much value the Tip Off viewers generated. In addition to comprising 25% of the total audience, viewers from the Tip-Off Tournament also made up 53% of the returning viewership on average. Notably, these viewers did wane as the weeks went on, but even still, from Week 8 on (2nd half of season 1) they were on average 41% of returning viewers and 20% of all logged-in unique viewers.

Why is this important?

For any league to succeed, growing viewership overtime by incentivizing viewers to return week over week is a must. However, gaining viewers during the the opening weekend of the league and capitalizing on the hype and anticipation surrounding the launch is just as important to setting up a foundation for success.

After all, the true fans (the ones that show up every week) are the ones that are tuning in early and often. As the NBA 2K League moves into Season 2, they should be keeping a keen eye on rewarding the loyalty of fans who supported them throughout Season 1, while working to grow and incentive new viewers to watch (and ultimately return) to broadcasts during Season 2.