Greg Cote

Attention video-gamers: How would you like to play for the Miami Heat?

The Miami Heat will be one of 17 NBA teams involved in a new NBA 2K esports league set to debut in 2018. The NBA thus becomes the first major traditional sports league to partner directly with the growing phenomenon of esports and competitive video gaming, which since its origin in 2014 has become increasingly popular with millions of gamers and fans, mostly millenials.

The Heat already had dipped a toe in esports in a move to broaden its appeal to younger fans. Miami earlier this year became a business partner with the esports group Misfits, whose organization is based in West Palm Beach but whose teams mostly compete in Europe or Asia. However, players representing the Heat in the NBA 2K league are likely to be signed from local auditions.

"There will be a talent casting call for bad-ass NBA 2K players," Heat executive vice president and chief marketing officer Mike McCullough told the Herald. "We'll make sure everyone knows when and where and how people can audition."

Misfits CEO Ben Spoont, who lives in Miami: "2K is uniquely positioned as a professional sport video game to be able to reach fans that are esport fans as well as NBA fans and 2K fans alike. The opportunity here is to be able to reach fans that are in vastly different markets but all with a common thread, which is their love of the NBA and/or video games."

The NBA involvement is a likely precursor to the NFL and MLB showing interest as esports, spawn of the digital age, continues to grow in America. As an example, the University of Utah in 2014 was the first U.S. college to have an esports team. Now some 60 colleges do. The global esports market saw $493 million in total revenue in 2016, according to industry analyst Newzoo, which predicts growth to $1.5 billion by 2020.

Each NBA 2K eSports team will feature five players using newly created avatars, not existing NBA players. While most sports video games are played one on one, this league will feature a team dynamic.

"There are great opportunities for crossover among audiences," McCullough said. "A number of gamers are excited they now have an NBA team to root for, and a number of Heat fans who are are gamers also are super excited the Heat will now be playing in the esports world."