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A screenshot from NBA 2K19. The Charlotte Hornets affiliate will be part of the NBA 2K League.

A screenshot from NBA 2K19. The Charlotte Hornets affiliate will be part of the NBA 2K League. (2K)

The Charlotte Hornets are launching an esports team next year.

The Hornets affiliate will be part of the NBA 2K League, a professional esports league co-founded by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, the team announced this week. Charlotte becomes the 22nd NBA franchise in the NBA 2K League.

The new team's name and logo will be announced in the upcoming months, according to the Hornets.

Esports refers to competitive video games, usually involving multiple players. Over the years, esports have grown increasingly popular, especially as a spectator sport that can be streamed by viewers around the world. Industry leaders are even pushing to include esports in the Olympics one day.

The global esports market this year is on pace to top $1 billion in revenue for the first time, according to industry analysis firm Newzoo. By 2022, the industry will generate $1.8 billion, the firm predicts. The bulk of the industry's revenue comes from sponsorships,media rights, advertising and tickets.

Esports are especially popular among younger demographics. Over 60 percent of esports fans are millennials, according to Newzoo. By launching an esports team, the Hornets hope to broaden the the team's appeal with younger fans.

"You have to meet this demographic where they are," said Pete Guelli, the Hornets' chief operating officer. "We're excited for what this will mean for esports in Charlotte."

Having an esports affiliate also opens up fresh sponsorship opportunities for the Hornets.

"The first thing we'll do is talk to some of our current sponsors and see what their appetite is," Guelli added.

The inaugural NBA 2K season took place last year. Players in the NBA 2K league are typically professional gamers, and all are 18 and older. To qualify for a team, players have to win a certain number of games on the video game NBA 2K (on either Playstation 4 or Xbox On.) From there, they go on to compete in a virtual combine, according to Nicole Blackman, the Hornet's senior manager of esports.

Last month, 75 players were drafted into the NBA 2K League. The Warriors Gaming Squad (Golden State) drafted Chiquita Evans, who will be the first female player in the league.

Each NBA 2K team consists of six players, who sign six-month contracts and are paid $30,000 to $40,000, the league said. Like professional athletes, NBA 2K players live in their home markets and travel for games, Blackman said. Also like other pro sports, each NBA 2K team has its own coach and general manager.

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The game, which has four six-minute quarters, has a five-on-five format with players competing as unique characters with certain skills, rather than NBA stars like LeBron James or Kemba Walker, according to the league. NBA 2K teams also don't play as their respective NBA franchise - Los Angeles's team plays as the Lakers Gaming, not as the LA Lakers.

The regular season tipped off on Tuesday and runs through Aug. 3. The league will award $1.2 million in prize money across the three tournaments and playoffs. Games will be will be livestreamed on the league's Twitch channel.

Every team will play 16 regular-season games at the NBA 2K League Studio in New York, along with three in-season tournaments that will travel to different cities, according to Brendan Donohue, managing director of the NBA 2K League, the first official esports league operated by a U.S. professional league.

Donohue said moving the tournaments around is a way to introduce the league to different markets, and to grow the sport's fan base. He added that the goal is to eventually add NBA 2K teams in cities outside the U.S., such as Shanghai and Hong Kong.

"We view this as a global league," Donohue said. "While we expect to have all 30 NBA teams as part of this, we want to go beyond that."

Hornets fans can find updates about the local NBA 2K team at hornets.com/2kleague.

Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com

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