When the games are away, other games NBA stars will play.
Corny rhymes aside, as the NBA copes with the impacts of the COVID-19-related postponements, the league’s players are flocking to unique platforms to kill their free time and connect with their fans.
While some have kept things simple with Instagram Live or more interactions on Twitter, others have taken to Twitch, a live streaming platform built for gamers.
Some players, like Celtics forward Gordon Hayward or Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, are seasoned veterans when it comes to streaming their games, with tens (or in Hayward’s cases, hundreds) of thousands of total views on each of their respective channels.
Don’t believe it? Hayward’s channel, named “gdhayward,” has 450,072 total views as of April 5, with a wide-ranging audience tuning into his League of Legends streams.
Meanwhile, Fox’s game of choice on his channel entitled “swipathefox” has been Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which makes sense given his slander of the NBA 2K franchise, and his concurrent audience on his channel has spanned hundreds of fans.
He had more than 600 concurrent viewers in his stream at 6:50 p.m. EST on Sunday, April 5, with “#I’mCurrentlyUnemployed :/” standing out as the title of each video.
Hayward and Fox evidently found themselves at the start of a trend among other NBA stars, with many looking to join the streaming ranks as millions of Twitch viewers continued their endless search for new content.
Clippers forward Paul George stands out amongst the group as it relates to NBA stardom, and clocks in with his channel “YGTrece,” where he’s streamed NBA 2K and Call of Duty over the years.
Pelicans forward Josh Hart started his own Twitch channel, “JHartShow,” in 2018, and chimed in with his virtual smack talk four days after the NBA suspended its season as players turned into gamers with their newfound open schedule.
Heat forward Meyers Leonard added in his own praise on the same day as Hart’s callout, declaring himself the “best gamer in the NBA” while the league transitioned from the courts to the controllers.
Even Suns guard Devin Booker set up his own Twitch account for his Call of Duty fandom, announcing the development of his channel, “DBook,” in November of 2019.
Booker’s virtual availability serves as an outlet for him to connect with fans and as a reminder about the dangers of live programming, with the Suns star finding out live on camera about the NBA suspending the current season and reacting in a NSFW-fashion.
“What the f—, bro?” Booker said in shock. “What the f— is going on, bro.”
But, as news spread about the state of the league, the interest in the streaming platform that Booker and other NBA mainstays were using rose in incredible fashion.
Players started looking for ways to prove themselves to their counterparts who were also interested in gaming, and either found ways to compete against each other or alongside one another in a variety of games. Call of Duty Modern Warfare, NBA 2K, Fortnite. You name the game, and players were diving in.
Fox, Hart and Leonard have been playing Call of Duty: Warzone together, while other players, including Booker, found themselves going one-on-one with each other in a 16-man NBA 2K bracket airing on ESPN and ESPN2 from April 3 through April 11.
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The tournament features a who’s who of NBA greatness, with stars like Nets forward and two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant, Hawks guard and second-year All-Star Trae Young, and Jazz guard and NBA All-Star Donovan Mitchell, who was also one of the first NBA players to contract COVID-19, making up less than a quarter of the field.
While some players utilize their gaming as a way to generate more income through donations and Twitch channel subscriptions, the NBA 2K tournament gives players the chance to compete for a $100,000 prize that would go to a charity in support of COVID-19 relief.
Amid the surge in activity, Twitch continued to break records and reach heights that the platform had never reached before. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the company hit all-time highs for both hours watched and hours streamed between January and March, and crossed three billion hours watched in the first quarter of 2020 for the first time in the brand’s history.
All of the madness even got other players thinking about joining the streaming world, including Fox’s own teammate and NBA 2K tournament participant, Kings forward Harrison Barnes. While Barnes looked for feedback on Twitter, his point guard chimed in with his own thoughts about the potential new streamer.
“He’s only gonna play Assassins Creed,” Fox joked. “I created a monster.”
In this case, a monster has taken over the basketball world, but in the best way possible.
Just like the NBA as a whole, players know how to strike while the iron’s hot when it comes to certain trends, and gaming is no different. They’re finding ways to earn additional income to provide for their families, or using their hobby to provide relief related to fighting COVID-19: the cause of their current troubles.
In the end, players are flipping a negative into a positive, turning their free time from what could turn into a canceled NBA season into a way to further build up their respective brands, and connect with fans on a consistent, more personal basis.