The 76ers are one of 17 NBA teams that will take part in the launch next year of the NBA 2K esports league, a competition run by the NBA with video game developer Take-Two Interactive Software.

It's another milestone in the Sixers' venture into esports. The team was the first in the NBA to run its own esports team, acquiring established teams Apex and Dignitas and merging them under the Dignitas brand.

The audience may not be the same one that watches the Sixers or Devils, both of which are owned by Josh Harris. But it has clearly become a big audience. Look no further than the 2016 world championship tournament of Riot Games' League of Legends, whose global broadcast peaked at 14.7 million viewers worldwide.

"[The NBA] became aware of just the massive scale of the audiences that are viewing [esports] and the fan bases that are participating," Team Dignitas CEO Jonathan Kemp said. "esports became a very compelling opportunity for the NBA generally, and I think that led to us, as a team, as an ownership group - we have an incredibly innovative ownership group who took one look at this and said, 'You know what, we need to be a part of that.'"

Some players, such as 24-year-old Team Dignitas League of Legends player Alex "Xpecial" Chu, have become celebrities among esports fans. Chu has 208,000 followers on Twitter and 100,000 fans on Facebook.

Many of those fans are of ages close to Chu's. A 2015 Nielsen study found that 57 percent of esports fans in the United States are between 18 and 34 years old. A 2016 report by Deloitte put the global figure at 75 percent.

Whatever the numbers are, this much is certain: The demographic is famously coveted by brands and marketers, but notoriously hard to reach. Advertising through esports could get to them.

If Philadelphia sports fans are the definition of parochial, esports fans are the polar opposite. Dignitas' following is spread across the Americas, Europe and Asia. So are their players. Chu is based in California, and has colleagues spread from South Korea to Portugal to Finland.

"We have players from, probably, in excess of 20 or 25 countries," Kemp said. "You realize how engaged the fans are, and it's a really interesting demographic [and] a young demographic."

That global view appeals to the NBA, whose worldwide audience has grown enormously in the last few decades. Kemp said the NBA has been interested in the idea of launching its own esports competition for almost two years.

"When you look at NBA 2K and what they're planning on doing - bringing in the best players in the world to play in this, because it's an international game played throughout the world - their desire is to make this an international league appealing to an international fan base," Kemp said. "That's something that we understand so well as an organization because we've done much the same thing around our team, our fan base and our players."

NBA 2K will be the sixth game with an esports league that the Sixers/Dignitas entity competes in, following League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Smite.

The massive popularity of sports video games has helped bring esports to a more mainstream place in cultural conversations. This year, the championship tournament of EA Sports' Madden football game was televised by NFL Network and Univision Deportes. The championship tournament of EA's FIFA soccer video game was televised by ESPN in English and Spanish at the same time as this year's Super Bowl.

Most competitions involving non-sports games are broadcast online via Twitch, an online streaming platform that carries a range of top esports events. The Sixers and Dignitas also stream their players' competitions on Facebook, having become the first esports team to partner with the social networking website in April of last year.

"From what we see around the demographic that plays NBA or Madden or FIFA, that is likely to be a broader demographic than you would typically see playing Dota or something like that," Kemp said. "And because of that, for us, we believe there's a great opportunity there... broadening the market, broadening the demographic, appealing to a wider set of fans - and by appealing to a wider set of fans, we think that becomes an interesting opportunity for commercial partners as well."

The 76ers and Dignitas are on the verge of turning that opportunity into reality. Kemp said the team expects to announce three major sponsorship deals between now and the end of the summer, including a technology company, an esports-centric brand, and a mainstream consumer brand.

"We've got commercial partners of the 76ers already who I'm sure would love the opportunity to be involved in the esports component of the 76ers," he added.

There may also be opportunities to bring marquee esports events to Philadelphia. Fans don't just watch those championship tournaments from their couches. They're often held in large arenas and draw big crowds. A Dota event held at Seattle's KeyArena in 2015 drew over 11,000 fans, and the 2013 League of Legends championship at Los Angeles' Staples Center sold out the building. The 2016 League of Legends championship sold out New York's Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and the Staples Center for the final.

How about a NBA 2K championship tournament at the Wells Fargo Center? The arena hasn't hosted a major esports tournament yet, but a basketball event in the heart of one of the world's most basketball-mad cities could be a hit.

"That's something we would love to be involved in, when the time comes or the opportunity arises," Kemp said.

And what if you're a Sixers fan who wants to try your hand at the competition? Kemp said those details will be announced by the NBA in the future. But he hinted that there will definitely be a way in, with a range of opportunities for men, women, fans in the U.S. and fans across the globe.

"It's everybody's dream, isn't it?" he said. "Whether you're playing NBA 2K or you're playing League of Legends, I think the beauty of esports now and the awareness of it [means] that everybody knows that there is a path for them if they are good at what they do."

Some of the other NBA teams that will compete in the 2K league are traditional rivals of the 76ers on the actual court, such as the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. Will the virtual rivalry be as fierce as the historical one? Kemp chuckled when asked.

"There are now all kinds of interesting rivalries when you think about esports," he said. "There's a number of NBA teams and owners and players who are involved in esports, so those rivalries may well branch off in all kinds of directions as we move forward. The traditional rivalries will continue, and esports will create its own new set of rivalries going forward, and it's going to be fun to watch that play out."

Here are the NBA teams that will launch teams in the NBA 2K esports league:

Boston Celtics
Cleveland Cavaliers
Dallas Mavericks
Detroit Pistons
Golden State Warriors
Indiana Pacers
Memphis Grizzlies
Miami Heat
Milwaukee Bucks
New York Knicks
Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers
Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings
Toronto Raptors
Utah Jazz
Washington Wizards