NBA 2K17 already has quite a legacy to live up to. The basketball game’s predecessor was the top-selling game in September of last year, contending against heavy-hitters such as FIFA 17, Madden NFL 16, and the critically acclaimed action game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Additionally, NBA 2K16 became 2K Sports’ first entry into eSports with the Road to the Finals competition where players competed for a $250,000 grand prize. The game has also been used to promote Kyrie Irving-branded Nike sneakers, “Kyrie 2” kicks.

So the newest addition to the basketball series took full advantage of the brand’s momentum by starting early and building anticipation for the game’s launch. In June, NBA 2K16 was offered as one of the PlayStation 4 free games of the month for PlayStation Plus subscribers, which gave a potentially new audience a chance to own and experience the record-breaking game for themselves.

Then the free My NBA 2K17 mobile companion app launched for both iOS and Android devices on September 8. With it, players could start earning in-game currency for the console releases of NBA 2K17 by completing challenges. Additionally, there is the incredibly popular MyTEAM Mobile collectible card game, which has been a longstanding feature of the series and allows player to collect NBA player cards and use them to challenge competing players around the world. Although neither feature is new to the app series, which is on its fourth installment, they give something for longtime fans to look forward to. The biggest new feature is the new face scanning technology, which lets users scan their faces onto custom NBA 2K17 characters with their mobile devices. While both NBA 2K15 and 2K16 used the Xbox One Kinect and PlayStation 4 Camera for face scanning, the results were often hit-or-miss. Now players can create custom characters with more reliable technology.

Furthermore, the game engaged with players 11 days before its official September 20 release by using a demo called The Prelude. Although game demos are nothing new, they remain one of the best ways to engage with audiences by giving them a quick preview of what’s to come. However, NBA 2K17 pushes things up a notch by letting players get a head start on the MyCareer mode using authentic Division I collegiate programs, and players can continue raising their draft profile in the full game when it launches. The aim is to engage new players by letting them continue their MyCareer journey with the full game. At the same time, existing fans are assured that the new game will be the same or better quality as its predecessor. As added incentive, 2K Sports recently announced that Michael Jordan would appear in the MyCareer story mode, giving players a chance to play alongside the legendary figure.

The basketball game takes pre-release engagement a step further with the Early Tip-Off Weekend, which is a longstanding tradition for the sports game. Pre-order customers were automatically upgraded to the Early Tip-Off Edition, which let them start on September 16—four days before the official launch of the game.

But perhaps the prominent way the game reaches out to NBA fans is how it manages to include no less than three major basketball stars for its covers. The My NBA 2K17 app has Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves on its cover. Meanwhile, Indiana Pacers All-Star shooting guard Paul George, who was the cover athlete for last year’s companion app, makes his first solo appearance on the cover of the main NBA 2K game. However, more dedicated fans will likely look to Legend Edition, which features the recently retired Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in a number of uniforms, including a Kobe USA Basketball Jersey, a Kobe hoodie and a 2K Kobe XI shoe. Then there’s the Legend Gold Edition, which includes 300,000 in virtual currency and the entire Nike Kobe shoe collection (24 in all) included in the game for $99.99. For comparison, the game’s predecessor included Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and James Harden on three unique game covers, making for a total of four athletes when the companion app is included. It only had one special edition, which included Michael Jordan branded apparel.

Although it hasn’t officially launched yet, NBA 2K17 is looking to be another successful game for the franchise. Much of that has to do with the tremendous success of last year’s game, followed by an eSports competition that let console players compete for a $250,000 grand prize—a competition that is almost certain to return. But one of the most important aspects of the franchise’s ongoing success is engagement with fans of both the sport and the video game long before the new title releases. In fact, George’s cover appearance was announced by Bryant and Rick Fox at the Road to the Finals championship finale.

As games, particularly sports games, continue to evolve into ongoing services, it becomes vital for franchises to keep their audiences engaged throughout the year. That means paving the way for the next release by showing how it will take things to the next level just as the life cycle for the previous game reaches its conclusion.

About last night… #NBA2K17 #eSports #legends

A photo posted by @2k on