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5 Takeaways from the ESPN + NBA Metaverse Activation in ComplexLand

From May 25-27, 2022, BuzzFeed-owned media brand Complex held the third installment of its metaverse event Complexland. The virtual commerce-focused experience featured a variety of big name retailers such as Pizza Hut, PacSun, and UPS alongside brands like Atmos, Emotionally Unavailable, and Superplastic.

Sports brands ESPN and the NBA had a joint experience called the ESPN Stadium, which promoted the NBA Finals. The Stadium had two sections you could walk through and explore, the Tunnel and the Locker Room.

Here are my top 5 favorite elements of their branded metaverse execution:

Custom-Built Experience

The vast majority of brand activations within CompexLand utilized standard templates that featured images of physical clothing, collectibles, and other merchandise to purchase online. Basically, each brand had a virtual location that you could navigate to, click on, and buy from.

While the ESPN Stadium did not stand out much on the ComplexLand map, look particularly impressive when you navigated over to it, or feature items to purchase, it did impress me in a big way once I went inside. ESPN went above and beyond other brands in ComplexLand, creating a more immersive experience with a story, unique setting, and strong audio and visuals.

Thoughtful Use of Sound

The overall ComplexLand soundscape consisted of various instrumental music tracks that you could either mute or switch between with a dial.

But when I entered the ESPN Tunnel, the audio shifted dramatically. I was hit with a soundtrack of screaming fans chanting “defense” that make me feel like I was actually in a sports arena during the playoffs.

When I later moved into the Locker Room space, I also appreciated hearing a champagne bottle pop open, representing a championship victory celebration. That’s a sound I love to hear because it means fun times, so yet again I was made to feel something cool and special.

Nostalgic, Highly-Memorable Images

As you move through the tunnel, I saw photos of classic moments from NBA Finals history, including confetti raining down on Kobe Bryant as he celebrated his 2010 Game 7 victory over Boston, Lebron James’ chase down block on Andre Iguadola, and Steph Curry hitting a record 9 three’s in 2018’s Game 2 vs Cleveland. Nicely designed plaques shared the key details from each moment, which reminded me of NBA Top Shot NFTs (my personal introduction to the world of Web3).

Innovative Use of Video

As I walked through the tunnel, there was a strange buzzing sound that went off suddenly. At first I thought something was wrong with the experience and that it was glitching. But then a phone image popped up on screen, giving me the option to accept or decline. I accepted, and I was shown a pre-recorded vertical video that mimicked getting a call from ESPN commentator and former NBA player Kendrick Perkins.

I thought this slick use of talent to convey a fun but clearly scripted message was excellent. I appreciated the creativity and playfulness of this surprise. It didn’t feel like a promo, but rather like a special easter egg that I had stumbled upon.

Contests with Stuff That I Actually Want

The ability to win an Allen Iverson jersey, Reggie Miller autographed card, Lebron jersey, not to mention the cool ComplexLand t-shirt was a real highlight. Whether I’m in a metaverse game like Roblox or in this more shopping-oriented space like ComplexLand, I enjoy free stuff and the chance to win free stuff that I actually want. Too many giveaways and contests don't resonate with my actual interests. Given the high quality of these prizes (as an NBA fan), I was more than happy to fill out several entry forms, handing over my personal information.

What I’d Like to See Next Time

  • Ways to connect and communicate with other NBA fans in the space

  • Digital clothing to show off my LA Clippers fandom

  • Single contest entry form with checkboxes for each prize (it was a pain to have to fill in my info for each individual prize I wanted to apply for)

Keep It Up, ESPN + NBA

As a longtime NBA fan, I was quite pleased with my time spent in this metaverse experience. That’s saying a lot, since we’re so early in this space, and most experiences are fairly simple and painfully boring. I’m hoping that ESPN and the NBA will continue to push the boundaries of what a metaverse experience can be and give their fans more fun ways to engage.

Stephen Dypiangco is the founder & CEO of Metaverse Marcom, a media company providing data, market insights, and consulting services to marketing professionals looking to navigate the metaverse. He can be reached at


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