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Why Twitter designed custom emojis for NBA All-Star Weekend

Twitter Sports is all-in on its use of custom emojis around large-scale sporting events.

The 140-character conversation on Twitter is no longer just reserved for text, hashtags and Hot Takes.

Now, emojis are being strategically and regularly integrated into the sports conversation after first being unveiled five years ago.

In the first six weeks of 2016, Twitter Sports has gone all-in on embedding the bite-size images into the platform. It started with the 2016 College Football Playoff followed by NFL teams receiving their own emoji tied to hashtags in the latter stages of the playoffs.

The NHL teamed up with Twitter around All-Star Weekend, with the hashtags — #NHLAllStar and #NHLFanFair — receiving their respective emojis.

With the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend in full effect, Twitter recently launched emojis for all 24 All-Stars in addition to TNT’s roster of NBA broadcasters.

Fans who tweet about their favorite player will see a custom emoji next to his name. For example, a #StephCurry mention will cause a smiling face to appear while posting #LeBronJames will trigger a crown with a Cleveland Cavaliers “C” in the center. Tweeting #KobeBryant elicits a black mamba image, a play on Bryant’s well-known nickname around the league.

“Emojis are part of our ongoing efforts to make Twitter a fun and interactive place for consumers to express themselves,” Andrew Barge, Sports Partnerships Manager, told Forbes earlier this year. “The emoji is all about the now and tying them to major moments unfolding on the platform.”

Additionally, on Sunday night, the Kia NBA All-Star MVP Award voting will be synced with Twitter as well, a first for the league. Fans can vote for the MVP by incorporating #KiaAllStarMVP and the player’s name (hashtagged) in the same tweet. In total, fan voting will comprise 25 percent of All-Star MVP voting.

Bringing the conversation to life and making Twitter more visual for fans and consumers has been a key priority for the Sports group, led by Danny Keens, Head of North American Sports Partnerships. The emojis give Twitter users that surprise-and-delight feeling when they first see the emoji appear on their timeline. It’s a small feature (pun intended), yes, but it gets people talking and livens up the platform.

With the uptick in engagement seen by teams and leagues in addition to the positive feedback Twitter has received, expect a steady diet of more custom emojis around larger-scale sporting events, especially the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and World Cup of Hockey later this fall.

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