We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games.
If you’ve caught some of the recent episodes of the NLSC Podcast hosted by Arcane, Kenny, and myself, you’ll have heard us talking about our recent games of 2K Pro-Am in NBA 2K16. I realise that audio content isn’t for everyone, and a written article can sometimes be better at starting discussion, since it’s easier to directly quote and respond to each other’s points. To that end, I thought I’d follow on from Kenny’s first official edition of The Sunday Substitute with some of my own thoughts on 2K Pro-Am.
As I’ve said many times before, I’m not a big online gamer. I prefer the franchise mode experience, and I’ve come to quite enjoy the card collecting, team building modes as well. However, playing basketball video games online is significantly more fun when it’s done with friends, so I’ve really enjoyed getting together with Kenny, Arcane, and some other members of our community for a few games each week. As Kenny noted in the Forum, our record isn’t stellar, but we have a good time…for the most part.
So, what are my overall impressions of 2K Pro-Am to date, and what would I like to see done moving forward?
When 2K Pro-Am was first announced, I was actually in Orlando attending an NBA Live 16 community event, where I was learning about NBA Live’s mode of the same name. After playing LIVE Pro-Am at the community event and having a lot of fun with it, and hearing about what 2K Pro-Am would offer, I was in two minds about which approach I preferred. LIVE Pro-Am allows for several games to be played in a short amount of time, with a “first to 21” winning condition. It’s a more casual environment, whereas 2K Pro-Am incorporates all the proper NBA rules. While I like both approaches, I think I’ve come to prefer 2K’s concept.
While we’re making comparisons, 2K Pro-Am offers NBA 2K16 gamers the chance to design their own courts and arenas, a key new feature in several of the game’s modes. NBA Live 16 does not offer any team customisation options in LIVE Pro-Am, but instead features authentic venues where pro-am basketball takes place. It also stays truer to the pro-am concept, as real NBA players are featured in addition to Rising Star players. Still, even if Pro-Am isn’t the most fitting name for what has been done in NBA 2K16, I once again find myself leaning towards 2K Pro-Am, due to everything else that the mode entails.
The downside of 2K Pro-Am’s approach of playing under full NBA rules is that games can be a little drawn out. As I said before, LIVE Pro-Am’s approach facilitates a lot of quick games; you could probably play up to ten LIVE Pro-Am games in the time it takes to finish one game of 2K Pro-Am. A commitment to realistic presentation also slows the game down, as no camera cuts mean a lot of standing around while the referees retrieve loose balls, and so on. Going back to something I discussed a couple of weeks ago, the quality of the presentation is commendable, but it can make the gameplay experience a bit drawn out and sluggish.
After finally making use of my pre-order VC to upgrade my player to a modest 69 overall, I jumped into a game with the guys a few weeks back, and found that I didn’t fare too badly…at first. As you would expect, I soon found myself overmatched. Vastly superior opponents and the reduced responsiveness that comes with online play – even when there isn’t any significant lag – made it tough to keep pace and consistently have an impact. At present, I’m continuing to grind my way up to a more respectable skill level, and currently sit at 76 Overall. I’m finding that I can have an impact, when I don’t try to do more than I’m capable of.
I would have to echo Kenny’s sentiments about 99 Overall players. It’s a touchy issue, and no matter which way 2K goes with it, there will be a contingent of basketball gamers who are unhappy with their decision. It’s crucial that there’s balance in 2K Pro-Am, however, and it does dampen my enthusiasm for the mode when I see players gaming the system. 7’3″ big men who can handle and shoot like guards, so many maxed out speed ratings, and teams full of 99 Overall players do upset the competitive balance somewhat. It also makes it harder to get into the mode if you’re a bit late to the party.
Like I said though, I’m finding that it’s possible to have an impact, despite only being rated 76 Overall. After sampling a couple of different jumpshot animations and improving my shooting ratings, I’m a bit more reliable when I can’t get to the rim for a dunk or layup. The rest of the guys have spent a bit more time improving their players, and I enjoy playing more of a facilitator role to their more capable finishers, so I can also contribute through my passing. When one of us makes a crafty pass or defensive stop, we click with some great teamwork, or there’s a highlight play, it’s a rush, drawing cheers of encouragement in the party chat.
Of course, there are also frustrating moments. The grading logic still feels as though it’s tuned more towards punishing mistakes and momentary lapses than rewarding good play and sustained competence. One mistake can cost you can entire grade, and there are weird moments such as being penalised for losing the ball as you’re being fouled. The logic behind shot selection feels a bit random as well. It’s a significant problem, as a couple of errors can drastically reduce your grade and cause you to get booted from a game. It’s a good failsafe against lousy teammates, but it’s a bit clunky, which can be off-putting. It’s an issue that obviously extends to MyCAREER as well.
Perhaps the most frustrating issue we’ve run into from game to game is the amount of layups we miss, and fast break dunks that get blocked. In some respects, we’re at fault here. It’s tempting to go for the highest percentage shots possible, but sometimes, it’s not a good idea to try and finish at the rim, when a floater or midrange jumper would be preferable. At the same time, it feels like a lot of easy attempts go awry in the paint, at least for us. Players who are 99 Overall or have the appropriate badges seem to finish tougher shots more often than they probably should, so while some of it is on our decision-making, I also believe there are some balance issues.
That being said, the ability to make good decisions and play as a team is crucial in 2K Pro-Am, just as it is in real basketball. It can be difficult to overcome the “Player One Mentality”, as we’re all accustomed to being Player One, and having to make things happen ourselves. It’s therefore all too easy for everyone to want to receive the inbounds pass, cut to the hoop, or crash the boards. It’s important to employ good strategy and pick your moments on offense, though that’s easier said than done. If nothing else, it’s an adjustment having to play against a whole lineup of players who are rated 90+ Overall.
Through all those ups and downs, I think it’s the social aspect of 2K Pro-Am that has held my interest. Some of the blowout losses have been tough, and we all grumble – to put it mildly – when we run into balance issues. However, getting together in the party chat to talk, crack jokes, and comment on the proceedings has kept our spirits up. It’s an important part of the experience, and it’s why I wouldn’t recommend playing the mode as a walk-on. Being able to play a few games with friends, on our own NLSC-themed court with inside jokes and community references, has encouraged me to keep playing, even when some of the games have been tough to endure.
It’s been refreshing to have a more positive online basketball gaming experience than I’m accustomed to, especially as forfeits actually award wins and do not avoid losses, though poor sportsmanship instead manifests itself through multiple timeouts on defense. That’s something else I’d like to see addressed in NBA 2K17. Still, the social aspect of 2K Pro-Am, the existing measures that aim to prevent poor sportsmanship, and the more positive moments on the virtual hardwood definitely make me more inclined to keep playing the mode, in NBA 2K16 and beyond. We may not always be victorious at Joel Anthony Arena, but we still manage to have a good time.