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. This week, I’m tipping things off by addressing the situation with 2K Pro-Am in NBA 2K19.
As you may or may not be aware, a significant change has been made to 2K Pro-Am in NBA 2K19. Whether it’s organised squad games or the Jordan Rec Center – this year’s version of Walk-On – you need five users per side to start a game. In previous games, it was possible to play with at least three users per side, with the remaining spots being filled by AI players. This has made it more difficult for a lot of people to play a mode they’ve enjoyed in recent years. Our NLSC squad is in that boat, and so we’re among the people wanting to see the old functionality patched into the game.
However, not everyone is on board with that idea. 2K themselves haven’t made it a priority to address the situation, and there’s also been pushback from NBA 2K19 gamers. It’s admittedly hard to please everyone in this situation, but the change was myopic, while the pushback has highlighted some of the toxicity that sadly exists in the NBA 2K community. To that end, I’d like to address both Visual Concepts and the dissenting gamers in this week’s Monday Tip-Off. Call it an open letter, call it a rant; call it whining if you’re the close-minded and toxic type. It’s a situation that I believe must be addressed, and to that end, I’m stating the case for my side.
To begin with, I’d like to address the NBA 2K developers directly. As always, I’d like to keep a civil and constructive tone here, as I understand that the change was likely made to both promote the NBA 2K League, and address concerns that AI players were ruining the experience. At the same time, I feel that I must speak candidly on behalf of those who are frustrated by the change. These explanations are also for the benefit of any gamers who don’t understand why we’re in favour of AI players in 2K Pro-Am, but I will also be addressing some of the more snarky remarks that have been made in response to requests for the three user minimum to return.
Why Do We Want AI Players in 2K Pro-Am?
Simply put, for many of us, it allows us to actually play the mode; to actually get into a game. We certainly agree that playing with five users per side is preferable and what the mode is all about, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not always feasible. First of all, not everyone is able to get a minimum of five players for their squad. Secondly, even if you can, everyone has lives outside of gaming, so there will be times when a squad member or two is unable to join in on a session. Alternatively, you may know enough gamers to form a squad, but you aren’t all in the same region. When we were able to play with a minimum of three players, absences were much less of an issue.
That’s what also stings here: the fact that it has changed, and that we could play a lot of games in past iterations of 2K Pro-Am thanks to the old approach. Look, there are issues with having AI players in a multiplayer mode, but you know what’s even more frustrating? Not being able to play at all, especially when the mode was so much more accessible in previous years. As I’ll cover shortly, the Jordan Rec Center isn’t always a viable alternative; nor is The Playground. The new approach has essentially become a form of gatekeeping, ensuring that it can only be played by a specific portion of the user base. This kind of elitism is disheartening to see, and it breeds a toxic culture.
What About The Issues With AI Players in 2K Pro-Am?
A fair question! There are drawbacks to having AI players in 2K Pro-Am, and while the gamers who object to that approach generally seem unwilling to see our point of view, I for one can appreciate where they’re coming from. There can be advantages to having AI players on your squad. They’re adept at interceptions, they don’t suffer from input lag, and they’re more consistent in their play because they’ll avoid human error. At the same time, AI players in previous games have hardly been superstars. Having a team of five users has always been a bigger advantage than having an AI player or two, since they will miss defensive rotations and fail to execute properly on offense.
Still, having AI players in 2K Pro-Am isn’t desirable for everyone. Is there a solution that could appease both camps within the user base? I would suggest so, but it will require expanding the matchmaking options. Once again, I must refer to the excellent system that Rocket League has in place, with both casual and competitive play. The option to play with or without AI players could strike a similar balance, allowing for squads that want to compete more seriously (a la the NBA 2K League), and gamers who want to play organised games in more of a “social competition” setting. Failing that, simply don’t match up teams with AI players with teams who have five users.
Seems like the best of both worlds, right? Granted, it may be easier said than done, but I honestly believe it would be a fair solution moving forward, opening up the mode to more gamers while continuing to cater to those who feel 2K Pro-Am should be “users only”. Unfortunately, there seems to be a belief that this would somehow compromise the integrity of the mode, disgracing it by opening it up to “casuals”. I’ll address those people now, and while I’ll try to argue the opposing point of view as constructively as possible, there is a lot of snobby elitism going on here. As such, I may feel inclined to respond to some snark in kind. (Spoiler: I do feel so inclined.)
“If you want to play against the AI, just play MyCAREER!”
Let’s call this out for exactly what it is: elitist posturing by exclusively online players who believe that their way is the only way to play, thus making them the superior gamers. There’s an argument to be made there since there is a different challenge in taking on a human opponent rather than the CPU, but I have to say, posturing like that sure comes across as insecure. To dust off an old saying, do you want a medal, or a chest to pin it on? All that nonsense aside, MyCAREER is the obvious and logical choice if you do just want to play against the AI. The issue here is that no one is actually saying that they don’t want to play against other users in 2K Pro-Am.
Yes, we realise that having AI players in a multiplayer mode like 2K Pro-Am is not ideal, nor does it take full advantage of the mode’s concept. Given the choice, we would prefer to have five users on our squad going up against five users on yours. As I covered earlier, this isn’t always feasible for a variety of reasons, and to that end, we’re disappointed that we’re essentially locked out of a mode that we’ve enjoyed in previous games. Also, when someone fouls out, gets graded out, ragequits, or gets disconnected due to a server or ISP issue, what happens? They get replaced by an AI player! It’s not as though AI players have no presence in the online modes.
“Just play The Playground if you want to play 3-on-3!”
Great idea! Here’s the problem: not everyone is a fan of The Playground and its style of virtual basketball. Even if you’ve had some fun with it, it may not be your preferred mode, especially if the 2K Pro-Am concept is more appealing. If so, then Playground isn’t a viable alternative, just because it can be played with three users (or indeed, a squad of two). It’s not the mode that we’ve been able to play since NBA 2K16, and not our first choice in NBA 2K19, either. Again, we don’t want to play 3-on-3, and we don’t even necessarily want to play with or against AI players either. It’s just that it is a way of getting a game when a squad – ours or yours – can’t get five people together.
If only there was a precedent for gamers not being able to play their mode of choice in NBA 2K. Hey, that’s right: Crew Mode! Remember how upset people were when that disappeared? Remember how “Play another mode” wasn’t seen as a fair or reasonable suggestion? Well, 2K Pro-Am may still be in the game, but as long as it’s being this restrictive compared to previous years, for us, it might as well not be. This essentially comes down to “Not my problem, therefore not a problem”, and there’s way too much of that toxically snobby attitude in the basketball gaming community these days. Just wait until there’s a change you don’t like. You’ll want other gamers to back you up.
“Play in the Jordan Rec Center instead! That’s what it’s there for!”
YOU play in the Jordan Rec Center! No, seriously. Give it a try. You’ll quickly find out why those of us who played as a squad in previous NBA 2K games see that as an unappealing prospect. I’ll be blunt: the NBA 2K community simply isn’t friendly or cooperative enough to make playing with random users an enjoyable experience on a consistent basis. Forget childishness such as abusive messages and remarks over an open mic. Privacy settings can take care of that for the most part. The real problem is getting into a game, due to most people creating guards and swingmen, as well as a tendency for people to back out when they don’t like the look of their teammates.
Say you’re fortunate enough to find teammates and an opponent. Now you have to be lucky enough to be teamed up with users who are willing to move the ball and play as a unit. More likely, you’re going to find people who hog the ball and take bad shots, especially if they’ve gone a possession or two without a touch. Such players will also slack off on defense if they’re not scoring as much as they’d like, or stop passing to you if you happen to miss a shot (while continuing to jack up miss after miss of their own). Others will just sabotage their team if they’re not happy with the way things are going. Does any of this sound like an appealing online basketball gaming experience?
“You must suck if you need to be carried by AI Players!”
I have actually seen this argument being made, and I have to say, it’s adorable. Not only do we have the familiar “git gud” elitism that’s used to shoot down any and all perfectly legitimate complaints while puffing out one’s own chest (sorry, I’m all out of medals), we have a completely disingenuous remark about the quality of AI players in 2K Pro-Am. As anyone who has ever played with an AI teammate in 2K Pro-Am or another online mode can attest, while they can be advantageous in certain scenarios, they’re also often very useless. Whenever we’ve been playing with less than five users and were up against a full squad, they’ve definitely had the upper hand.
Five users can strategise in a way that three or four users with one or two AI players cannot. The AI players have similar ratings to a brand new MyPLAYER, which is to say, not very good at all. They’ll put up bad shots (or alternatively, not shoot when they should), foul stupidly, and fail to react to the play at both ends of the court. You wouldn’t want to rely on them to win an online game, and the fact of the matter is that none of us want to. When it comes to 2K Pro-Am, they’re not our ideal teammates, nor our ideal opponents. I know I’m repeating myself here, but we only want AI players there to fill in when squads have a member or two absent.
Some final thoughts
After playing games like Rocket League and Fallout 76, it’s really opened my eyes to how toxic basketball gamers can be compared to other communities. Whether it’s a lack of sportsmanship, a disregard for other gamers and their preferences, or a notion that the games are only for the elite, there’s a very vocal contingent of us that are thoroughly snobby, unfriendly, and downright unpleasant. What’s worse is that the games themselves are catering to this misanthropic culture, encouraging certain styles of play and engaging in gatekeeping that discourages new users and “social” online gamers in a way that previous games did not.
I’m not suggesting that 2K Pro-Am isn’t used to promote the NBA 2K League, or that it shouldn’t appeal to the most hardcore of the hardcore who always have five users available. By all means have an elite tier of competitors that are taking things super seriously, and are both willing and able to play the mode as intended. Locking out other gamers is bad form however, as well as counterproductive if you’re trying to get people hyped for the NBA 2K League. Again, Rocket League succeeds in catering to new and experienced gamers alike, with in-depth matchmaking that facilitates great competition at all levels. The game also has a very successful eSports league.
This is a situation where there’s an obvious compromise. Some people are willing to play with AI teammates and opponents if it means getting a game in, and not having to deal with the headache of being teamed up with random users. Others want a purer multiplayer experience with no AI players unless someone gets kicked from the game. Both are reasonable expectations, and 2K Pro-Am can cater to both preferences. I’m an advocate for bringing back the three player minimum, with deeper matchmaking options including the choice of whether or not to face squads with AI players, or only matching up squads with less than five users with other squads in the same situation.
The shouting down of these very reasonable suggestions has exposed just how toxic the NBA 2K community can be. The unwillingness to understand, or perhaps wilful ignorance of why some people are in favour of the old approach, exemplifies the most snobby elitism within the demographic. At the end of the day, these are video games, and we all want to play them. We want to play the modes we’re most interested in, and we want a satisfying experience. When there’s a way to cater to a majority of the user base by providing viable options, that’s the route that a basketball game should take. That way, most people will get the experience that they’re looking for.
To the NBA 2K19 development team, I can only say that there are many of us who love the 2K Pro-Am concept, but haven’t been able to experience it this year because of the new restriction. We understand the reasons for the change, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. From free time to geographic location, there are factors that can make it difficult to regularly have five users. We’d welcome any solution that makes the mode more accessible, without detracting from the online experience that others prefer. With all the great modes in NBA 2K and all the copies it sells, it’s vital that everyone who buys it has an opportunity to enjoy everything that’s on offer.
This has become a lengthy piece, which opens up the floor to accusations of being a whiny cry-baby, “triggered”, or any other thought-terminating buzzwords the Internet can muster, regardless of the tone of my arguments or the veracity of my suggestions. So be it. I wanted to advocate for this position, and I have. If anyone has a problem with games being able to cater to other people’s tastes in addition to their own, then that frankly says more about them. Bringing back the three user minimum is about enjoying a mode we have for years now, not ruining the experience for other people. 2K Pro-Am is a lot of fun, and it should be as accessible as it was in the past.