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 with some thoughts on how 3v3 Pro-Am in NBA 2K20 has been…dare I say it…fun.
I’ve been critical of the lack of proper matchmaking and new restrictions on 5v5 Pro-Am since the latter was introduced in NBA 2K19. Last week, I noted that it took all three of our teammates quitting for Kenny and I to have one of the best games we’ve ever had in The Rec. I’m on record declaring that NBA 2K’s online experience is in really rough shape, regardless of its general popularity and engagement numbers. Despite some fun games here and there, I stand by that as being the case on the whole. There are many improvements that could be made to online play in NBA 2K.
However, I have found an online mode in NBA 2K20 that has been fun more often than not. So fun in fact, I’ve titled this article like a clickbait YouTube video. The NLSC squad hasn’t had a 5v5 Pro-Am game this year as we haven’t had the numbers, but on a few occasions we have been able to get three of us together. Normally in that situation we’d head to The Rec, where it’s a little easier to control things when you account for more than half of the team, or maybe The Playground, but not so much this year. Instead, we’ve given 3v3 Pro-Am a try, and I’d have to say that it may be the most consistently fun online mode in NBA 2K20.
For those who may be unfamiliar with 3v3 Pro-Am, it’s an alternative online team play mode, and is accessed in the team Pro-Am building in The Neighborhood when only three members of a squad are present. It takes place on a street court separate to the rest of The Neighborhood, with generic 2K Pro-Am branding. Games are played to 21 (with a “win by two” condition), under the usual Playground rules. After your squad levels up, you can ditch the brown shirt and grey sweatpants for some generic jerseys that you can customise similar to the 5v5 uniforms. Rank up a bit higher, and you can use the custom image facilities to further personalise your branding.
Now, I’m more partial to the Pro-Am experience than I am Playground. Don’t get me wrong; I will jump into some Playground games from time to time, and it can be a fun change of pace. I just prefer the more organised style of Pro-Am, with NBA rules and five minute quarters. Of course, the format of Pro-Am/The Rec has its problems. A game takes much longer than one played under Playground rules, and if it happens to be a rough one, it’s a chore to endure until the merciful final buzzer. Although losses are never fun, the ability to play multiple Playground games in the time it would take to complete one Pro-Am game lessens the sting, as you’re able to move on quickly.
One distinct advantage that Pro-Am has over Playground is some semblance of actual matchmaking, as well as the ability to shoot around in your team arena while waiting for a game. With that in mind, 3v3 Pro-Am combines the best aspects of the 5v5 Pro-Am and Playground modes. It features the quick games and casual atmosphere of The Playground, combined with the team branding and matchmaking of 5v5 Pro-Am. It also avoids the need to play with randoms as in The Rec, and all of the hassles that that brings. It’s a good halfway point between 5v5 Pro-Am/Rec and The Playground, feeling both somewhat relaxed and yet sufficiently competitive at the same time.
Because the gameplay is Playground rules, it’s not exactly the best basketball, but then issues with balance and the like have moved Pro-Am and The Rec away from being strictly sim as well. As you might expect given the aforementioned blend of 5v5 Pro-Am and The Playground, the style of play favoured in 3v3 Pro-Am isn’t outright cheesy, but noticeably looser and faster paced than is possible on a full-size court with NBA rules. I’m guessing that many of the other squads we face are Pro-Am gamers that haven’t been able to make the numbers, and want to take a break from The Rec. There’s more ball movement and less “dribble gawds” than one sees in Park games.
It didn’t take too long for us to unlock the customisation options. With a record of 2-2 in our first four games, we reached Amateur-Silver and unlocked the ability to replace the default Neighborhood duds with customisable uniforms. Following a seven game winning streak, we were at Amateur-Gold, unlocking the use of custom images. It was at this point that we added the NLSC logo to our uniforms, and a still of Milhouse Van Houten flexing as our team logo. Gotta keep the THRILLHO branding going! The automatic placement of our logo on our white shorts was a happy accident as far as the style is concerned, but I really like the effect that it creates, so I kept it.
A tough session has seen us drop a few games since then, and tank our ranking along with that. As such, I’ve been leery of entering the team branding menus, in case I lose access to the jersey customisation (and in particular, custom image functionality). I’ve said it before, but it would be preferable if these features were unlocked after a set amount of games, rather than reaching a fluctuating rank. It would be clear as to when and how they’re unlocked, and also that access to those options won’t be lost if the ranking changes. I understand wanting to reward teams with good records, but it’s a bit elitist, and also encourages frequent disbanding of teams to reset win percentages.
Nevertheless, we have our branding, and it’s one of those little touches that make 3v3 Pro-Am more fun than The Rec or The Playground, just as it does with 5v5 Pro-Am. There aren’t many jersey customisation options compared to the 5v5 uniforms, but it’s enough to make you feel like a proper squad. The same goes for the logo, and in our case, the use of that particular Milhouse image carries on a joke that appeals to our love of The Simpsons. It looks silly, but it’s meant to. We play online to compete and win, but also to have fun. Since we can’t regularly make the numbers to do that in 5v5 play anymore, we’ll take what we can get with the 3v3 alternative the game provides.
Another advantage of 3v3 Pro-Am compared to The Playground and The Rec is that it doesn’t seem to suffer from the same number of lag spikes. I’d attribute this to the fact that the 3v3 court is isolated, whereas the Playground and Rec environments show other games and activities going on in the background. With only six players rather than ten, there’s also less lag than what I’ve come to expect in 5v5 Pro-Am. If nothing else, it demonstrates that while the background activity of The Neighborhood and The Rec may be aesthetically pleasing and interesting, it greatly affects performance in a game that’s already notorious for having unreliable servers and shaky online support.
3v3 Pro-Am does suffer from some of the same drawbacks as its fellow online modes in NBA 2K20, of course. The performance rating for players above 95 Overall doesn’t seem to accurately reflect how well you played. Putting up numbers in a loss results in a flat score of 95; in fact, given that it’s hard to put up really big numbers in games played to 21, you’re far more likely to tank your rating than in The Rec. Even with good performances in nine consecutive wins, my point guard build dropped from 99.9 Overall to 99.4 Overall. It felt like I was being punished for playing online, though that’s a common problem with this year’s approach to reaching a 99 Overall rating.
With that being said, when I do play MyCAREER or its connected modes these days, I’m using my secondary big man build, so I no longer have to worry about losing the 99 Overall rating that I earned for my point guard. Aside from layups that are missed far too often, I’m growing used to being a big man online, and finding it to be quite a refreshing experience. At this point I wouldn’t mind reaching the All-Star 3 MyREP level, though looking at how slowly the progress is meter is advancing, I’m not sure I’ll have the patience. The MyREP system has quite a few issues in general, and the progression rate in Playground games and (thus 3v3 Pro-Am) only compounds them.
Still, at least 3v3 Pro-Am has provided us with another option in lieu of being able to play the traditional 5v5 Pro-Am, and one that’s proven to be fun on a consistent basis. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed it given that it’s not my preferred style of virtual basketball, but the short games that are quicker to get into, custom branding, and familiar camaraderie playing with friends, have made it worth jumping on whenever we can organise it. I still want to see the option of 5v5 with less than five users return, and other deeper matchmaking options added, but it’s great to have a viable alternative when we can at least get three of us together to hoop it up.