Monday Tip-Off: PC Basketball Gamer? Get a Gamepad!

NBA Playgrounds PC Gamepad Configuration

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 advice to PC basketball gamers, regarding the necessity of a dual analog gamepad.

With last week’s gameplay blog, we’ve learned that there will be a few tweaks to the controls in NBA 2K18. Beyond those changes however, the general approach will remain the same. The game will still feature the Pro Stick, which is used to perform both dribbling moves and specific types of shot attempts on cue. Dual analog controls aren’t an issue on Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, which have made use of controllers with two sticks for a few generations now. The approach can cause problems for PC users however, especially if they prefer to use the keyboard to play games.

It’s admittedly less of an issue than it used to be. Both NBA Live and NBA 2K have featured dual analog controls for over a decade now, so a majority of gamers have made the adjustment and picked up a gamepad for their PC. There are a few holdouts, though. Every so often, someone will ask for help using the keyboard with a PC version of NBA 2K or NBA Live, or complain that the keyboard controls are lacking. This is fair enough, as everyone has their own preference, and the keyboard is a viable option for many other games. However, if you’re a PC basketball gamer who wants to have complete control, there’s really only one solution: get a gamepad.

As soon as Freestyle Control was announced for NBA Live 2003, I picked up a dual analog gamepad. It was an easy transition for me as I’d already owned a couple of PC gamepads, which I primarily used when I played NBA Live and NBA Jam Tournament Edition. Since I often played basketball games with my cousin, we needed to have two controllers. One of us would use the gamepad, while the other would use the keyboard. Even when I was playing alone, however, I preferred using the gamepad in hoops titles. It felt a lot more user-friendly, especially once the controls began to expand beyond four or five functions.

Freestyle Control made a PC gamepad necessary in NBA Live 2003

That’s not to say that the keyboard wasn’t at all viable for basketball gaming, but it did become a little clunky once it was necessary to configure upwards of ten or more functions. As soon as basketball games began utilising the right stick for dribbling moves, the keyboard was definitely no longer the optimum device. It was still possible to perform some Freestyle moves with the keyboard, but the controls were very limited compared to what could be done with a dual analog gamepad. Workarounds were developed, but the easiest (and frankly, preferable) solution was to pick up a gamepad and take full advantage of the new controls, as intended.

I’ve never really understood the aversion that some PC basketball gamers seem to have towards gamepads. That’s probably because I grew up playing videos games on both PC and consoles. I don’t have the animosity or disdainful attitude towards consoles that a lot of PC gamers do, because I’ve enjoyed games throughout multiple generations of both platforms. While PC and console fanboys sneer at stereotypes of each other, I believe that gamers simply enjoy games, on the platform of their choice. If we’re entering the snobby debate of what constitutes a “real gamer”, I’d suggest that that’s someone who can pick up a game on any platform, and have fun with it.

Of course, even if you do feel inclined to dismiss consoles as being “kid’s stuff”, dismissing their controllers as somehow being immature or unsuitable for the PC is patently ignorant. As I alluded to before, PCs have a long history of peripherals intended to enhance the gaming experience: joysticks, steering wheels, and yes, gamepads. Traditionally speaking, hardcore PC gamers have been likely to own any of these devices. In fact, the Gravis Gamepad was such a big part of PC gaming in the 90s, classic platformer Jazz Jackrabbit not only recommended its usage, but took its endorsement even further by featuring pick-ups that were shaped like it!

The point is that PC controllers beyond the keyboard and mouse have been recommended for a long time, because of the advantages they’ve provided in terms of having better control over the action. Joysticks and steering wheels offered more precise control for flight simulators and driving games, as well as a sense of immersion. Gamepads suited a variety of genres, from platformers to sports titles. Of course, there are games that arguably work a lot better with a keyboard and mouse, and ideally, a game should support multiple peripherals. However, the most suitable device ultimately depends on the way gameplay mechanics are designed.

Paul George, the most recent basketball game cover player to change teams.

For basketball video games, that means a dual analog gamepad. As I mentioned before, it’s been that way since 2002, when NBA Live 2003 introduced us to Freestyle Control. We’ve had fifteen years to adjust to the change; fifteen years of a dual analog gamepad being highly recommended in the system requirements for PC versions of NBA Live and NBA 2K. It’s hardly a new demand, and basketball games are far from the only titles to support or recommend the use of a gamepad. If you insist on playing basketball games with a keyboard and want to have the same functionality as a gamepad, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Now, that isn’t to say that keyboard controls shouldn’t exist at all. Furthermore, if the keyboard is available as a controller option in basketball video games, it should be fully and properly functional; as much as it can be given the game’s mechanics, at any rate. Some of the controls may have to be simplified, but the bottom line is that if the keyboard is being presented as a controller option, it must be viable. Even if there’s somewhat of a disadvantage compared to using a dual analog gamepad, the game should still be playable when using the keyboard. That admittedly hasn’t always been the case, so there’s room for improvement there.

However, if you really want to get the best gameplay experience possible, and utilise the controls to their fullest, then my advice is blunt and straightforward: get a gamepad. If you’re buying the latest NBA 2K game on PC every year, or even every other year, it’s a worthwhile investment. Better yet, if you do happen to have a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, their controllers can be used with a Windows PC, so there’s no need to make an additional purchase. Alternatively, if you happen to have an old PlayStation 2 controller lying around, there are several inexpensive adapters that can be used to connect them to a PC via USB.

Whichever solution is most convenient or affordable, it’s absolutely worth considering. While there are tweaks and additions to NBA 2K’s control scheme from year to year, the underlying concept and utilisation of dual analog controls isn’t going anywhere. Advanced shooting and dribbling controls will utilise the right stick, and some depth will be lacking from the keyboard configuration. Though possible, it’s unlikely that there’ll be major optimisations to the keyboard controls moving forward. As such, a gamepad remains highly recommended, to the point of basically being essential to have a great experience with basketball video games on PC.

Kyrie Irving shoots the basketball in NBA 2K18

Look, I get that if you’re staunchly anti-console, you may be inclined to balk at the idea of using a gamepad, viewing the keyboard and mouse as the way that PC games are meant to be played. As I said however, gaming peripherals have a long history on PC, and they’ve always been intended to enhance the control and overall experience in particular genres of games. We’ve had fifteen years to adapt, and invest in a highly recommended input device for our games of choice. Don’t fall victim to a misguided, stubborn point of pride that ignores the history of the gaming platform in question. Don’t be frustrated unnecessarily. If you’re a PC basketball gamer, get a gamepad.

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August 22, 2017 8:58 am

Actually I have picked up a Steam controller couple of days ago and it was surprisingly good to play with.

I did have issues with button placement, but that’s just a matter of getting used to.
Same thing applies to the touchpads – I had hard time in the beginning to realize that you are supposed to tap it near the end to simulate a analogue stick flick, not drag tour finger from the middle.
As such I was able to perform dribble moves with greater precision.

Also… Now I have a comfortable way of browsing YouTube and Netflix from my bed. Absolutely worth it’s price on this alone.

August 22, 2017 10:52 am
Reply to  Dommy73

I got one too, and same, the buttons are weird, but it is nicer over the XBOX 360 controller, I’ll wait ’til I get a better computer before using it again

August 22, 2017 9:08 am

Also to actually look like I read the whole thing thoroughly (yeah… sorry Andrew), I’d like to comment on the last paragraph.

Anyone who says PC games are supposed to be played on KB+M should realize that PC is among other things about freedom of choice and for each genre we have access to ideal ways of control.

Racing simulators are best with solid wheel, pedals and even shifting stick. Keyboard might be sufficient, but as far as the experience goes, it’s not in the same ballpark. Hell, not even on the parking lot next to the ballpark.

Flight sims have joysticks or even more crazy stuff.
Sure, I can fly a plane in Battlefield on keyboard and mouse (and actually be good with it), but at the same time try being a good pilot with little birds in Arma. And that is not too advanced flight sim.

Same applies to sports games. You want and sometimes need analogue controls. Gamepad is simply superior in this genre to keyboard.

August 22, 2017 10:53 am
Reply to  Dommy73

True, plus add in the mods, nice monitor, and this is a deal you can’t really beat

August 22, 2017 10:54 am

Yep, tell this to the newbies once they start. 2K on PC is absolutely impossible without one, while Live is a bit liveable but you can’t cross with precision