Monday Tip-Off: Toxicity in the Basketball Gaming Community

LeBron James dribbles the basketball in NBA Live 19

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 a few thoughts on the toxicity that we unfortunately so often encounter in the basketball gaming community.

Yes, cranky old Andrew has something else to complain about today! I mean, the last four Monday Tip-Off articles were all about having fun with basketball video games, so it’s about time I grumble again, right? In all seriousness, this is a topic that I feel needs to be addressed, because I believe it’s an area where collectively, we can do a lot better: toxicity among basketball gamers. Now, there is a certain amount of irony in discussing the matter in that it’s being negative about negativity, but it’s important that we do take a look at what’s happening, and aim for a constructive solution.

Before we begin, let’s address the obvious point: the situation is hardly unique to the basketball gaming community, or the World Wide Web at large. Many blogs, videos, comics, and social media posts have been made about the toxicity that all too often permeates online culture. That in itself doesn’t make it right or a desirable state of affairs however, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t take steps to change our attitudes and behaviour. I’ve been a content creator and part of the online basketball gaming community for over twenty years now, and I’ve noticed an increased amount of toxicity in that time. Worst of all, in some ways, developers are pandering to it.

Recently, Patrick Hruby posted a fantastic retrospective of the NBA 2K series, in which he documented its rise to being the number one rated and best selling NBA video game on the market. He also dropped some interesting additional nuggets via his Twitter, including the fact that a lot of the folks at Visual Concepts are driven by the idea of “sticking it to EA”, even hinting that someone in the office has a poster of NBA Elite 11 in mocking tribute to their competitor’s folly. Given their contentious history which includes a failed partnership, it’s certainly understandable. However, it also leads to smugness and pettiness, which in turns breeds toxicity in the fanbase.

Potshot at NBA Elite 11 with NBA 2K17's MyPARK Squad Introductions

Whether it’s Ronnie 2K making snarky remarks about a patch for NBA Live 10, the inclusion of a Park squad introduction mocking the infamous “Jesus Bynum” glitch from NBA Elite 11, or several other jabs and comments that go beyond any kind of friendly (or at least respectful) rivalry, the contemptuous attitude shines through. In all fairness, EA Sports has tossed a few barbs back, in particular singling out some of the difficulties 2K has had with online stability. Both companies are inviting gamers to pick a side and forsake the other game, appealing to a frankly adolescent desire to brashly boast about the things you like, and snidely sneer at everything you don’t.

As I recently Tweeted, if you cater to toxic attitudes, you’ll cultivate a toxic audience. If you’re appealing to people who like to sneer, take delight in other people’s failures and misfortunes, and generally embrace nastiness and justify it as “just the way things are”, then you’ll end up with a fanbase that is militant in their beliefs, close-minded towards new ideas and differing opinions, and abrasive in their “with us or against us” mentality. Look, 2K’s motivation is understandable. Much like Michael Jordan taking losses and words to heart, it’s driven them to greater heights. Likewise, having taken their knocks, it’s understandable that EA Sports feels like punching back a bit.

However, it absolutely caters to the kind of toxic gamers who could also be described as haters, fanboys, and Stans, which in turn leads to accusations flying back and forth about people hating, fanboying, caping, and Stanning. I hate that I have to use those words in an article I’m writing, but it’s important to note the vernacular. Sadly, there is accuracy in those accusations as well. A lot of gamers who declare their allegiance to either NBA Live or NBA 2K will dig in their heels, defending their game of choice at all costs while relentlessly bashing the other title. It leads to a lot of wildly myopic and inaccurate takes, and a level of discourse that makes us look very childish.

Kyrie Irving in NBA 2K19

It leads to perfectly valid and useful feedback being shot down, because it dares to criticise a game that other people enjoy. Praise is not immune from being pounced on, either. Any contrary opinion is treated as a terrible affront, no matter how politely it’s expressed, or well-reasoned it may be. Legitimate complaints are shot down with hisses of “git gud”, as though all problems with a game come from the lack of ability. All too often, basketball gamers adopt the viewpoint of “not my problem, therefore not a legitimate problem”. Criticism can then be dismissed as “whining” or “crying”, even if that doesn’t accurately describe the tone at all.

I hate seeing good feedback shouted down and silenced, and it’s happening too often thanks to gamers who feel they must defend their game – their chosen side – at all costs. Suggestions for NBA Live to adopt certain aspects of NBA 2K’s considerably deep modes are dismissed because “Live needs to do its own thing”, which it does, but borrowing good ideas from the brand leader is hardly a bad approach. Similarly, many would staunchly defend NBA 2K even if it cost 1000 VC to get past the bootup screen each time: “VC can be earned, and anyway, what are you going to do, play NBA Live? It’s trash!” (as if NBA Live’s shortcomings would justify such a practice).

Gatekeeping is a problematic attitude that we’ve let ourselves fall victim to time and time again, too. On top of the aforementioned “git gud” elitism, there’s the ridiculous notion that there’s only one correct mode to play, at least if you’re a “real” basketball gamer. Not only are we militant about the games we play, we’re militant about the modes we play, in the process clashing with other people who are enjoying something else in the same title! Cries of “Real basketball gamers play X!” or “Nobody cares about Y!” (just because you don’t care about Y) are getting embarrassing. We’re all gamers, and consumers. We can all praise, critique, and opine about our hobby.

Childishness and toxicity permeate online basketball gaming (Pro-Am in NBA 2K18)

Then of course, there’s the run of the mill toxicity that comes with most games that have an online component. I ended up changing my privacy settings on PlayStation 4 because frankly, I don’t care to get messages from snotty brats and fake tough guys while I’m playing 2K Pro-Am with the guys. A lot of these messages go well beyond competitive trash talk, and exemplify the worst of a generation that didn’t grow up playing next to each other on a couch, where you had to play nice if you wanted to get invited over again (and were within striking distance besides). Again, it’s the way of online gaming in 2018, but that doesn’t make it desirable, or right.

After all, it doesn’t have to be that way, for basketball games or any other community. For the most part, my experiences playing Rocket League online yielded far friendlier interactions and, aside from the occasional jerk, good-natured ribbing on a home goal or other such screw-up. Yes, basketball games don’t have the only toxic community, nor do we empirically have the most toxicity, but as demonstrated by a recent thread over on Reddit, it’s something that a lot of hoops gamers are noticing. Unfortunately the original post has since been deleted, but a lot of the replies provide context and support the point being made. Ironically, so do a lot of the replies that disagreed.

That’s what bugs me, especially as someone who has tried to cultivate a positive and welcoming atmosphere in our corner of the basketball gaming community, albeit one that still encourages critique and constructive feedback. The problem of toxicity in online communities is often met with a helpless, cynical shrug. “That’s just the way it is. Nothing we can do it about it, you just need to toughen up.” There’s certainly merit in having a thick skin, but on the whole, it’s still an asinine attitude. Imagine applying it to other aspects of your life: “Yeah, the roof has a huge hole, but it’s been like that for ages, and lots of roofs have leaks. Stop whining about all the rain coming in!”

Michael Jordan & Shawn Kemp (NBA 2K19)

We can do something about it. We can try to be better. We can stop discouraging our fellow gamers from giving constructive feedback. We can disagree with them and offer a dissenting opinion arguing our own point of view, but we don’t need to shout them down or accuse them of being whiny when they are raising an issue in a calm and reasonable tone. We can demonstrate sportsmanship when we compete online; again, people manage to do that with other games, such as Rocket League. We can refrain from elitist gatekeeping and stubborn closed-mindedness. We can focus on enjoying the games we like, and let other people do the same. Radical ideas, I know!

For their part, I’d like to see EA Sports and Visual Concepts stop catering to toxic attitudes, and stoking the flames burning in the heated divide in the basketball gaming community. I’d like to see them working with community members who have quality feedback to share and not just the content creators who are willing to act as hype men, especially those who all too often cater to the biases of their audience. It’d be great if the games can find ways to promote friendly competition and sportsmanlike attitudes. As for content creators, I’ll say it again: “fans, not fanboys; critics, not haters“. Riling up the fanboys and haters only increases the level of toxicity in our community.

Since our credentials invariably come up in these discussions – it’s all a part of the gatekeeping, after all – allow me to lay mine out on the table. I’ve been involved with the basketball gaming community for over twenty years. The earliest work I still have available in our Downloads section dates back to around that time. I’ve attended a number of events, and watched the community flourish. We’ve had our voices heard, and done some great things. However, we’ve also seen an increase in toxicity, both in the way we interact with each other, and the developers. In many ways, we’ve grown up. In other ways, we’ve just grown nastier. Let’s do what we can to reduce toxicity.

Share Button
Support The NLSC on Patreon!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
October 2, 2018 7:51 am

For me, if I’m playing someone 1v1 or just me by myself against multiple people, they can talk all the shit they want since I’m a lone wolf; I could care less, but when it’s my teammates (strangers) acting like inane assholes to me, that’s when it upsets me. The best leaders are “you made a mistake; you’re human – keep your head up”, not these anonymous “kills yourself” clowns… I don’t think I’ve ever actually received a message that bad, but you know what I mean.

Most of the time it’s just annoying people on park where you make one mistake and that somehow defines your entire career and you’re labeled as trash; I hate those people so much. Like why would you put a teammate down? How is that productive? That’s the stuff that drives me up a wall.

For me, it’s like 1/3rd don’t have a mic/don’t message, 1/3rd are actually cool and pleasant and 1/3rd are inane assholes, which kind of makes the whole experience miserable; it’s mostly kids and teens or adults that care way too much about the game.

October 4, 2018 12:36 pm
Reply to  Andrew

It’s literally gotten to the point where I just mute my game playing with randoms, and I end up playing better.