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 an open letter to toxic players in The Rec, explaining a few things that they clearly don’t understand.
You might think that my week in The Rec would’ve discouraged me from playing the mode. Well, it’s certainly dissuaded me from jumping on every single night, but I will venture in there from time to time. I’ve actually had a few satisfying sessions, usually only playing one game before jumping off again. A game takes about half an hour, which is a good distraction if I haven’t been able to do any other cardio and want to get on my stationary bike. Of course, there have also been some frustrating sessions, particularly the one from last Tuesday which inspired this article.
Consider this an open letter, not only to the toxic Rec players I was squadded up with the other night, but anyone else who doesn’t understand how online team play works. Consider this a list of things not to do, and things that you should do instead. Consider this a critique of the online scene, and yet another argument as to why team Pro-Am should be as open to everyone as it used to be. And yes, consider this me using my platform here at the NLSC to blow off some steam after a ghastly game that made me far less likely to want to play in The Rec. These are the things that toxic Rec players don’t understand, and I’m going to break them down. Fair warning, it’s quite a lot.
What you don’t understand is that given the changes to team Pro-Am, The Rec is the best we’ve got as far as NBA-style online team play. That means we have to make the most of it. If you don’t want to play with people you don’t know, if it’s something that you’re not open to, then try to get a squad together and stick to team Pro-Am instead. Better yet, let your voice be heard and join with other gamers in asking the developers to bring back the three player minimum, while implementing advanced matchmaking features so that anyone who doesn’t want to play games with AI players needn’t have to do so. And if you really don’t want to give up being Player One, play MyCAREER.
What you don’t understand is when you freeze me out – or freeze anyone out – you’re playing 4-on-5. Or 3-on-5, or 2-on-5, as the case may be. You can get away with that if the other team is sloppy or doing the same thing, but if they’re not, you’re going to be at a clear disadvantage. The defense can focus on you, taking away all your good looks and best opportunities to score. Oh sure, you may hit some tough shots, but there’s a reason you’re otherwise shooting poorly and the team is trailing. For every tough shot you hit on a Green release, there are many more bricks that you’re tossing up, all while the teammates you’re freezing out have wide open looks at the basket.
What you don’t understand is when you refuse to let a pass-first point guard touch the ball, instead opting for long risky passes and bringing the ball up yourself, that’s why turnovers are piling up. That’s not to say point guards alone should handle the ball; ideally, playmaking duties should be shared. However, it’s a problem when non-playmakers assume that role when it’s not their forte, and they lack advantageous Badges that boost teammate skills and percentages. Online opponents who know how to spam steal create enough problems for strong point guard builds, so if that isn’t your game, live out your point guard fantasies offline (or create one for online play).
What you don’t understand is that gamers like me are nicer than most when placed in a toxic situation like that. Many people will simply quit in frustration, but others will stop playing hard, or even go so far as to actively sabotage the game. And look, I don’t condone either of those things, but when you’re being frozen out and your toxic teammates are playing terribly, I understand the temptation. However, when someone continues to make an effort on defense, move the ball when they do get to touch it, and do little things like set screens and space the floor even when they’re being frozen out, that’s a quality teammate who’ll help you win, despite what the stats may say.
What you don’t understand is that stats are empty when you lose, especially when it isn’t a competitive game. Aiming for your own stats ahead of playing good team basketball and making the right plays is not the path to victory. As above, there are a lot of little things that don’t show up in the box score that go a long way in getting the win. Not only that, but in a well-played game where the ball is moving and the right decisions are being made, everyone is going to get an opportunity to pad their stats anyway. I realise you get Badge progress win or lose, but if you’re playing online then you’re presumably interested in competing, so getting the W should be your goal.
What you don’t understand, frankly, is how to play basketball. Basics like spacing the floor, so that everyone isn’t bunched up together. The need to set picks, and how they free up open shots. Rotating and switching on defense, and not leaving a perimeter defender to either guard two opponents, or battle a pick alone. Helping a teammate who’s trapped and effectively double teaming opponents at the other end. You need to keep your eyes open, make passes at the right time, and hit the open man. Not every shot is a good one, and while a pump fake might help out, sometimes you need to get rid of the ball. Overall, you need to play to your strengths, and work as a team.
What you don’t understand is that when the scores are close despite tossing up bricks, playing selfishly, and not giving any effort on defense, it’s not because you’re onto a winning formula; it’s because the other team is playing just as badly. The only reason that the game that prompted this article was close until the final couple of minutes is that the other team got cocky, started messing around, and made a few mistakes that led to easy baskets. Had we pulled together and functioned as a unit, we would’ve won the game. It was within reach with enough time to take the lead, and even run away with it. Instead, they got their heads in the game, and won by double digits.
What you don’t understand is that the style of play that has become popular online – itself a side effect of what’s become the norm in the real NBA – lends itself to big runs and swings when a team catches fire or goes cold. Three bad looks from downtown that all miss, followed by defensive errors that lead to three made three-pointers at the other end, is a quick nine point swing. If you don’t make adjustments, if you don’t play defense, if you don’t take good shots and just chuck up heavily contested threes to try to catch up or pad a lead, you’re going to cost your team games. It’s impossible to play a perfect game, of course, but the aim is to at least try to make good decisions.
What you don’t understand is that people are going to make mistakes, and that’s no reason to freeze them out. People are going to miss shots and commit turnovers. To err is human, and to be screwed over by lag or gameplay mechanics is inevitable in The Rec. Deciding that someone should never see the ball again because of a single missed shot or turnover is toxic, and choosing to be at a disadvantage. It’s also quite hypocritical when you keep making mistakes of your own. Also, if you’re on an open mic, we can do without the abuse. Even if your complaints are valid, constantly and profanely berating your teammates isn’t going to help them or build any chemistry.
What you don’t understand is that online team play modes require cooperation and chemistry that must be built quickly, completely unspoken if no one’s mic’d up. That means watching what your teammates are doing, where they prefer to set up and shoot from, and what their style of play is like, so that you can gel with them. The running theme here is that if you don’t have chemistry and cooperation, if you don’t play as a team, you will struggle to win games. You may win a few games when a couple of people go off and the squad you play against doesn’t play well, but you can’t count on that. You have to forego the Player One mentality; rack up victories, not stats!
What you don’t understand is that when you quit in the first two minutes because the other team scored the first eight points, you rob yourself of a challenge and potential satisfying win. A 0-8 deficit is far from an ideal start, but it’s a deficit that can easily be overcome once you’ve settled down and been able to familiarise yourself with your teammates. A couple of stops and baskets, and the game will be right back on track. Also, quitting because you’re not getting to touch the ball every time is just petulant. Once again, we’re no longer Player One when we’re online. Don’t quit in a huff just because you’re not getting enough touches, or play selfishly when you do get the ball.
What you don’t understand is that when you quit late in a game where we’re getting blown out, or start messing around in that scenario, you’ve wasted your time and are throwing away opportunities. Yes, this game may be out of reach, but you can learn good habits, hone your stick skills, and if nothing else, earn some VC and Badge progress. On a similar note, when you start messing around when you’re on the right side of a big deficit, that’s how leads are squandered and defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory. It’s far more rewarding when you play to the final buzzer, win or lose. Nobody likes to lose, but you can still gain valuable experience in those situations.
Finally, what you don’t understand is that The Rec is meant to be fun. All modes in NBA 2K, online and offline, are meant to be enjoyed; in theory, at least. If you’re being toxic, then you’re not fun to play with. You’re going to turn wins into losses, and that isn’t fun, either. As I said, with the changes to team Pro-Am, The Rec is all a lot of gamers have if they’re not interested in The Playground. Yes, the game itself is letting the online scene down, but we have to take responsibility as well. The Rec is never going to be a perfect alternative to team Pro-Am, but with the current level of toxicity, it’s barely a viable one. That’s on 2K to some degree, but it’s also on us.
I’m not going to name and shame the toxic Rec players I found myself teamed up with last week, because that’s not cool. That just invites more toxicity which isn’t my goal, and won’t accomplish anything positive in the long run. I also realise that one article criticising the online scene and a rough session likely won’t have much impact; not when it’s easy to dismiss what I’ve said as “whining”, or assume that I’m no good at the game and therefore the actual problem. The thing is that I’ve seen other people’s videos and read their frustrated posts and Tweets. I’m not alone in these observations. I know I’m not the only one who believes the scene could, and should, be better.
So it goes with The Rec. As I said, I’ve had some fun sessions recently as well, and perhaps it would be healthier to focus on those. We probably don’t talk about our positive impressions and experiences as much as our negative ones. It’s a by-product of criticism being thought of as more intelligent, and as a very successful Pixar film noted, fun to read and write. There is value in talking about the good times, but in calling out what toxic Rec players don’t understand, we can create an understanding, or at least attempt to. Of course, even when there’s an understanding, people have to care. That’ll be a bigger challenge, but worth it to make The Rec a less toxic mode.