Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five disappointments that you’ll encounter in franchise and career modes, which are nevertheless realistic.
Franchise modes allow us to greatly influence a virtual NBA. Even if we only have control over one team, our ability to have them overachieve significantly changes the league’s landscape. We have much less control in career modes, but once our player has levelled up and is capable of record-breaking domination game in and game out, the NBA is at our mercy. However, while we can have seasons for the ages and amass large collections of virtual trophies, there are some aspects that are still beyond our control. Needless to say, that can be frustrating, and disheartening.
On the other hand, it maintains a semblance of realism, even if our results and stats are pushing the boundaries of believability. The challenge of franchise and career modes, and indeed the overall fun and enjoyment we get from their journeys, often hinges on us not getting everything we want. There should be surprising and unlikely outcomes, at least from time to time. We should miss out on opportunities, even if we’re well prepared for them. The disappointments – the trials and tribulations – make our successes and getting what we want all the more gratifying. To that end, here are five realistic disappointments that actually serve to enhance franchise and career play.
1. Missing Out on a Top Free Agent
For those of us who seek to play multiple seasons in franchise modes, I’m sure we’ve encountered this disappointing scenario at least once or twice. You look ahead to the upcoming free agent class, and identify a star player you’d love to sign. If you’re not set to have enough cap space, you start making the necessary moves, trading players with long and expensive contracts for hefty but expiring ones. You make do with the roster you’ve got, and ensure that you’ll have enough cap room to re-sign anyone you want to keep in addition to pursuing top free agents. Finally, the season is over, and the moment has arrived. It’s time to make a splash with a huge free agent signing!
Except, instead of testing the waters of free agency, the player you were coveting has anticlimactically re-signed with their current team. Alternatively, they’ve signed with another team before you had a chance to make an offer; or, in an extremely unlucky twist of fate, they’re not interested in talking to you. The situation is even worse if you had to forego re-signing a couple of key players to free up cap space, leading to losing them as well when they quickly sign on elsewhere and/or refuse to talk to you either. It’s rough, but it’s a realistic risk that you take when you go all in on free agency, and gut your team to do so. When it works out however, it makes the risk all worthwhile.
2. Upsets Prevent Exciting Matchups
As in real life, we start imagining potential postseason matchups before the regular season has even tipped off. As the standings begin to take shape, teams emerge as powerhouses and Playoff hopefuls, we develop virtual rivalries, and we get our hearts set on seeing certain clashes come to fruition. But, just as in real life, nothing is set in stone. Sometimes sim engines can be predictable, but other times it seems as though their dice rolls are loaded in favour of surprising upsets. Of course, this is still realistic – to a point – and it keeps franchise and career modes interesting when we end up with standings and Playoff matchups that we weren’t expecting, or necessarily hoping for.
Mind you, such results also bring disappointment. In the third year of my NBA 2K14 MyCAREER, I was looking forward to squaring off with a Lakers team featuring the duo of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, or a rematch of my 2014 Finals against the Trail Blazers. Instead, a mediocre Timberwolves team had a run for the ages, and became the worst virtual NBA Finalists I’ve ever encountered. While it wasn’t the most realistic outcome in and of itself, the prospect of a surprising upset leading to an underwhelming Finals series is true to life. It needn’t ruin the experience – it didn’t for me – but there’s still disappointment if you eagerly anticipated a different matchup.
3. Inopportune Injuries
There’s never a good time for players to suffer injuries, which are an unfortunate reality of basketball that we see reflected in sim titles. With that being said, a mild ankle sprain in November or December is obviously preferable to a torn MCL as the Playoffs are getting underway. The former may end up being a minor blip with little effect on the rest of the season, while the latter leaves you shorthanded in the Playoffs and beyond. In franchise and career modes that do feature their fair share of injuries, there’s always a chance that one or more of your players will be put on the shelf at an inopportune time. Of course, franchise modes may offer some form of intervention.
We’re not so lucky in career modes. We can’t adjust any sliders or disable injuries, and we’re also not in control of anyone but our avatar. When serious injuries occur, it isn’t because we were being too aggressive, or forcing someone to play through fatigue and any prior injuries. It’s random, unexpected, and beyond our control, but to that point, that’s completely realistic! It doesn’t make it any less disappointing when the timing couldn’t be worse, but as with the other realistic disappointments on this list, it can make your game more interesting, challenging, and thus in its own way, enjoyable. It’ll have you glued to the injury report though, counting down the days until a return.
4. Losing a Key Player/Teammate
It’s one thing to be temporarily without an important player or favourite teammate due to an injury in franchise and career modes. It’s another to lose them permanently when they sign with another team, or eventually retire. Once again, this is reality reflected on the virtual hardwood, but it doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow. It’s tougher still when it’s self-inflicted. As I noted above, when you gamble on free agency and end up losing out on a top name and one of your own players, it’s a disappointment that makes it tempting to reload from an earlier save! If you do choose to do that, no judgement, but living with the outcome is replicating a common NBA experience.
This is also true of career modes. Trades, free agency, and retirements will see you farewelling teammates that you’ve enjoyed playing with. Again, here you have even less control of the situation, or indeed none at all if the mode you’re playing doesn’t allow you to have any influence over the team’s roster. As disappointing as this can be, I do enjoy that you can come to feel an actual sense of camaraderie with a virtual teammate. It adds a new dynamic to your story when you end up facing them as an opponent, especially if you’ve won a championship together. Basketball games don’t have many ways to “hit you right in the feels”, but losing a teammate is one of them.
5. All-Star & Award Snubs
Two of the most disappointing snubs that I’ve endured in franchise and career mode games are the exclusion of Ben Gordon from the All-Star team in the second year of my NBA Live 06 Bulls Dynasty, and Terry Hanson missing out on Rookie of the Year in the 2016 season in my NBA 2K14 MyCAREER. I can see why each game made that decision, though neither has flawless logic when it comes to award and All-Star selections. In that respect, can we say that that’s truly unlike real life? Every year there are All-Star snubs, and spirited debate over who should’ve won at least one of the awards. Intentional or not, faulty selection logic is more realistic than it appears.
It also serves as incentive to pull an MJ, and take it personally. When Gordon didn’t make the All-Star team in that 2007 season, I had him go on an absolute tear the rest of the way. Every vicious dunk that Hanson threw down in the 2016 Playoffs felt like he was sending a message to the virtual voters who picked Pat Clemons for Rookie of the Year instead. His second season, stepping up to average 30.3 ppg in Carmelo Anthony’s absence, felt like a continuation of that. Setbacks and complications are part of any good story. The disappointments in franchise and career modes enhance our virtual hardwood tales with realistic flourishes, and ultimately cathartic endings.
Which of these realistic disappointments in franchise and career modes have you encountered? Did it ultimately enhance the experience, or were you just left feeling frustrated? Have your say in the comments, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.