Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five lists the five stages of playing through a season in any basketball video game mode.
As I write this, I’m approaching the end of the regular season in my MyCAREER game in NBA 2K19. Once again, not a bad effort for someone who was supposedly burned out on career modes! Having sufficiently levelled up my player for the online experiences, I am in a position where I can take a break from MyCAREER, but I also feel compelled to at least play through to the end of the first season. After all, I’m potentially less than thirty games away from cleaning up in the regular season awards, and leading the Chicago Bulls to another (virtual) championship.
I’ve played through at least one full season in multiple basketball games, including NBA Live 2004, NBA Live 06, NBA 2K13, and NBA 2K17. There’s definitely a sense of accomplishment in doing so, and if you’re really into the game, then the season does go by much quicker. It still takes some time though – especially if you’re playing twelve minute quarters – and there are undoubtedly moments where you must push yourself to complete the journey, particularly if you aren’t simulating any games. You’ll probably end up experiencing the five stages of playing through a season: a list that I’m making up, but one that I believe will resonate with many basketball gamers.
1. Starting the Mode: Hope
Ah, there’s nothing as hopeful in basketball video games as starting a new season, is there? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a single season, multi-season franchise, or career game; you’ve got a clean slate that’s ready for an in-depth experience on the virtual hardwood, with all the exciting possibilities that it brings. Which team will you pick? What kind of Archetype do you want for your player? Even if the choice is difficult, that’s all part of the fun. Once you finally begin the game, there’s something really appealing about the fresh start. Rather than feeling intimidated by the length of the season, you’re pumped up for all the gameplay that’s yet to come.
Of course, the length of the season is in the back of your mind. That generally means you’re clinging to a few hopes for the game you’ve just started. Hope that you picked a team you want to stick with. Hope that the player build you chose isn’t broken, and is suitable for both offline and online play. Hope that you’re not going to get bored and discard it. Thankfully, since you haven’t committed to anything yet, it’s easy enough to back out and start again if you’re not entirely satisfied with your choice. If you’re going to get anywhere as far as making it through the season, though, you better hope that you make the right choices and remain hooked for the long haul.
2. First Quarter of the Season: Excitement
Assuming that you do get hooked on your game, the first quarter of the season tends to be one of the most enjoyable stages of the experience. It’s all shiny and new, and the overall “narrative” begins to take shape: how well your team/player is performing, other early movers and shakers around the league, and what kind of a season it’s going to be in terms of dominance, hardship, or underdog success. An early trade or injury can set the tone for big stretches of the campaign, and if you’re still acclimatising to the difficulty and mechanics of the game, it can be a satisfying challenge as you learn how to win and/or put up big numbers on a consistent basis.
Generally speaking, you’ll probably never be quite as hooked as you are during this stage of the season. You’ll be eager to make progress quickly, so if you have the time to play a lot of games, you’ll probably burn through the first quarter of the year at an impressively rapid pace. If you started playing the mode not long after picking up the game, you’ve probably planned on the title dominating your downtime. It’s also likely that you haven’t had as much of a chance to get annoyed by all of its inevitable quirks, bugs, and foibles, so even if you do have some gripes, you’re still enjoying the game. Make the most of this stage. As they say, the season is a marathon, not a sprint!
3. Midseason: Confidence
Approaching the midway point of the regular season, you should be feeling rather confident. Your stick skills will be sharp, you’ll know how to get the job done on the court, and if you struggled a little out of the gate, you’ve probably since strung several wins together. You’ve enjoyed the experience so far, which means you’re confident that you’ll be able to make it through the whole season without abandoning the game. Besides, you’re getting close to the All-Star Weekend. Getting your player(s) to the event gives you something to aim for, and it’s an opportunity to break up the season with something a little different. The midseason classic is a refreshing change of pace.
That’s important, as some of the shine will be wearing off this deep into the season. Sure, you’re still having fun, but you’re starting to realise just how long the regular season is. You may have felt the temptation to simulate a few games, but that’s not always desirable, particularly in the career modes where playing every game is a must if you want to level up your player as efficiently as possible. Besides, you’re not sick of the game yet, and you know that having made it this far, you’ll be able to see the journey through to the end. There’s still the race to the Playoffs with all the jockeying for a desirable seed, so there’s plenty of reasons to keep playing.
4. Last Quarter of the Season: Tedium
Man, what happened? Why is the season dragging, with games feeling like a chore? We often talk about the rookie wall: the point during a player’s freshman campaign that they start to feel the grind and fatigue of the NBA calendar, which runs longer and includes far more games than they’ve played at any other level. Their play takes a hit, and those who can finish the season strong will stand out as the best. Well, the same thing happens in basketball video games. The most tedious part of the regular season generally comes between the All-Star break and the Playoffs. Even if you’re playing the game just as much as before, progress suddenly feels so much slower.
Impatience will start to set in, as you’ll be eager to get the regular season over and done with so that the “real season” can begin. There are a few reasons for this. On top of the length of time it takes to play through a full season, by this point you’ll likely be getting quite good at the game. That means easier wins and more blowouts, which are satisfying at first, but soon get boring. This is often the part of the season where you’ll have to consider increasing the difficulty or playing around with the sliders to keep the game challenging and interesting. Don’t get discouraged, though. The end is in sight, and it’ll all feel worthwhile if you can make it through those last twenty games.
5. Playoffs: Accomplishment
Reaching the Playoffs after playing through the entire regular season is an incredible feeling of accomplishment; at least in the context of a basketball video game. You made it through all the ups and downs, controlled your destiny as far as your Playoff seeding, and now have a shot at winning a virtual championship. Just as in real life, the Playoffs in basketball video games are an entirely different beast. Instead of a different opponent every night, you’ll be facing the same team at least four times in a row in a best of seven series. That can also feel tedious to some gamers, but it’s also a new challenge, and every victory is a step closer to the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Needless to say, hoisting that virtual Larry O’Brien trophy also results in a satisfying feeling of accomplishment after playing through an entire regular season and Playoffs. It makes all the time you’ve invested in the mode worthwhile, all of the steps of the journey more rewarding. It’s why I’ve always preferred to play at least one full season with twelve minute quarters. Aside from keeping the statistics somewhat based in reality, I feel like I’ve had the complete experience of the NBA season. I’d never begrudge a fellow basketball gamer for opting for a shorter experience, but if you can make it this far playing 82 games and twelve minute quarters, it’s quite a ride.
Have you experienced similar feelings playing through entire seasons in basketball games? Do your stages of playing through an entire season differ? Have your say in the comments below, 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.