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 is a list of five ways to improve online modes in NBA 2K20.
For many years, there wasn’t much that I could personally say about online play. I was mostly an offline basketball gamer, and while I was only too eager to pass along any feedback on behalf of online gamers, it wasn’t an experience that I took a whole lot of interest in. That changed in NBA 2K16, when Arcane and I were encouraged to join Kenny, The X, and Valor for some 2K Pro-Am games. I had enjoyed playing a few games of Online Team Play in NBA Live 08 as it was new and interesting, and Pro-Am proved to be an enjoyable spin on the concept.
As much as I value the single player experiences in modern basketball games, there’s no denying the importance of online modes. Visual Concepts clearly has a lot invested in the online experience, not only through providing a variety of ways to play online in NBA 2K, but also through their partnership with the NBA for the NBA 2K League. Despite that focus, and the general popularity of online play in NBA 2K, there are some major drawbacks and troubling legacy issues that need to be addressed in future games. I’m hoping that NBA 2K20 does see some key improvements in the game’s online modes, and this is how I believe that can be achieved.
1. Implement Proper Matchmaking in all Online Modes
In a post over on Reddit, a former content developer for EVE Online discussed some of the concerning changes to NBA 2K in recent years. They note how NBA 2K now seems “hostile towards new players”, suggesting that they are “focusing on the game’s elite”. These are astute observations, as online play in NBA 2K is unwelcoming to less experienced gamers, as well as those who want to be competitive but not to the point of vying for a place in the NBA 2K League. A prime example of this is the lack of proper matchmaking across the online modes, which essentially becomes a form of gatekeeping, or at least a major deterrent to a lot of gamers who’d like to get involved.
The “git gud” crowd would have you believe that this is how it should be, but how do online gamers improve? By facing opponents on their level, and graduating to tougher opponents as they level up. Incidentally, this is how a lot of junior sports leagues, and even a few professional ones, operate. Pro-Am and MyTEAM squads must be better matched based on skill and experience. It should be possible to find a Park where new users can hoop it up with people at their level. I’ve said it before, but NBA 2K needs to take some cues from Rocket League, with its sophisticated competitive and casual settings. Until they do, they’re turning would-be enthusiasts away from online play.
2. Bring Back the 3 Player Minimum in 2K Pro-Am
Not everyone is going to be in favour of this, but I do think it’s necessary in order to make 2K Pro-Am as accessible as it should be. In my experience, the need for five users has made it more difficult to get games going, both in team Pro-Am and walk-on games in the Jordan Rec Center. The squads that would play with three or four users in past games seem to have given up, and between gamers being picky about whom they play with and most gamers creating a sharpshooting guard, it can take a long time to assemble a squad with random teammates. Even when you do get a game, it’s all too easily spoiled by selfish randoms who don’t want to play as a team.
Look, I’ll agree that it isn’t ideal to have AI players in Pro-Am, but I find it preferable to being forced to team up with randoms who spoil the game, or not being able to play at all. It’s hardly an advantage either, as a team of five users with high level players will outmatch a team of three users with a couple of AI teammates. If it really is an issue, then perhaps only match up teams with five users against other squads who also have five, and let teams who have AI players filling in only face each other. Enforcing the five user requirement has only become another form of elitist gatekeeping, which is a shame as Pro-Am is a mode that should welcome veterans and newcomers alike.
3. Fix Balance & Reduce Meta-Gaming
There have been so many times playing Pro-Am over the past couple of years that the other members of the NLSC squad and I have muttered to each other in the party chat that online play in NBA 2K has become an unbalanced mess. It’s only gotten worse these past couple of years, due in large part to MyPLAYER Archetypes. The addition of hybrid Archetypes was meant to give us a larger choice, but ironically, we’re still left with a very small selection of viable options. Sure, there are many combinations of player types that we can be, but a lot of them are not desirable choices. The ones that are ideal for online play all tend to be extremely overpowered.
It’s not just the Archetypes, either. The meta-gaming also extends to the jumpshot and dribbling animations that you pick, the height and weight of your player, wingspan, and other attributes. Obviously these choices should have their pros and cons, but it’s become a case of creating the absolute perfect build for your player, else risk being severely underpowered online. This rigid template for success discourages variety, and results in a slew of cheesy builds: the 7’3″ players who can rebound, shoot threes, and dunk using super quick animations, the Sharpshooters that can’t miss, and so on. It forces you to create and play by the numbers, if you want to win online.
4. Make Team Customisation More Accessible
I understand why this change was made. I got into Pro-Am back in NBA 2K16, when everyone could use their uploaded images to customise their team immediately after creating one. Needless to say, a lot of people took advantage of the situation and made a mockery of it. The content filters stopped anything truly objectionable being used, but we still saw some very immature and creepy designs (and when I say creepy, I’m not talking about horror films and Halloween). Making teams earn the right to use custom images put an end to that, but also stifled the creativity of the community. It’s yet another form of gatekeeping, given the lack of balance and proper matchmaking.
Giving us a glimpse of a cool feature and then making it difficult (or expensive) to attain in the next game has become a bad habit for NBA 2K. There’s the Early Tip-Off Weekend, which used to be available for all pre-orders but is now exclusive to the most expensive edition. There’s the Auction House in MyTEAM, which needs to be unlocked through single player and online play. Unlocking all of the customisation functions in MyTEAM has some high requirements as well, and VC gouging is still a problem. As far as custom images for Pro-Am teams are concerned, I’d suggest they be unlocked after ten wins, regardless of winning percentage. Let it be put to use!
5. Provide a More Stable Experience
During the 2KTV Interview in MyCAREER, Ronnie 2K enters wearing a dirty t-shirt and jeans, cracking a joke about how he was just fixing the server. While it’s cute that 2K can poke fun at themselves and acknowledge all those Tweets Ronnie gets telling him to fix the servers, you know what would be even better? Improving the servers! As much as a scene like that is meant to be self-deprecating, it also comes across as a middle finger to the fanbase, painting the situation as a joke. Again, I can appreciate it to a certain extent, but the fact remains that NBA 2K’s online experience leaves much to be desired for a Triple-A title that is as successful and profitable as it is.
Online play in NBA 2K is still subject to lag spikes, temporary connection loss, and disconnection errors. Despite the passive-aggressive error messages that insist it’s a problem with our connection to the 2K servers, the issue is at their end. One only has to note all the problems in MyTEAM when a lot of gamers rush to redeem a Locker Code only to be disconnected from the server while doing so, if indeed they’re able to get into the mode in the first place. Online stability remains one of NBA 2K’s biggest weaknesses, and as it continues to establish itself as a competitive online game with its own eSports league, 2K must find a way to turn that weakness into a strength.
What do you feel would enhance online modes in NBA 2K20? Have your say in the comments section 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.