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, I’m breaking down what I feel are the five worst parts of playing with randoms online.
One of the best parts of modern basketball games is that we’re able to meet up with a bunch of other people we don’t know to play online. Likewise, one of the worst parts of modern basketball games is that we’re able to meet up with a bunch of other people we don’t know to play online. Snarky echoes aside, online gaming will always be a mixed bag, no matter what the genre. Not everyone is about playing fair, or being cooperative. The experience is usually better if you’re teaming up with people that you know, but that isn’t always feasible.
That’s when you end up teaming with randoms. Again, this isn’t unique to basketball games, but hoops games present some unique drawbacks. Since there’s only one ball, not everyone can take an active role at all times as they might in other genres, such as a shooter. Everyone is used to being Player One, and is therefore unwilling to defer to teammates they don’t know. In all fairness it isn’t always a nightmare, and it’s better than not being able to play at all, especially with the new restrictions on team Pro-Am. Nevertheless, it’s often a less than ideal basketball gaming experience. Here are, in my opinion, the five worst parts of being in that situation.
1. Waiting for Randoms to Show Up (And Stay)
Playing with randoms usually isn’t anyone’s first choice. It’s something that the NLSC squad has done so far in NBA 2K19, because we’ve yet to be able to organise regular meet-ups where we have five for team Pro-Am. I’ve also tried it a few times when I’ve felt like a game and no one I know has been online. Before even stepping onto the virtual hardwood or blacktop, one of the main challenges is getting enough randoms to join you in the first place. Whether it’s getting five people in the Jordan Rec Center or enough to make up a squad in the Playground, it can be a long wait. In the JRC in particular, there are times when we’ve had no luck at all.
A big part of the problem is that a lot of gamers choose to make point guards and swingmen, so there’s often a glut of players at the same position looking for randoms to play with. If you’re a big man – in particular a centre – you’ll tend to get a lot more Jordan Rec Center games with impromptu squads in need of your services. Once you have five players in the locker room or the requisite number of players lined up at the Got Next spots, you also need opponents to show up in a timely manner. I’ve found that a lot of randoms are impatient if they don’t get a game right away. Alternatively, they may choose not to stick around for a reason that I’m about to get into.
2. Getting Judged by your Overall Rating
I’ve written several articles in the past on how basketball gamers place far too much stock in Overall Ratings. It’s something I’ve mostly covered from a roster editing and franchise mode perspective, but when it comes to playing with randoms online, it’s a big issue in that arena as well. Randoms often won’t want to play with you, backing out of Got Next in The Playground or the locker room in the Jordan Rec Center, if they don’t think you’re good enough. On one hand, this is understandable. If you’re an experienced player, you’re probably not that keen to team up with a low-rated random teammate. However, it’s easy to judge a book by its cover here, and be too snobby.
It’s fair not to want to play with a 60 Overall player who’s clearly new, but once you’re 75 Overall or better with a bunch of levelled up Badges, you’re probably fairly decent. Even if you are still grinding up from a lower rating, quite often if you stick to your role and try not to do too much, you can actually be an effective teammate online. A lot of people do focus on that rating however, and it seems they’d rather not play at all than risk a loss or have a teammate under 85. Visible Overall Ratings are important, but it does invite a certain amount of elitism at the cost of being able to play. It doesn’t happen quite as often in NBA Live 19 though, owing to the higher starting ratings.
3. Playing with a Ball Hog
This is an inevitable part of playing with randoms, no matter whether it’s NBA 2K or NBA Live, or which mode you’re playing. Some people just don’t want to pass the ball, and are intent on taking every shot they can. They’re the ones who end up with over thirty shots in five minute quarters, and if they do have any assists, it’s because they refused to let anyone else run the offense, or only passed because they were triple teamed (and even then, it’s likely that the shot is going up). They treat online play as if it were an offline mode, where your AI teammates are all willing to defer to you, and it’s kind of necessary to be a high usage player in order to grind up your attributes.
When you’re playing online, however, you need to take your teammates into account. Even if a ball hog is making most of their shots and you win the game, it’s not really a lot of fun when no one else gets any touches. If their selfish play is actively costing you the game, it’s painful to endure. Furthermore, ball hogging just leads to more ball hogging when the other players finally get a touch. Because no one knows when or if they’ll get the ball again, they’ll often force up a bad shot, just so that they can have an attempt. With a squad, you can work as a team and hold each other accountable for selfish play. When you’re playing with randoms, that accountability is missing.
4. Getting Frozen Out After One Miss or Mistake
Another side effect of playing with a ball hog is that you’ll often get frozen out after you make just one mistake, or miss one shot. You’re basically given one chance to prove that you’re worthy of being passed the ball, and if you mess that up, you’re not seeing it again. This also happens if some of the randoms you’re playing with are part of a squad, making you the random in their eyes. I’ve had randoms prefer to throw a full court pass that gets picked off or goes out of bounds, rather than inbound to me and let me bring it up as the point guard. High rated bigs end up with a bunch of bad turnovers as they try to play the point, just because they don’t trust me to do so.
While it may be somewhat understandable that a player blowing a wide open shot will erode your trust in them, a single play in an online game is hardly a fair chance. If you are playing with a ball hog, chances are you’ll be so surprised by a pass when you’re open that you won’t be ready to take advantage. If nothing else, you’re probably not going to be in rhythm. The worst part is that while these randoms freeze you out for one miss or mistake, they’ll continue to make turnover after turnover or miss shot after shot themselves. In this instance, randoms will actually prefer to throw away a game on their own terms than take a risk on letting you contribute to a victory.
5. Randoms Who Sabotage Games
Maybe they’re not touching the ball as much as they’d like. Maybe a couple of errors have been made and there’s an early deficit. Maybe they just feel like trolling and spoiling other people’s good time. Whatever the case may be, some randoms just stop trying on defense or take stupid shots, actively going out of their way to sabotage the game. Considering that there’s an option to quit and leave an AI player in your stead, there’s no reason to stick around and do this except to be a jerk. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who do get a kick out doing that when it comes to online gaming in general, and NBA Live 19 and NBA 2K19 are sadly no exception.
The teammate grade in NBA 2K is meant to take care of that, kicking players from the game if they drop down to an F grade. That can take a while though, which means that by the time they get graded out (or get sick of it and quit), the damage has already been done. I’ve been part of some exciting comeback victories in online games, and also part of comeback attempts that fell frustratingly short because a random decided to actively be a weak link. Similarly, I’ve had games that were blown (or came close to it) because the randoms I was teamed up with just started messing around. Trust me when I say that having AI players in online games is far preferable to that experience.
Have you played with randoms online in NBA Live or NBA 2K, and if so, how often? What have your experiences been like? 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.