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 suggestions to make The Rec a friendlier and more positive experience.
After years of playing 2K Pro-Am and The Rec as part of the connected experience in MyCAREER, I’ve mostly moved on as of NBA 2K21. Sure, I won’t rule out playing online every now and again, but too many negative experiences combined with a desire to play other modes has led to little to no desire to jump on as often as I once did. In a way that’s a shame, as when The Rec and Pro-Am were fun, they were a lot of fun. The worst games were tough to endure though, and believe me, I did all I could to stomach some truly wretched virtual basketball in pursuit of good games.
With that being said, I want the online experience in NBA 2K to improve. Whether or not I ever regularly partake in the scene again, I’d like to see it become as good as it possibly can be, so that the people who do want to play online have an enjoyable time. This applies to all of the connected modes in MyCAREER – as well as online play in MyTEAM – but The Rec’s purpose as an arena for impromptu, makeshift squads means that it invites a specific brand of toxic play. From the comments I’ve seen on Twitter and Reddit, The Rec could stand to be a friendlier and more cooperative place. Here are five ways that it could possibly achieve that goal moving forward.
1. Pass Acknowledgement and Celebrating Teammates
Sometimes, the simplest ideas can have a big impact. Right now we can purchase a wide variety of celebration animations to break out during different scenarios in online play. You know what would make things friendlier, though? The ability to acknowledge the passer on made buckets, and congratulate teammates for big plays. These should also be standard functions rather than animations that are purchased, though I suppose there could be an option to upgrade the default acknowledgement and teammate celebration animations with more elaborate ones. The point is that we’d be able to show support and gratitude for great passes and great plays at both ends.
Now, one might say that we could jump on the open mic and do this verbally, and that’s certainly feasible. The problem is that not everyone is comfortable doing that, and understandably so. If the online scene were friendlier then it wouldn’t be an issue, but we’re not there yet. With that in mind, let’s take things one step at a time. Add the ability to point to the passer in acknowledgement, as well as manually go over to a teammate and high five/fist bump after a big play. Maybe make use of emotes, as in The Neighborhood/City, or for that matter, Fallout 76. There could even be some generic voice clips (“Great play” “Great pass” “Nice one”) accompanying them.
2. Performance Penalties for Selfish Play
Although there’s a Teammate Grade in all online modes including The Rec, it isn’t much of a deterrent for selfish play. Sure, lower grades mean lower VC payouts, but if you’ve already levelled up, you probably won’t mind losing out on a couple hundred VC. Hit a grade of F and you’ll be kicked from the game, but it takes a surprising amount of blunders and selfishness to drop that low. Obviously the Teammate Grade can’t be too harsh, or players will be kicked too easily. However, The Rec has been steadily cultivating a rather toxic atmosphere and style of play, so it’s up to the game to push players in a more positive, friendlier direction. That means more penalties.
It also means differentiation between selfish play, and a simple mistake or unfortunate turn of events. For example, a lone “bad shot attempt” may be an honest mistake, an overly ambitious play, or a seemingly safe play derailed by a great defensive effort. A string of bad shot attempts indicates selfish play that’s detrimental to the team. On a similar note, one bad attempt at taking a charge is very different to petulant flopping when someone’s unhappy. I’d suggest increasing the penalty to the Teammate Grade for each subsequent detrimental play. That way, honest mistakes aren’t punished too harshly, while an established pattern of toxic and selfish play gets you booted quicker.
3. Performance Boosts for Unselfish Play
If you’re going to implement harsher penalties for selfish play, then you must also implement appropriate rewards for unselfish play. Note that this doesn’t just mean racking up assists, as that will lead to players hogging and over-dribbling while they wait to make the assist pass, rather than keeping the ball moving. I’d recommend bigger boosts to the Teammate Grade for good passes and hitting the open man, as well as a general boost to shot percentages in those scenarios. If playing smart and unselfish basketball leads to better results, as well as bonuses to VC and Badge progress, then there’s more incentive to adopt a friendlier and more cooperative style.
While we’re on the subject of punishing and rewarding, there’s an idea that NBA 2K could stand to borrow from NBA Live 19. One of the custom rules for Court Battles resulted in a player’s shot percentages decreasing the longer they held onto the ball. The developers later repurposed this mechanic for LIVE Run, to punish selfish play and encourage ball movement. 2K could utilise a similar concept. Over-dribbling and hogging the ball would result in temporary nerfs and the Takeover meter depleting, while an unselfish style would boost abilities across the board, as well as get out of cold streaks and build up the Takeover meter faster. Simple, but potentially effective!
4. Matchmaking & Different Levels
I’ve discussed the need for proper matchmaking in several articles, but as long as it remains an issue, I’m going to continue advocating for it. I realise that people have their issues with concepts such as Skill-Based Matchmaking, and even the most robust matchmaking system is going to allow imperfections when gamers of different skill levels squad up and enter The Rec. However, the fact that no matchmaking system can be absolutely perfect is no excuse for not trying to achieve the best results possible. And since it’s a big reason why there’s barely any matchmaking in NBA 2K, the pursuit of profits is likewise no excuse to forego a necessary online mechanic.
Proper matchmaking is also a must in team Pro-Am as it will help in making The Rec a friendlier place – more on that in a moment – but there must be better criteria for assembling squads of randoms. Teammate Grade, Win-Loss record, number of games, MyREP level, Overall Rating; a combination of these metrics should factor into who you get teamed up with, and matched up against. If you’re in a squad, those metrics should be taken from the highest ranked/rated player, similar to Rocket League. In short, if you play with a friend with better stats, you move up to their league rather than bringing them down to yours. Bottom line, matchmaking means better games.
5. No Full Squads Allowed
Yes, I did get the “No Dogs Allowed” song stuck in my head just from writing that. I watched Snoopy Come Home on VHS so many times growing up, to the point where I pretty much know that heart-wrenching movie…well, by heart. Anyway, I believe that The Rec would be a much friendlier place if full squads weren’t allowed to enter. I know, I know. I’m usually against gatekeeping, but I’m also in favour of competitive balance and fair play. There’s no reason for full squads to enter The Rec except to feast on teams of overwhelmed randoms. It defeats the purpose of The Rec, which is supposed to be for gamers that don’t have a full squad to play with, right now or at all.
There’s a mode very much like The Rec that’s made just for squads: it’s called Pro-Am. And yes, I know that mode has problems that need to be ironed out, but keeping The Rec for random team-ups should be further incentive to fix Pro-Am, too. Look, here’s the thing: if you’re an elite squad entering The Rec to beat up on randoms, it’s not an accomplishment. Ducking other top squads to pick up easy wins over some makeshift teams is hardly “elite”. If you’re going to thump your chest, step up and face the best. The Rec would be much friendlier if full squads were barred. That’s enough players for Pro-Am; add a casual setting to that mode, and leave The Rec be.
What are some other ways that The Rec could be made friendlier, and generally more enjoyable? 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.