This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at adidas Live Run in NBA Live 10.
These days, we take the concept of online team play for granted. Although there’s still interest in single player experiences and local multiplayer, the various modes that allow us to play with up to nine other gamers online are extremely popular. Of course, MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, to say nothing of the multiplayer scene in first person shooters and good old fashioned LAN parties, had already popularised the concept. As soon as the online infrastructure was developed for basketball and other sports titles, it was clear that the concept would find an enthusiastic audience.
It’s interesting to look back at those early iterations of online team play. With adidas Live Run in particular, you can see that the concept was already starting to evolve into the experiences we now enjoy (well, sometimes enjoy). Unfortunately, with the NBA Live series being rebooted following the cancellation of NBA Elite 11, the developers weren’t able to expand upon the idea of adidas Live Run until NBA Live 16. It was nevertheless an innovative mode in its time, so let’s take a look back…way back…
As I detailed in a previous Wayback Wednesday feature, the original Online Team Play mode in NBA Live 08 – which like Franchise mode before it, essentially named the concept – was patched in post-launch. Since there was no career mode as yet, it utilised actual NBA teams, with gamers choosing to lock onto a player, or switch players if there were less than five users per side. NBA Live 09 appeared to be testing the waters for a single player career mode with Be a Pro, but its version of OTP was still all about playing with NBA teams and players. NBA Live 10 didn’t introduce a career mode as we expected, but we did get a new online mode in adidas Live Run.
Although adidas Live Run still utilised NBA players in the absence of any career mode avatars, it dropped the team rosters in favour of a pick-up game approach. Gamers would form squads, in order to take part in Seasons that lasted a month. Each squad member would choose an NBA player to control. There weren’t any individual clothing options as there are in Park and the more recent iterations of LIVE Run, with squad leaders choosing to either wear special adidas-branded jerseys, or the practice gear of each player’s respective team. Games took place in an adidas-themed gym that has similar aesthetics to The Hangar, and were first to 21, played under pick-up rules.
In that regard, you can see how the concept of online team play was moving towards the type of modes we have today. There’s still that underlying connection to the NBA, but it was now about choosing an avatar that would be uniquely yours and squadding up with other individual players, rather than selecting an NBA team to play with. The setting also eschewed NBA arenas for a pick-up game atmosphere, and a looser style of play without the length, rules, and structure of an NBA game. While this approach holds less appeal to sticklers for realism and the sim experience, the quicker games without any fouls were a fresh experience that NBA Live 10 gamers welcomed.
Of course, it’s with some wistfulness that I look back at adidas Live Run. I wasn’t very keen on the online scene back then, and when the second patch caused more problems for NBA Live 10 than it fixed, I lost interest in the game. I therefore don’t have any first-hand memories of adidas Live Run to share. Looking back, I had ample time to organise a squad and try a few games – the NBA Live 10 servers remained active until 2013, after all – but back then, I figured it just wasn’t for me. Considering how much time I’ve spent in MyCAREER and its connected modes since then, it’s rather ironic in retrospect. I definitely wish that I’d at least given it a try when I had the opportunity.
Indeed, I regret not giving adidas Live Run a chance when I go back and watch games that Pastapadre organised. Naturally there are sloppy moments of miscommunication and poorly-timed jumpshots due to lag, but there’s also a surprising amount of ball movement and unselfish play. The participants in those games were looking to hit the open man and share the rock in a way that’s become increasingly rare in NBA 2K’s online scene. Perhaps this was an anomaly, and playing as an organised squad is a far more enjoyable experience in NBA 2K as well, but the teamwork on display in those games is quite heartening. Those gamers were trying to play good virtual basketball.
Reflecting upon it further, I wonder if the use of NBA players rather than personalised avatars is also a factor here. While we have a connection to MyPLAYERs and players in The One because we made them, and often give them our names and faces because it’s fun to do so, it also invites selfishness. The need to improve our player, to grind for VC and Badges in NBA 2K, or Skill Points, Reward Points, and Traits in NBA Live, encourages us to think about our own goals; the things we need to do in order to get those meters and virtual wallets filled as quickly as possible. It’s safe to say many gamers find it difficult to focus on the team as well as their own stats and progression.
That isn’t the case if we’re controlling NBA players. Their ratings are set, as is their reputation and standing on the hardwood, virtual or otherwise. It’s about utilising the skills of real players to get the victories, without any secondary goals or the need to accumulate currency and XP. There’s something pure about that approach, as there’s no meta-gaming beyond picking a player whose abilities match the way you like to play basketball video games. The gameplay is far less of a homogenised experience because there are no custom builds and not everyone can pick the same player, which results in more balance. It also emphasises the “NBA” part of NBA licensed games.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that it would be possible to return to a concept such as adidas Live Run. Games could perhaps offer it as an alternative, but I believe there’s a much stronger preference for the current approach to online team play. It’s all about finding that OP build and creating a player that can dominate online, and if you’re a Playground gamer, outfitting them with outrageous attire. I’d suggest that there’s a large portion of gamers who view NBA content in NBA Live and NBA 2K as being of secondary importance, and only useful in so far as providing signature animations for their build. Who wants to control an NBA player, rather than their own avatar?
Of course, even if the concept of adidas Live Run is outdated, it clearly paved the way for future forms of the experience. NBA Live recycled the name – albeit without the adidas branding – when they added LIVE Pro-Am in NBA Live 16, now connected to a single player career mode. NBA 2K experimented with Crew – a mode not entirely dissimilar to adidas Live Run, albeit in an NBA setting and connected to My Player – before branching out into the distinct Park and Pro-Am experiences. The “Season” approach has also been utilised by NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, as well as MyTEAM in NBA 2K21, though it’s admittedly quite common in competitive online gaming.
Again, I regret not trying out adidas Live Run when I still could, even if it was just to jump on before NBA Live 10’s servers went offline. I’d like to be able to share more personal memories of the mode, and given how my interests have changed over the years, I might’ve found myself dabbling in the online scene earlier than I did. Still, it’s nice to read positive comments reminiscing about fun times with adidas Live Run on Pastapadre’s videos, especially as the tide was really beginning to turn against NBA Live at that point. It’s another example of how the series was innovative, and leaves us to wonder what might’ve been had EA elected to keep building upon NBA Live 10.