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The WNBA in NBA 2K21 can be so much better. Here's what should change.
Plus, an exciting little update that might mean change is actually coming.
Hello, it’s Matt Ellentuck, reporting from your inbox.
I’m gonna shut up now.
When NBA 2K announced it was adding the WNBA into the game for the first time ever in its 2020 edition, I was extremely excited. I was ready to dunk on heads with Brittney Griner, get ejected using Diana Taurasi and force losers to log off after swishing early-in-the-shot-clock Dearica Hamby half-court heaves. I even set up a time to play against Mystics wing Aerial Powers (she kicked my ass.)
But the WNBA experience in 2K20 underwhelmed. So much so that I hardly used it. I’m reminded of that again as I sit in quarantine playing the game, desperate to get the closest experience I can to a WNBA night in May.
The WNBA in 2K has just two, simplistic game modes: “Play Now” and a “Season Mode.” The former allows only players who are in the same household to play a game against each other. The season mode allows a player to simulate one season with a team, and it’s stripped to the absolute essentials and nothing more.
I’m not going to Hello Fellow Kids Meme you guys here. Video games are really freakin’ big. We know this. And NBA 2K20 was the best-selling game of the year a month after its release date. That’s a lot of potential new fans for a growing league. It stinks that the first-ever introduction of the W into NBA 2K didn’t give users much to work with.
Yes, this was the first year the WNBA was incorporated into the 2K series, so expecting perfection or a complete gaming experience would be unfair. Of course, we can also criticize 2K for being so late to the game, as NBA Live had the WNBA in its series dating back to 2018. But even still, 2K left so much on the table.
First, users can’t create a female basketball player. Like, at all. That’s a big problem. I’ve watched Powers’ Twitch streams complaining about this. She’s a pro baller and can’t even create someone who resembles herself to play against squares online. If a user wants to play online against friends or strangers in the popular The Park feature, you’ve gotta be a Brad. That sucks. Not everyone is a Brad. And that’s a bad message to send to kids playing the game.
NBA 2K20 also doesn’t allow head-to-head games using WNBA teams online. Want to play a Sparks vs. Lynx game with a friend? Hope they’re quarantining with you, because that’s the only way.
What’s even more disappointing is the single season game mode. It lasts one full, 34-game season and that’s it. NBA GM modes last decades, allowing you to build up a franchise over time. In the W mode, players are also signed to non-sensical contracts that don’t match up to reality, making the GM decisions silly. There is no trade generator like on the NBA side, which will simulate offers for certain players and see GMs reject absurdly lopsided trades. In this game mode, if you want to trade a scrub for DeWanna Bonner, 2K says ‘sure why not.’
There is no WNBA draft, either. You can’t import new players, which is half the fun in the first place. Sadly, we can’t create Sabrina Ionescu or Paige Beuckers. There are more minor problems, too. The WNBA coaches are generic faces and not who they are in real life. Maya Moore, who hasn’t played basketball in two years, is on the Lynx.
Since I started covering the WNBA four years ago, I’ve had dozens of perspective fans reach out asking how they can catch up on what they’ve missed. People want to stan the WNBA, but watching any league without background information is tough jump right into. Sports video games are supposed to be a guide. I wish 2K played its part better. Heck, boosting fandom of the W will only help it sell more copies of the games down the line.
Overall, the gameplay in WNBA 2K is fun. I enjoy playing the limited game modes. But I wanted more, and I don’t think what I’m asking for is unrealistic. With NBA Live unable to even guarantee the production of a game every year, 2K holds damn close to a monopoly on professional basketball video games. It has the resources. It has the money. It has the technology — we see it on the men’s side! I wish they’d used it on the W, a league with less than half the NBA’s teams (12) and player pool (144).
NBA 2K has time to fix its missteps for this year’s edition of the game, and I’m hopeful it will. Since I posted a little tweet thread about it, and a few other reporters have reached out for stories, Ronnie 2K, the digital marketing director for NBA 2K, reached out to some of my favorite people who you should all be following: Ari Chambers, Lindsay Gibbs (who writes one of my favorite newsletters Power Plays,) Rachel Galligan and HerHoopsStats.
I hope that means good things are to come!
Here’s what I’d like to see in NBA 2K21:
1. The ability to create female basketball players.
2. A WNBA dynasty/GM mode that goes past one season.
3. The ability to edit and create players! I want to make Paige Beuckers dammit.
4. An enhanced GM mode trade system. Stop letting me trade scrubs for All-Stars.
5. A contract system that matches the newly signed CBA. Let me negotiate!
6. The WNBA’s coaches added to the game.
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