NBA 2K League Combine Problems — A Player’s Perspective
Ian and Bryant are grinding the combine path. They chat with me about server problems, unexpected changes to game mechanics, and the lack of communication from 2K and their own teammates.
Ian Murphy and Byant Hedgeman qualified for the NBA 2K League combine nearly a month ago. They spent the majority of January refining their skills in preparation for the February combine.
The thrill and excitement of all the possibilities of becoming a professional esports athlete were met with all the issues of building a new competitive platform from the ground up. As of today, these are still ongoing problems with little communication from the governing powers of the 2K League.
Toss in the standard issues around forming new groups that consist of competitive Type A personalities who are chasing a potential new career and aren’t used to playing with people they don’t know and trust, and the stories of angst run deep.
Things Didn’t Start Off Well
I tuned into Twitter February 5 to catch up on the progress of the combine and found tweet after tweet of reported problems. Servers were crashing. Games weren’t being credited properly. Players were being kicked in the middle of team games, and some were outright banned for no apparent reason.
“It started off well Saturday,” Bryant said. “Then Sunday I was in the 4th quarter of several games, some of them wins with great stats, and boom! I’m kicked out.”
The guys were really frustrated and hoped for some help. Maybe adding some time windows for those are behind, but no. Ian and Bryant both said there has been absolutely no communication.
“We tweeted Grant Paranjape,” Bryant said. “He’s been responding to a lot of stuff, but nothing from him. 2k isn’t saying anything, either. We hoped they might add some windows later for people to catch up. They still expect everyone to meet the requirements in the windows already scheduled.”
Lack Of Player Communication
The games themselves have further vexed the guys. Some people don’t have microphones which makes playing together ever the more difficult.
“The rest of the team doesn’t need a mic,” Ian said, “but the point guard has to have one. Without him at least directing traffic, we are just running into each other out there.”
Ian also commented how the lack of microphones led to several rage quits and painfully awkward games. It actually lead to one of his favorite game.
“I had one game where it ended up with me and 4 AI players against a guy with 4 AI players,” he said. “I got mad at first, but I figured it out and won. It was actually the most fun I had so far.”
A Frustrating Change In Game Mechanics
I know the running problems game companies have in their often futile attempts to balance multi-player games from my Starcraft 2 background. Players look for system glitches and bugs to game the system and gain an advantage.
It looks like 2K is trying to get in front of the situation and be proactive, but it’s causing more irritation for the guys.
Ian is a shooting guard. He expressed his frustration with an unexpected change in shooting mechanics that was tossed into the game without any warning nor opportunity to experiment with it before use.
“Usually there is time before games to work on your jumper while everyone queues up,” Ian said. “Now there’s a change in the timing of the jump shots. You get to choose the speed of your release and you have no idea what that means until you get into the game. It takes a while to get used to.”
As a result, shooting percentages and 3-point success rates are very low. This has made big men look very good for no real reason.
“I saw a game where a guy had 71 points and over 20 rebounds,” Bryant said. “He scored over 80% of their team’s points and is really skewing the curve for others.”
Ian took it a step further.
“So now you have people choosing big guys to play that don’t really understand how to play and defend in the paint. They get picked really easily, get dunked on a lot because they jump at the wrong times. It makes the team look bad.”
Ian didn’t stop there, though.
“Then you have these guys who play big men and just run down the court and stand in the paint. So if you don’t get them the ball right away or shoot it quick, they get called for 3 in the key. There’s really nothing you can do with people playing that crazy.”
I asked the guys for their thoughts about the reasoning behind the shooting mechanic and other changes. They both said it was about balance.
“A lot of the shooting was nerfed,” Bryant said. “Hall Of Fame badges were taken away and jumpers became harder to hit when you are closely guarded.”
Ian saw things from the other side.
“Defense was nerfed, too,” Ian said. “Only centers can now have the defensive stopper as part of their build. If effects every other part of the team and the game. A gold defensive stopper really helps you stop pure sharp shooters from just raining 3’s from the perimeter.
“The game is already skewed so far in favor of the offense. Having that gold stopper on your team would really balance things out. Slashers and dunkers are now just beating people up.”
Some Of These Just Don’t Belong
The issues don’t end there. Both Ian and Bryant said there were players participating that didn’t need to be there but were still in games.
“Agent00 was playing in this,” Bryant said. “He’s one of the best ProAm point guards out there. He doesn’t need to be there. He said he’s playing just because he can. That’s frustrating for us.”
“On top of that,” Ian said, “you have underage players, who are currently ineligible, playing so they can be seen in case they want to play next year. If the application process had taken place before the tryouts, a lot of this would have been weeded out and not happened.”
So is 2K just keeping their plans quiet for now or making this up as they go?
What Is 2K Is Really Doing?
The bad thing as well as the good thing about building a brand new professional esports league is that no one really knows how to move forward, and anything might work. They could follow the current professional sports business model and be like Overwatch.
Does that really fit?
That question is not easily answered. Overwatch has so much money and name equity behind the launch that short of a nationwide EMP blast killing all internet access, it almost couldn’t fail.
However, this is NBA2K. Successful professional esports leagues up to this point have been MOBAs, FPS teams, and fighting games. There really is no model for sports games. Even is 2K does find one that works, it won’t create a copy/paste formula for FIFA, NHL, or Madden success.
I see this as another growing pain for the industry. There is no perfect model and no single way for it work. Every community has its quirks and hurdles. Right now, passion and drive are keeping the process afloat. Like it always has.
2K will figure this out. The NBA is behind this. All their money and gravitas will win in the end.