NBA 2K21’s The W Shows The Power Of Women In Sports

Whether it’s the cutting-edge graphics, continually evolving gameplay, or always-contentious microtransactions, the NBA 2K series fosters plenty of passionate (and heated) discussions. That’s to be expected when you’re at the top of the sports genre, helping set standards and drive innovation. That’s why it’s important for fans and critics to voice concerns over missteps, but it’s also just as important to celebrate the victories (which I do in my full NBA 2K21 review here). One thing I’m sad more people aren’t talking about is a new feature for the new-gen versions called “The W,” which allows you to can create your own WNBA MyPlayer for the first time and build your own path to stardom by playing for one of the league’s 12 teams. Playing WNBA games isn’t new for the series, but centering an entire experience around it is the biggest push and commitment we’ve seen from a mainstream team sports game to represent female athletes and their experience. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Outside of individual sports like tennis, where women have been included as playable options and graced covers, female representation has been mostly absent from sports games. However, in the last few years, we’ve seen more and more attempts to include these voices. I loved how FIFA incorporated the USWNT into Alex Hunter’s The Journey storyline, allowing you to play as his sister at some points and brush shoulders with stars like Alex Morgan. This year, NHL 21 included its first female commentator with Carrlyn Bathe lending her perspective in Be A Pro mode. 

It was only just last year that NBA 2K20 added the ability to play WNBA games, and it came back this year evolving its vision to new heights, letting you craft a female player and dictate how she’ll spend her free time to make an impact on the league, with options such as building chemistry with teammates by going to a nutrition retreat together or helping at a youth camp to inspire a new generation of female ballers. It doesn’t have a cinematic experience like the men’s MyCareer, but it does focus on being a visible role model and bringing other young girls into the sport, which is fantastic, and I hope it only continues to grow next year. 

It also doesn’t just feel like tacked-on content for the sake of it being there. Visual Concepts did a wonderful job with The W, one that goes beyond ensuring the player likeness is top notch, accurately representing the real-world stars. When I play, it feels like an actual WNBA game, which is more technical, with very precise ball movement. There’s a focus on the fundamentals, team play, and high basketball IQ that are key to this level of competition in the league, which is not as flashy or fast-paced as you see in the NBA. My favorite part is how much I’ve learned in general from the commentary about the league and its star players. I got so into building my player and becoming a member of my team that I purchased my very own Chicago Sky jersey. It’s special moments like these that show the power of bringing more awareness to the league, and I didn’t expect to be so engrossed, but I’m glad I did. 

I’ve been a sports fan all my life. Whether I was playing on my school’s team or going to professional games with my dad, sports dominated much of my time. They just came naturally to me; I had the coordination and instincts and when my friends were throwing the basketball granny-style, I was taking a square stance and putting backspin on the ball. Basketball became my favorite and what I played all the way through high school. 

A few moments in my life stand out in my love of sports. One is my mother always telling me this story about how I used to watch my brother’s basketball team and I was so amazed when I saw two girls on it. She says she saw me immediately light up when I realized people like me could play, too. Then I recall always watching the USA Women’s National Basketball Team at the Olympics. It was 1996, the year of Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie, and I remember being sad when it was over because it always felt like I had to wait four years to see that level of competition between women again. I had heard rumors about a professional league for women but was scared to get my hopes up. A year later, the WNBA officially started. I was in middle school, and we had to do a report on potential careers, and I immediately listed that as one of them. Obviously, it didn’t happen, but something that never seemed possible before became a possibility in my adolescent mind, giving me something to strive for. As Geena Davis says and makes paramount in her institute on gender and media, ‘If she can see it, she can be it.” 

Even all these years later after hanging up my hoop dreams, booting up NBA 2K21 and playing as an athlete in my likeness gave me an adrenaline rush. Not only did it reignite my love for the league, but it got me thinking about when there wasn’t a WNBA and how important it was to me when it finally happened. I also reflected on how my younger self would be losing her damn mind over having a mode like this. I can only hope Visual Concepts further expands the mode in the future. It sucks that it doesn’t have a cinematic experience like the men’s MyCareer mode and that your female avatar can’t be used in The City, the living online multiplayer community. And yes, the WNBA will probably never have the pull the NBA does, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth Visual Concepts’ efforts. This is the type of thing that brings more people into the game, helping the sport and league grow. In my book, that means everyone wins. I only hope more sports games take note and find more ways to include women’s teams and leagues. 

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NBA 2K21 Review – New Polish On The Court

Any athlete will attest that you can do all the right things in the off-season and still come up short. Visual Concepts clearly worked to up its game with NBA 2K21 and deliver better results. However, this wasn’t a typical off-season for Visual Concepts; the team wasn’t just trying to take NBA 2K to the next level, it was trying to take it to the next generation, being the first sports game to go all-in on the new console power of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. The result is a valiant effort, full of great new features and impressive visual leaps, but it’s clear there’s still some seasoning and adjustments to the playbook that need to be done. 

Visual Concepts released a version of NBA 2K21 back in early September (for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia), but this next-gen edition was built from the ground up to harness the power of the new hardware. Some things from the earlier release carry over, like the bulk of Junior’s MyCareer story, but it also has new modes, as well as important tweaks such as smoother movement and more realistic contact. Most importantly, the long load times that have plagued the series are a thing of the past. Games load in seconds, getting you right into the action. The only hiccups I noticed were when my player went to the bench for a substitution and between periods; sometimes your player just stands stoically for a few moments during this transition. It breaks the immersion since everything else functions just like you’re at an actual arena, including a lively crowd and staff performing various tasks.

Minor issues aside, Visual Concepts continues to deliver stellar gameplay that looks and feels straight out of the NBA. The new-gen tech has only added more authenticity and variety to the on-court action. Being able to change up the speed of your dribble and size-up moves makes ball-handling feel great and gives you tons of options. I loved being able to use hesitations, escapes, stepbacks, and crosses to throw off defenders, and this new dribbling quickly became my favorite upgrade. Passes also look more realistic, especially alley-oops off the glass to teammates. A new lead-pass mechanic, alongside the addition of bounce-touch passes, makes it so you always have varied ways situations can play out. 

As with past entries, certain players have signature moves, and Visual Concepts has only added to the realism with new skills like LeBron James’ suspended dribble. It’s cool that players move or play differently depending on who they are, their position, and how they’re built. I was constantly wowed by the level of detail in every player model, from their likeness to their real-world counterparts right down to their facial expressions and dripping sweat in intense moments. NBA 2K21 is easily one of the best-looking games on the new consoles. 

Another high point is the addition of The W, which allows you to can create your own WNBA MyPlayer for the first time and build your own path to stardom by playing for one of the league’s 12 teams. The level of detail in this mode is great, as I loved learning more about the league and its players from the announcers and games feel different from the NBA with a more technical and team-centric style. The W doesn’t have a cinematic experience like the main MyPlayer mode, but you do get to build up your popularity, wealth, team chemistry, and progression by choosing between different things to do on your day off, like volunteering for a youth program or streaming NBA 2K21. 

You have to fill in the blanks to your own story through these small choices, interacting with other players via text messages, and your social-media feed, but the crux is focused on being a visible role model and bringing other young girls into the sport, which I think is fantastic. I just wish it had its own self-contained storyline, and I’m disappointed that your female MyPlayer cannot be brought into the main multiplayer space: The City. You can play with other players in The W Online, but playing in a small gym isn’t the same experience as having tons of shops and courts at your disposal. 

The City is an evolution from The Neighborhood, where players come together in a multiplayer space with their created MyPlayers to play pick-up games and shop. The City is a big attraction, and exclusive for this next-gen version of the game. It’s clear Visual Concepts has some big ideas for it, as you get assigned an alliance and help build up its reputation by participating in events. I enjoy walking through this massive metropolis, stumbling upon special vendors selling unique apparel, and unlocking special challenges like teaming up with cover star Damian Lillard to take on legends Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter. You even get to spin a wheel for a daily log-in bonus that gives you cool freebies. Most recently, I scored a free tattoo, which made me happy because spending VC (which you can earn in-game or spend real money to acquire) isn’t my thing, especially for cosmetic items. Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you’re most likely going to be grinding to get anything cool or hoping your luck serves you well when you spin the wheel – though I have yet to get a high-tier item that way. Good items are very expensive, and grinding for them requires an unreasonable amount of patience; it feels like a blatant effort to drive players toward microtransactions, which feels gross. 

The City is a cool idea, but it is also where the biggest problems surface. To enter The City, you must first get your rank up by grinding out wins in Rookieville. This is miserable, as you’re in a sequestered area where you can’t access any part of The City and must just wait for games and play with others. Losses don’t do much for your rank, so every game feels like you’re fighting for entry to the show. I encountered many players who had clearly bought VC to boost their character’s stats and put themselves at the best advantage – which makes it even harder to win if you don’t pay real money yourself. 

As I walked around Rookieville, I rarely came across a player who wasn’t rated 86 or higher. Badges only further complicate this, because badges can let you make unrealistic shots or avoid easy steals. This has made me hate online play, because the games don’t unfold fairly or realistically. They’re just not fun. Visual Concepts needs to figure out a better way to reward teamwork, because players don’t want to pass the ball and just shoot all day long with these modifiers. It’s becoming more of a problem, especially as online play continues to be a focus. 

Outside of these frustrations, you can still expect the other basic modes and some tweaks. My NBA is now an all-encompassing franchise mode, combining MyGM, MyLeague, and MyLeague Online. It gives you more customization options than ever before, from toggling certain league rules to bypassing some of the annoying role-playing elements. MyGM is still in need of a complete overhaul, even if I do appreciate the revamped boom/bust system and more variation in player potentials. I also enjoyed that there are some little variations from the old-gen version, such as a new path in Junior’s MyPlayer story, where you can join the G-League and brush shoulders with some familiar players from the series’ fiction. 

NBA 2K21’s full-team on-court action plays the best it ever has, and the graphical leap is impressive to boot, but it still comes up short in some key areas. Visual Concepts still hasn’t figured out a great way to elevate its online play, and microtransactions continue to destroy what should be a fun part of the experience. I love creating specular plays and the thrill of sinking a buzzer-beating three, but the moment I walk into the online space, that feeling evaporates. It becomes about the money, not about the love of the game. 

The full-team on-court action plays the best it ever has, and the graphical leap is impressive to boot, but it still comes up short in some key areas.

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NBA 2K21 Introduces The City, A New Multiplayer Experience For New-Gen Consoles

With the imminent launch of NBA 2K21 for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, Visual Concepts and 2K Games hasn’t held back on the reveals, providing insight into the improved gameplay, enhanced A.I., and new WNBA experience “The W.”  Visual Concepts didn’t stop there with the upgrades, pulling back the curtain today on “The City,” which is the largest multiplayer environment in 2K History. 

The City is an evolution from The Neighborhood, which fans will remember was preceded by The Park, but the goal has always been the same: To bring together a virtual basketball community. “Imagine a map that is many, many times larger than previous Neighborhoods,” writes executive producer Erick Boenisch in the most recent Courtside Report. “A design that resembles a modern metropolis, complete with towering skyscrapers, sprawling plazas, and a city center. Oh, and it houses four distinct boroughs that are controlled by four rival Affiliations. And with that, I’m incredibly proud to announce that Affiliations are BACK!”

Yes, one of the most-requested features is returning. You can choose to be a part of one of four different Affiliations: North Side Knights, South City Vipers, Beasts of the East, or Western Wildcats. Each one has its own dedicated borough and set of courts. All you need to do to get assigned to one is up your rep to Pro 1 by winning a few games in Rookieville. Don’t get the Affiliation you desire? You can head to City Hall and file a transfer request, but best to do this sooner than later as it resets your level to where you started at Pro 1.

Your Affiliation will fight to run The City and gain the ultimate bragging rights. You help by increasing your player rep and participating in events such as Rival Day Conquest and Rival Day Championship. Win the latter to get the crown, and not only will you pick up a sweet VC check, but your Mayor (yes, you select someone to represent your interests!) deck out your borough. Mayors get to pick the court design, murals, uniforms, music playlists, and create videos for the jumbotrons. 

“For the launch of NBA 2K21, we have hand-selected the initial candidates for mayors (spoiler: they will be some of the biggest names from the NBA 2K community; you know all of them!),” Boenisch says. “These four big-time community influencers will be leading the charge for our Mayor program. But these positions aren’t permanent! Every six weeks, we will be holding an election week in the game where you, the community representing your Affiliation, will have the final say on who becomes the next Mayor to represent the cause.” 

The City is so vast, so Visual Concepts spent time improving on ways for you to traverse it. You can grind its plentiful rails with a skateboard, show off tricks on your BMX bike, and even take out a new vehicle called The Chopper, which isn’t the fastest bike, but it does make a flashy statement.  A new dancing system has also been put in place alongside more cosmetic options for apparel, hair, and accessories. 

Visual Concepts also created an array of courts and different games to play on them. For instance, exploring the city you might find basketball hoops attached to the side of buildings. These “Garage Hoops” allow you to play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, HORSE, and more, providing great VC awards for those who seek them out. 

For a full great breakdown of everything The City has to offer, check out the full Courtside Report here. 

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NBA 2K21 Kicks Off New Ratings Reveal With LeBron James As Highest-Rated Player

NBA 2K21 is putting on a show, revealing over 25 player ratings alongside exclusive NBA player reaction videos to their marks throughout the day. 

The man at the top of the ratings needs no introduction: LeBron James. As the first big reveal of the day, the NBA Finals MVP gets a 98 rating, making him the highest-rated player in the game. A tough act to follow, 2K Games and Visual Concepts also revealed the ratings of his fellow Los Angeles Lakers championship starting squad: Anthony Davis (96), Danny Green (76), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (76) and Alex Caruso (75). 

Keep checking 2K’s Twitter throughout the day to see more ratings, which I’m sure we’ll all agree on and not have any arguments about at all. 

The ratings will be reflected in both the current-gen and new-gen versions of NBA 2K21. The game launches November 10 on Xbox Series X/S and PS5 on November 12.

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