Can the NBA 2K League become a league of its own?

The world got its first glimpse of the NBA 2K League in action with the successful run of its inaugural tournament, the Tipoff. From what had been shown so far, what can we expect coming into the regular season?

STAR POWER

For the most part, casual fans watch the NBA for its stars, their highlight-worthy plays and ensuing reactions fuel masses of social media posts and attract millions of viewers. Thankfully, the 2K League has this in spades. While the virtual league cannot fully emulate the performances seen in its real-life counterpart, its players can stuff stat sheets and highlight reels just as well.

Tipoff MVP Ethan “Radiant” White expertly ran an offense as well as any superstar guard in the NBA, averaging 19 points and 12 assists throughout the tournament along with a finals-clinching statline of 17 points, 14 assists, and 7 steals.

READ MORE: 76ers GC win NBA 2K League’s inaugural Tipoff tournament

Fans of the 2K League can even draw parallels with the NBA if they want to, as with franchises like the Cavs Legion GC, which seemed to have gotten its own version of LeBron James in Brandon ‘Hood is Glitchy’ Caicedo, who posted two 46-point games and averaged 36.6 points per game in his debut.

Brandon ‘Hood is Glitchy’ Caicedo has quickly set himself as one of the premier scorers of the 2K League. Image courtesy of NBA 2K League Twitter.

READ MORE: Cavaliers Legion, Pistons GT shine in 2K League’s Tipoff tournament

Narratives matter too. While the players’ on-court performances will be the driving force behind the league’s ascent, whatever happens off-court will be what fuels it. Admit it, the NBA is made all the more better by the drama amongst and between its players, coaches, teams, and fanbases. 2K League drama is already shaping up it seems as Artreyo “Dimez” Boyd, the league’s #1 overall pick, has been quite the divisive figure, garnering both hate and praise as if he was LeBron James. It’s only fitting that the 23-year old also came from Cleveland.

The league’s first set of stars are on the rise, and while others waiting for their chance to shine loom on the horizon, their stage has yet to be set.

PRODUCTION VALUE

Every rim-rocking dunk or net-scorching three is noteworthy in and of itself, but a lot of other things are needed to make that full experience. First, you need good commentary to capture the play in all its hype and glory, and Scott Cole, Dirk JDR, Larry Ridley, and Phil Wius all proved that basketball commentary can translate well into its video game counterpart. The audio for the commentary blending into the sounds of the in-game crowd was a nice touch too.

The stage design and setup has been great as well, as the teams are close enough that every good play gives players a great opportunity to stand up and let out some of their feelings (to say the least). Here’s a great example:

The players have been outstanding both on the microphone and on camera, showing the same drive as NBA players do on the court, and the same composure off of it. It’s a good sign that the players can represent both their teams and the league itself well, especially considering the stereotype of esports pros and fans alike to be unruly at times, to say the least.

GAMEPLAY BALANCE

For those unaware, the 2K League uses a modified version of Pro-Am mode, with 5-on-5 matches where the players choose from a pool of archetypes with preset skills for each position,  to ensure parity.

While the system has worked well enough so far, it seems that it has yet to be fully utilized. Most teams started running with 5-Out setups, with not a lot of sets or off-ball movement, but started inching towards the midrange as the tournament progressed. But as plays got tighter inside, teams reverted back to playing from behind the three-point line. While tournament play provided only a small sample size, teams need to get creative quick if they want to stay ahead of the pack.

The league also has to address the three-second clock as soon as possible. Currently, it feels more like 5 seconds. Teams have abused this by camping their bigs inside and getting them to pump-fake for years to get easy buckets, making defending the paint virtually impossible.

Timeouts have also been abused in potential dead ball situations, allowing the team about to lose the ball to keep possession, even if it appears they already lost it.

While these issues appear to be minor, they can be potentially game-breaking, and would have to be resolved either before or during the regular season if the league wants things to run smoothly.

Lastly, my biggest gripe with the 2K League so far has been the utter lack of stats. Aside from the box score at the end of each game, there haven’t been much to show. It’s a minor nitpick, sure, but just looking at the box score is deceptive, and more advanced stats would be helpful to track player and team performances down the line.

But all in all, there’s good reason to be excited for fans of 2K. From what has been shown to us so far, the 2K League seems to be in a good place and is poised to grow, but it still has a lot of ground to cover before it can come to its own.

The regular season begins on May 11. Catch all the action in the league’s official Twitch channel.

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