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NBA 2K21 gives WNBA players a career mode with The W

Next-gen versions of the game bring the women’s league to parity

new york liberty player runs up the court after a made basket in NBA 2K21
The W is video gaming’s first single-player career mode for a women’s team sport. In NBA 2K21 on next-gen consoles, players may create a WNBA player and build out her career on any of the league’s 12 teams.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

NBA 2K21 on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series will introduce The W, the first-ever single-player career mode to feature a women’s professional league. The next-gen version of 2K Sports’ flagship will also allow players to direct a WNBA team, or the entire league, in a franchise mode called MyWNBA.

“Being able to recognize yourself both on and off the court is incredibly important to us,” Felicia Steenhouse, a senior producer with Visual Concepts, said in a statement on Thursday. “The W helps us elevate women’s basketball, and highlights the star power of the WNBA.”

In The W, players may create their own WNBA player and place her on any of the WNBA’s 12 franchises, playing among all of the league’s current athletes. MyWNBA is a dedicated mode akin to NBA 2K’s MyGM mode but for WNBA teams, with features specific to that league and its players’ and franchises’ growth.

In online multiplayer, the WNBA will be featured in The W Online, which involves three-on-three cooperative/competitive games in a venue exclusive to that mode. It does not sound as though female avatars will be a part of the much larger MyPlayer population, which offers The Rec, The Park, and other multiplayer options through a hub world environment.

More will be known when NBA 2K21 launches for Xbox Series X on Nov. 10, and for PlayStation 5 on Nov. 12.

Nevertheless, it brings a women’s league to parity with its male counterpart in a team sports video game for the first time. Visual Concepts added the WNBA to the game last year, where its 12 teams were playable in one-off competition and the MyLeague mode. But the single-player career of NBA 2K’s MyCareer suite, with numerous role-playing and lifestyle features, is by far the game’s dominant mode of play.

There’s no confirmation that these features will be in the version of the game that launched in September for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC. Visual Concepts executive producer Erick Boenisch said in August the WNBA would be coming to MyCareer, but held off on any other details at the time.

Women’s professional sports have made intermittent advances in sports video games over the past decade, mostly in individual sports, where women have had an historically stronger presence. Tennis games have had women professionals for decades. The defunct Tiger Woods PGA Tour series had a full LPGA career in its final edition seven years ago. EA Sports’ UFC franchise has, in its past three installments, included women fighters with a career experience at full parity with male fighters.

In team sports, progress has been slower coming. EA Sports’ NHL series first allowed created female avatars in its Be a Pro mode back in 2011, but their career followed the same as a male player’s. The FIFA franchise has included the women’s national teams for the United States, Canada, and several other countries for the past five years, but they are only playable in one-off games or an unbranded single-elimination tournament.

The on-again/off-again NBA Live series was the first to add WNBA teams and players, in 2017, but it has been dormant since 2018’s NBA Live 19. That game, however, did include women in mixed-gender competition in a single-player suite called The One, but only in a fictitious world tour of streetball games, and not a WNBA season.

MyLeague in NBA 2K20 last year showed that a game could apply all of the career features it offers to a men’s league — multiseason team play, roster management, free agency, dynamic player progression, and the like — to a women’s league. The W will more formally break that out, and bring it closer to the experience offered in MyGM, effectively NBA 2K’s team version of MyCareer. Players can be responsible for directing the future of the league as a whole, elevating its popularity along with their player’s fame, or even setting the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union.

When the next-gen game launches, players will find the Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart as the league’s highest rated player, at 95 overall.