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NBA 2K21’s player creation will include women, but not until next generation

They won’t be in NBA 2K21 on PS4 or Xbox One, but will when the PS5 and Series X launch

Closeup of WNBA star Breanna Stewart in uniform with a crowd in the background.
The Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart, as she appeared in NBA 2K20.
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 will, for the first time, include playable, user-created female avatars in its MyPlayer suite of offerings, but the feature won’t join the game until the next-generation edition launches for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

Visual Concepts, the 2K-owned studio that makes the game, won’t say more about the next generation version of NBA 2K21 until after the current edition launches next week. But it’s another step in bringing the WNBA and women’s players to full parity in the NBA 2K series’ modes and offerings. Last year, NBA 2K20 added the WNBA to its MyLeague mode, allowing players the multi-season control, management, and development of a women’s basketball team for the first time.

A news release prior to a Q&A with Visual Concepts developers on Wednesday mentioned that NBA 2K21 players “will be able to create a female customizable MyPlayer,” the game’s name for the avatar used in several modes. MyPlayers participate in a variety of co-operative/competitive games, and have a progression system that ranks up their skills as they earn (or buy) and outfit them with custom shoes and other looks.

Erick Boenisch, NBA 2K21’s executive producer, said only that NBA 2K21 will have “some new features and evolutions for WNBA and next-gen [consoles]; stay tuned for that.” It leaves unanswered whether there will be a WNBA component to the single-player career. Male superstars play in both the pick-up games and on an NBA team in a multi-season career.

A fictitious player for the Michigan State Spartans cradles a basketball in NBA 2K21
“Junior,” the player users will create in NBA 2K21’s narrative mode, can attend one of 10 real-life colleges returning to the video game.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports

EA Sports’ NBA Live 19, which launched in 2018, had created female players in its competing mode, The One, but they only played in a world tour of mixed-gender all-star teams, and in NBA Live’s online co-op/competitive modes. The year before, NBA Live 18 was the first game to feature the WNBA, but it didn’t give that league any kind of persistent or long-playing mode; It was a one-off, play-now game only.

It’s also unclear how, if at all, the narrative that serves as a prelude to MyCareer would involve women. NBA 2K21 on current consoles and PC, launching Sept. 4, will introduce a new persona for players — “Junior,” the son of a famous NBA player living with the weight of big expectations. Junior’s story, called “The Long Shadow,” returns real-life college teams to the story, with players choosing from 10 universities to begin their career. Connecticut, Florida, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Texas Tech, UCLA, Villanova, and West Virginia are signed for the game.

NBA 2K19 and NBA 2K20’s story mode didn’t feature real-life colleges. Their narratives involved overseas basketball, the NBA’s developmental league, and a fictitious university as the setting for a conflict between the player character and his coach. The series has used them in the past to add flavor to a player’s backstory.

Ben Bishop, Visual Concepts’ senior producer in charge of MyCareer, said The Long Shadow will actually begin in high school, as the game onboards players both new and returning with games of progressive difficulty.

A smiling basketball player in the home white jersey of the Los Angeles Lakers
Of course, Junior eventually makes the league, and if “The Long Shadow” is anything like last year’s “When Lights are Brightest,” players will be able to choose which team they end up on.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports

“The beginning of your career leading you into the NBA, I think, was important this year, especially given a lot of the ways that gameplay has changed,” Bishop said Wednesday. “I think the ramp-up from high school and then into college, which is a little less challenging than playing against NBA players, is a good way to get your feet wet and learn the mechanics as you work your way toward starting.”

NBA 2K21’s gameplay director, Mike Wang, discussed new control systems coming to the game in a developer diary two weeks ago. That includes a new shooting method, called Shot Stick Aiming, which should make that part of the game more determinative. It’s optional. Those who prefer the old controls may still use them.

Bishop said the story turns in The Long Shadow will have long-term effects on the player’s career. For example, in the choice of agents, one will allow players to earn fans through the games he plays in The Park (the co-op/competitive mode outside the NBA’s season). Fans are a measure of player popularity in career and deliver perks, cosmetics, or other unlockables.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a compelling decision for people, and that will change depending on how you like to play the game,” Bishop said.

Overhead shot of six colorful basketball courts in a coastal Southern California location.
“The Beach” is the newest location in NBA 2K21’s Neighborhood hub world.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports

Elsewhere, The Neighborhood — the hub world where players start all of their activities in the MyCareer mode — will get a new locale: The Beach. It’s inspired by the street courts of Southern California, such as Los Angeles’ Venice Beach Basketball Courts.

NBA 2K21 launches Sept. 4, 2020 on Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions will follow when those consoles launch later this year. A free demo is available now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Progression in NBA 2K21’s MyTeam, as well as the Virtual Currency serving all modes of play, will carry over from one console generation to the next (provided it’s within the same console series).

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