Interview

We talked with Ronnie 2K about your favorite basketball video game

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Ronnie Singh, aka ‘Ronnie 2K’, is the digital marketing director of 2K Sports, the social media face of the game and your source for everything at 2K, actually. He talked with HoopsHype about the passion players show for the game, the new features on 2K17, his sneaker collection and Kobe Bryant‘s impact on the 2K series.

Just a few days away from the release of NBA 2K17, I can’t imagine how busy you are but at the same time you must feel very excited.

Ronnie Singh: Yeah. It is. We work all year… There’s a lot of people that work really hard towards this time of the year, you know just a couple of weeks before launch when everybody, all our fans are very excited to get their hands on the game.

How long have you been involved with 2K?

RS: I’ve been here eight and a half years and this is my ninth NBA game launch.

I’m sure 2K17 will be your favorite from now on, but which 2k edition brings the best memories?

RS: My favorite game is probably… It’s either 2K15 or 2K11. I really think this one [2k17] will be the best one of all time. I know everybody says it every year, but I’ve been pretty honest about what my favorites are. 2K16 was not my favorite of all time… It’s good, it’s a great game and there’s a lot of things that we did that were really great… Spike Lee, all that stuff. But this year the gameplay is extremely smooth and that’s what it comes down to. Gameplay is key to me and at the end of the day this is a basketball game and I think this is our best gameplay of all the editions. So 2K17, 2K15 and 2K11, that would probably be the order that I would take.

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And in terms of our marketing campaign, I liked 2K11 because we worked with great athletes. I really love this campaign too because we work with seven guys who are super passionate about 2K, they play the game all the time. I liked the legends concept in 2K12… Marketing is tough. Every year we have a different challenge. The generational leap, there’s been a couple of times where the game has taken a dramatic improvement, and I’d say this 2K17 is one of those. It’s difficult in a way to sell something that looks the same and make it extremely different to the fans. And it is extremely different as a lot of our guys work really hard to create a lot of new features, a lot of innovation. But to do it every single year so people get excited it’s a challenge, but it’s a really fun one.

2K fans are passionate and the criticism is there every year. How do you manage all that personally?

RS: Those expectations come from having a lot of success. The fans demand a lot, and we have a lot of people involved that are listening on the forums, on Twitter… A lot of people reading stuff. It’s about being competitive with ourselves, and as soon as 2K17 ships we’ll start working on making 2K18 even better.

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Fans are demanding… And now the players too! It’s all about the ratings. Can you tell us something about how the rating process works?

RS: [Laughs] The ratings have always been a very contentious subject because at the end of the day it’s a number, and everybody expects themselves to be the best of the best. So everybody wants to be a 99, and there’s only one 99 in the game, ’95-96 Michael Jordan. We use a ton of formulas, a ton of algorithms, a ton of discussion. So this year LeBron James is a 96 and then everyone kind of falls in line right under him. We used to have more 90’s in our game, our ratings just generally were higher, and we felt like that it didn’t create enough wiggle room to build. We have some really smart people working on the ratings team.

How many players have contacted you personally asking about their ratings?

RS: A couple of hundred. Let me think about that for a second. There’s about 450 players in the league and not all of them are interested. The problem with so many asking is it takes a lot to pull the rating, making sure that everybody has seen it and is comfortable going out. So it’s kind of queued up. We are very passionate about we’re doing. It was quite a queue and it grows every single year. We’ve been doing the ratings thing for a while but this year there were so many requests. Last year there were like 100 and like I said this year there has been like 200.

Any Twitter DMs from NBA players complaining about them? 

RS: Oh yeah, for sure. Absolutely.

You don’t have to say any names… 

RS: I don’t want to throw them under the bus. But listen, it makes sense. Everybody wants to be a 99, everybody compares themselves to other people around their rating and say ‘Hey, I’m better than that guy, I’m better than that other guy’… It’s a really difficult thing to do. The one thing about really seeing the ratings individually is that you don’t really get a context of who they are next to. A lot of people were upset about the [Kristaps] Porzingis rating. He’s an 80, but there’s a lot of guys around him that are definitely on his level and maybe even better. I don’t mean to pick on Porzingis because I think he is one of the future Top 10 basketball players in the Association. I really think that he is. I don’t know if you saw that CJ McCollum tweet about the ratings issue…

Yes, it was great.

RS: It’s really true. That’s what the guys can control. But it means a lot to these guys and that’s really great that they think about the game and its ratings. There’s a few guys that said to me in direct messages something like, “One of the reasons I worked so hard last season was in order to get a better 2K rating.” It’s really funny to me that they love to play basketball and also they get a thrill out of getting their NBA 2K rating.

Players love the ratings and their faces too. Evan Fournier’s character went viral, but now he’s happy with the changes.

RS: He is. That was a really weird one-off situation. I’m not really sure what happened with his scan… Again, we have so many players in the league. But it was fixed immediately, so that makes me believe it wasn’t a problem with his scan or his art or anything like that. It was something else. We work really hard to get this guys’ scan. I’ve thought about this… If you want to make sure it’s right, just come to our office or we’ll come to you and we’ll get it fixed, we’ll get you re-scanned. We’ll probably do that in the coming month.

A couple of days ago you played ball with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. They put on those tight, motion-capture leotards… How was that?

RS: It was great. Those two are extremely passionate about our game, I know both of them for a couple of years. I’ts kind of amazing they’re 20. They are both extremely young but very professional, the 2K game means so much for them and it was a very cool experience.

Towns played the game and tweeted that Stephen Curry was ridiculous. How difficult was for the 2K team to make the virtual Curry play like the real Curry? You look at his game and sometimes it’s like he’s cheating.

RS: We had a lot of discussions about this last year. There was a patch that allowed us to kind of address some of the things Curry was doing. A 35-foot shot for him is like another person’s three-point shot. So he’s like a walking videogame, and the challenge was to make him realistic and relevant to what he is but also not make the game ‘cheesy’ as people say… But he is ‘cheesy’ in real life when launching those shots [laughs]. In fact I don’t think he’s going to be the only one firing from that distance. Damian Lillard and others will do the same and we’ll have to address that in terms of gameplay.

So if I play against the Warriors, I should expect Curry shooting closer to midcourt.

RS: Yeah, you’ll have to definitely pick him up at halfcourt. If not, you’re going to get punished.

How did actor Michael B. Jordan get involved in the project and what will his role be?

RS: It’s funny, actually I met him in New Orleans at the 2014 NBA All-Star Game, so that was before Creed. I’ve always been a fan of his work like Friday Night Lights, Hardball, Fruitvale Station… It was really cool meeting him, and he is such a huge fan of the game. So as busy as he is, we talk every few weeks to keep in touch. After the Spike Lee stuff of last year, we realized our next step on our evolution was to bring an all-star cast. Then Creed came out, and he was so great in that movie. I think he should have been at least an Oscar nominee if not the winner. Then we were having some brainstorming meetings and our head of the studio was like, “Does anybody know how can we get in touch with him?” and I was like, “Yeah, I have his phone number, I’ve been talking with him for a couple of years.” I called him later that day and he was totally over the moon. The development team kind of took over. He worked with us for a few of weeks, shot a lot of scenes with our team… An award-winning actor who is humble and loves your game, it was very cool.

Kobe Bryant has always been part of the 2K series. Did you want to pay tribute to the Black Mamba when he said he was retiring? Was it already planned?

RS: A little bit of both. Nothing comes together in a day. We’ve worked with Kobe for a long time, he has been a great contributor to the franchise, he was our cover on 2K10… Getting his experience and to celebrate his career was really important to us. He’s even relevant in the career mode this year. We have this feature called Doin’ Work and it actually came from an idea Kobe had. It’s not really just getting upgrades about what you do on the court but also behind the scenes. So in MyCourt mode we have this place where you work on your game, and as you practice you pick up career attribute upgrades, and it really came from Kobe.

What are your favorite sneakers?

RS: Oh man… I’ve always loved the ‘What The?’ series from Nike. I really love the Don 2s, those are really cool. I have almost 300 shoes at home that I have collected myself outside of 2K. I’m a bit of a sneakerhead myself and I’m really glad that the sneakers, with the new 3D technology, they look amazing. I sent my Don 2s to my team to scan and then I saw them in game and I’m like “Wow, it’s insane how realistic they are.” You can’t even tell the difference. Somebody texted me and told me, “That’s the real pair.”

Can you tell us the rating of any player that is not known at the moment so we can have a 2K exclusive here at HoopsHype?

RS: Well, let me think… Well, we talked about Lillard before: 89.

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