Q&A: Ronnie 2K on Kevin Durant, JR Smith and Dion Waiters stories, what’s next for NBA 2K, more

Ronnie2k

Q&A: Ronnie 2K on Kevin Durant, JR Smith and Dion Waiters stories, what’s next for NBA 2K, more

Interview

Q&A: Ronnie 2K on Kevin Durant, JR Smith and Dion Waiters stories, what’s next for NBA 2K, more

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NBA 2K23, the hottest sports video game, has taken over Twitter recently, with ratings debated for the league’s top stars.

Ronnie Singh, better known as @Ronnie2K on social media platforms, spoke with HoopsHype and discussed the new additions to NBA 2K23 and behind-the-scenes stories with Kevin Durant, JR Smith, Dion Waiters, and Harrison Barnes. Singh also explained how a player’s rating is determined, how the cover athlete is selected, what’s next for 2K long-term, and more.

What’s a day in the life of Ronnie 2K and the company during launch season?

Ronnie 2K: It’s very hectic, but it’s very dynamic, like there are a lot of different things happening. There are things like this with the press and whatnot. There are a lot of player interactions.

I’ll just give you an example of yesterday. I was going to shoot the holiday spot for 2K, but at the same time, I was back and forth with Devin Booker about trying to stream for the first time with him in the game. Getting his head right, getting his badges right, so we can go out and get people really excited about him playing and looking like himself.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to be talent on camera, and I’m getting messaged by everybody that is in the athlete, celebrity, or music world whether it’s needing their copy, needing their upgrades, or getting their logos. It’s a lot. Of course, the business continues. We also have all of our partnership things that need to stay kind of dynamic and relevant. Our in-game content, whether that’s my team cards or in-game apparel. I’m very involved in that. What’s great, and what I think has kept me here for 15 years more than anything outside of the amazing people I work with, is that no one day is the same as another. I think that that’s what makes it a great workplace. It’s a different challenge every day, and one that’s like fun and relevant sports.

What are some new additions to this year’s game that separate it from past editions?

VINCENT LAFORET/AFP/Getty Images

Ronnie 2K: Every mode has something for everyone, but I think the one that stands out the most, the one that’s getting a lot of press, is the Jordan challenges. The 15 challenges looking back at Michael Jordan’s career and some of the really cool ones like the Kobe (Bryant) passing the torch challenge where it’s really difficult. You have to score like 36 points and hold Kobe to under 20, or something like that. Getting to be the educational device that 2K is and teaching a younger generation about the greatest player of all time is really cool in that mode. The eras also look back at that kind of history and the filters, the commentary that matches that gameplay is really cool. One of my new favorite moments is the triple threat online. You get to take three players from history and play online with your friends and play against CPU, which is really cool. I think what’s gotten the community so thrilled about our game this year is that the gameplay is just next level. It’s so authentic there is. It’s a really stable, fair experience, which has gotten our community really excited to play in the city and my career. I think that it always starts with gameplay, and I think this is by far the best gameplay 2K has ever had.

Which players have given you the most flack over their ratings through the years?

Ronnie 2K: Every year, it’s somebody. It’s always someone who is more and more surprising. You probably saw the Kevin Durant thing a couple of weeks ago where he came after me for not being a 99, and he was pretty upset about it, which was funny because I was texting with KD literally the day before about something else. But over the years, there’s been a lot of them. There are a few that are just consistently that cast of characters. For a long time, it was JR Smith and Dion Waiters. Now, the new generation it’s KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns), and PG (Paul George) gets fired up about it. It’s a variety of guys, which is so cool.

Any interaction that sticks out to you?

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Ronnie 2K: Every year, there’s always one that does. The one I’ll always remember was 2K14. It was really the launching pad of the rating phenomenon. We had ratings in the game for a long time, and people cared. But I’ll never forget Hassan Whiteside had a triple-double on a nationally televised ABC game. After the game on a national audience, they interview him and asked why did he play so well? He said, “Oh, I’m just trying to get my 2K rating up. The next day, he went on Mike and Mike, and this is probably before my very risen prominence in this world, Mike and Mike asked Whiteside, who had reached out to him on social media. He had Beyonce reach out, Rihanna, and all these big names. They asked who’s the person that reached out to you that was coolest. He said, “Ronnie 2K.” And Mike and Mike went deftly silent. They were like, “Who’s that?” I think that was kind of the rise for it, but there are moments every year. This KD thing was crazy. I was getting texted by everyone and the national press. I think that’s so cool that the best NBA player in the world, in my opinion, cares that much about his rating.

How do the players contact you?

Ronnie 2K: Over the years, it’s collected. These NBA players don’t hesitate to share my number, so I’ll get a text once in a while, and it’ll be a new number, and I’ll have no idea who it is. Then they’re fired up, and I have to deal with it. But again, I think it’s one of those things that’s just so great for the brand, and really establishes where 2K’s place is with these athletes. This is our 24th franchise, and a lot of these kids that come in the league now are 18 and 19. They’ve been playing this game their entire lives. I think a lot of them talk about being drafted into the NBA is 1A, but then 1B is getting to be in a video game, getting to be in 2K for the first time, and seeing yourself in the game. I think that this means so much to them. It has really established where we want to sit in that ecosystem.

You had a story once about Harrison Barnes’ wedding and players joking with you about their ratings. Any behind-the-scenes story that topped that?

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Ronnie 2K: That was a good one. There were like 40 NBA players there, and they stopped the procession during the reception and brought that up in the middle of the wedding speeches, which felt really inappropriate, and I felt kind of bad for Brittany, his wife, who’s amazing. I’m actually a little concerned. I’m getting married in a few weeks, and a few NBA guys are coming. I hope this rating thing doesn’t take on a life of its own there. I don’t know how you top that one. That one was pretty crazy. But every year there’s something that happens either on social media or in the real world with the ratings a lot.

How do you choose a player for the 2K cover?

Ronnie 2K: There’s a select group of guys every single year. It’s not everybody in the league, right? Who’s the NBA marketing? Who are we marketing? I’d say that for us, it’s three big things. Number one, they absolutely have to play the game. We want to be authentic. We want people to represent us that are going to know the product and want to talk about the product. Number two is trajectory. We really believe that the guy doesn’t have to be the star of the stars. Otherwise, we’d put Lebron (James), Steph (Curry), or KD on the cover every single year. It’s about somebody that’s on the rise and we believe is going to be the next face of the game. I’d say the third thing is we have a storyline, whether we’re building within our development features with the game, the features itself, or with our marketing features that we want an athlete that’s going to represent that storyline and that creative. That’s how we sort of get to that. Devin (Booker), for example, checked all those boxes. He won the ESPN Player’s Tournament a couple of years ago during the pandemic. He has so much going on trajectory-wise. The Suns are definitely one of the favorites in the NBA again this year. Then, the storylines around him and our narrative around becoming the greatest. It only was fitting to put the greatest 2K player on the 2K23 cover.

Has any player turned down the chance to be on the cover? And who?

Ronnie 2K: Not that I’m aware. I don’t think so. It’s just such an honor to do that. I couldn’t see that happening. Maybe one day, but that’s not happened to date.

Any interesting stories while having a player go through drills with the 2K motion capture?

Ronnie 2K: We’ve had community events at those things where we bring on our content creators, and these guys really know those Youtubers. They grew up watching them in the world. It’s kind of a funny situation where we had them watch because then they were like, “Hey, Come, stand here!” Then they would dunk on them in a motion capture suit. It got kind of scary where we had to put a mat under them for safety issues. Getting an NBA player who’s 7-foot-1 to dunk on you was pretty nuts. The scenes have always had funny dialogue, and these guys are really getting into riffing and stuff, so there have been some really good lines over the years that have come straight from the NBA players’ mouths, as opposed to this acted-out thing. We’re really giving an opportunity to NBA players to become actors and extend their chops there, which I think is super cool over the years.

Any celebrity interaction stories for you at a game where someone talks to you about the game?

Ronnie 2K: I think that’s how the J Cole thing happened for the edition that’s coming out this fall. It wasn’t born yesterday. J and I had a conversation at All-Star 2019. It was the year he wore that Amiri hoodie. I had played in the celebrity game the day before. He came over and was like, “I would love to be in My Career. I’d love to do more with 2K.” Anything great takes time, so we kept in contact. I got my amazing colleague, Alfie Brody, involved. Finally, we had enough momentum to make it happen, especially with everything that, again, I talk about trajectory and what’s going on with the storyline of somebody. For J to play in a league and do some of the things that he did was really authentic to the messaging that we were trying to tell, so he was kind of the perfect partner this particular year. Everybody was so over the moon and thrilled with the cover and so excited for that to release in a few months.

What’s next for NBA 2K down the line as a brand and a game?

Ronnie 2K: That’s a great question. I think back to the last 10 years and the fact that my career has really had this kind of meteoric rise. So 2K10 was the first year we introduced my person. In 13 short years, we’ve burned it into the kind of storyline and the platform that people play, but also the platform where they get educated on fashion brands, awards, all the cosmetic items, and the history of the NBA. I think that’s only going to continue. We’re only scratching the surface. We’ve really become a platform for discovery. Whether it’s those brands but also things around social justice and what we did with the BLM movement a couple of years ago during the pandemic. It’s supposed to foster communities and continue to tell that story. I always say this all the time, which is we’re just scratching the surface on what we can potentially do and how you align with the real world because the basketball world continues to develop and grow. There are storylines, and that’s really exciting for us because we’re not limited to what’s going on with new rosters in the NBA. We continue to develop the game because there’s a brand around basketball, and the cultural periphery around basketball really excites us for the future.

Will NBA 2K24 be a Kobe Bryant edition?

Ronnie 2K: It’s too early, obviously, to talk about 2K24. I’m still so buried by 23, but there are so many things to consider as we head into 24. We definitely talk about future years and what we want to do. We’ll have to see.

What goes into the ratings for players? How do you guys calculate all these different ratings for different things that they do on the court?

Ronnie 2K: There’s obviously all the tangible things, like shooting percentages and whatnot, which affect certain ratings. Then, there are all the mental ones like offensive IQ and defensive IQ, which are things a little less tangible but are substantially understandable about what those are and what those ratings do. I think there are thirty-something mini attributes now that kind of get thrown into a formula and then output this one number that everybody cares about. It’s based on offense, defense, mental, physical, everything about that.

Is there anything else that you’d like to touch on regarding the game?

Ronnie 2K: While I get a lot of the outward kind of messaging with players, fans, and all of that stuff, it’s a really big business. We have hundreds of people that work for us, and all of them are so great. I’m so blessed to work with an amazing group of people because our business continues to grow every year. We have all the dynamic partnerships in the game where you see the billboards and stuff like that, both in the city and also in the game in the arenas. All of that stuff takes a ton of work. Now we have seasons. That’s something that I think your readers should know. Every six weeks we update the game, which means so much stuff. That means new music, which is obviously a lot of work to get licensing with our artists. New apparel and all the licensing work that goes in with the fashion brands that really emotionally move our consumers. All the new my team content, which is one of our most popular modes, and people looking for all those historical players. Not to mention all the marketing wacky stuff that we do to support that. It’s just an amazing organization that has so many passionate people that are trying to put out their best product, listen to the consumer, and continue to build this thing as a lifestyle brand that we are.

Sometimes in the 2K games, some players are almost like cheat codes.

Ronnie 2K: JR Smith in 2K9 is my number one. He was like, for whatever reason, he was God in our game. It was insane. Gerald Green was another one. For a long time, guys that were 3-and-D, super rangy, athletic big wing span guys early in the 2K days were so much better in our game than in real life. I don’t think that’s the case as much anymore. I used to play those games and be the Denver Nuggets. People would ask me why. I was playing with God (Smith) on my team. I was playing with Henny God. There have always been characters. Obviously, JR is amazing at basketball, but in 2K9, he was the best.

You can follow Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) on Twitter. 

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