Chatting with Ronnie 2K about player ratings, Jayson Tatum, Victor Wembanyama and more

Each year, fans and players eagerly await the latest edition of the hit video game, NBA 2K. Each iteration comes with new updates, versions and player ratings. This generates conversation, viral moments, and buzz as the new game and the new NBA season prepare to launch.

NBA 2K24 will release on Sept. 8 and comes in three distinct editions, each honoring the late Kobe Bryant. This year’s version of the game also allows for crossplay, meaning users on different gaming consoles can still play with their friends online. NBA 2K24 represents a big moment for the game and comes with a few other changes to come as well.

To learn more about player ratings, crossplay and other exciting updates from the game, our Cameron Tabatabaie once again linked up with head of lifestyle and content marketing for 2K Sports, Ronnie Singh, better known as Ronnie 2K. They discussed the game itself and the upcoming 2023-24 NBA season.

Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Cameron Tabatabaie: We’re checking in with Ronnie 2K, the head of lifestyle and content marketing for 2K Sports, and, specifically, NBA 2K.

We’re about a month away from NBA 2K24’s launch, so let’s start with that, Ronnie. Not only is it the 25th anniversary of the game, but you’re launching three distinct Kobe Bryant editions. What’s the mood over at 2K Sports and how are you feeling about this launch?

Ronnie 2K: We’re really excited. Obviously, it’s a big one for us. Twenty-five years of history is a lot to celebrate and a lot to be excited about.

Of course, you gotta lead with crossplay. We’re letting the community come together, Playstation, Xbox — doesn’t matter. You are just playing together and really trying to find out who the best players are regardless of console. That should be really fun to see.

With Kobe on the cover and getting to pay homage to him again, that’s very exciting, too.

It’s just that time of year when we get really amped at our offices because we’re on the verge of just dropping a ton of info and we can’t wait for the community to see it and react.

CT: It’s obviously a huge deal on social right now, the players, the fans,  everyone’s getting pumped about player ratings and things like that. But the cross-play element is super fascinating.

I want to ask you about how that sausage gets made. How long ago did you first want to try crossplay and why did you pick this year to launch it?

R2K: It’s been a several-year journey. I think that we’ve always wanted to do it. It’s not relegated to one mode like other games, though, it’s our entire game. That’s really exciting.

But to do that functionally, there’s a lot involved, right? You have to do it with two different systems and how they speak to their own consumers. You have the different networks, game chats and have to establish your own version of that. It’s challenging.

We wanted to do that throughout the game, to make it very, very user-friendly, and we’re really excited about people getting a taste of it.

CT: We’re about a month away, and you and your team at 2K have been revealing player ratings, but you’ve done so in an interesting way. You did one big blast, revealing the ratings for some of the biggest names in the game and now you’re kind of teasing out individual players’ ratings. I have a marketing background, so I’m going to ask you about the marketing angle first, and then we’ll get into the ratings themselves.

How did you decide to kind of do this slow drip on social? Are you happy with how you’re generating conversations and reactions and things like that? What was the ideation behind that?

R2K: There are a lot of ways that we’ve done this historically. Sometimes we let the players lead. We put out a call out and say, ‘Hey, if anybody wants a rating, come get it.’

Sometimes we lead with the big names in the game. There are a variety of ways that we’ve done it. This one’s been really cool. We came out with the rookies a little bit and I kind of set the tone for the next generation.

Then, (on Wednesday), we dropped all the big names: MVPs, former cover athletes, all of the big guys. Now, we’re sort of starting to get everybody in between. I think that there are just different kinds of ways to slice that onion, but it always leads to the same conversation, which is my rating versus other players’ ratings.

You see, a little bit of that percolating on social and people really like diving in and getting into the discussion. I just think that it’s a really ripping topic when the players own that conversation. And then our larger community jumps in.

This year, we don’t have a 99 club, right? That creates a lot more conversation around where these guys stack up. We have six guys at 96, which was really interesting because usually, we do have some differentiation. But the level of talent here is so high. We haven’t had this many 95 pluses in so many years. But I think this is the year where you’re just seeing the top players really be at such a high level above. It’s been really fun to see.

CT: I wanted to ask about that. Do you think a product of what the players are doing on the court? Or have you refined the player rating system? This kind of a different tier system, what do you think’s driving that?

R2K: I think it’s more the former than the latter. The formula obviously always goes through tweaks every single year. But I think it’s really the level of play, especially with that upper tier of guys.

There were three guys that could’ve won the MVP last year. Then you have Steph, LeBron, KD — they all belong right up there right?

I think it’s quite the honor that Jokic is two steps above the rest. I think that’s really, really amazing. His play in the playoffs, just being a triple-double machine, his size, his defense.

CT: So last year, Jaylen Brown tweeted at you guys about how he didn’t like his player rating. Recently, Jamal Murray said something on Twitter about his jump shot.

What’s the conversation behind closed doors like at 2K when players reach out? Obviously, it’s great marketing, and it’s a lot of fun. But do you ever get engineers saying, ‘Hey, get Murray off my back? We worked hard for this rating.’ What is the conversation behind the scenes like?

R2K: Obviously, the publicity thing speaks for itself. There definitely is that conversation of why is this guy upset about his rating. You want to defend what you put so much time and thought into, especially when there’s a formula it’s all based on.

A jump shot is a little different, though. I think we have some things cooking real soon that I think will make players like Jamal really happy about what their jump shot looks like.

So, I actually responded to him. I said, ‘I know you haven’t seen 2K24 yet, I know you’re talking about 2K23.’

It’s going to be really exciting to see what he says after we show our first gameplay. I think he and the rest of the community are going to be super pumped about what we’ve got in store.

CT: Let’s talk about the Celtics for a moment. Jayson Tatum came in at a 95 overall. Jaylen came in at an 89.

I know that you’re not sitting there with an abacus crunching the numbers yourself, were either of these surprising to you?

R2K: No, I don’t think so.

Obviously, Jaylen now has the richest contract in the NBA. But I think an 89 is a very, very strong rating. It’s going to be really interesting to see how he reacts to that.

Tatum undoubtedly is one of the best players in the league. He wasn’t in that 96 tier, but just a notch below it. I would assume that he’d be thrilled with the number that he has.

Outside of those guys, there’s nobody else I don’t think that has two guys in that 90-ish range. It’s going to get a lot of people playing with the Celtics and it should be really fun to see what the real-life product looks like with that continuity.

CT: Playing with the Celtics with Kristaps Porzingis added on 2K is a lot of fun. It fits like a glove, it’s so easy. The spacing is all there. But video games can only take you so far. What do you think of the new-look Celtics?

R2K: I think they’re going to be a lot of fun to play. You mentioned Porzingis. He is a really fun player to play in 2K. He’s just one of those guys, and I think that Boston is going to be a very popular team.

CT: Just have to turn injuries off, I guess.

CT: In last year’s 2K official season simulation, Tatum won MVP and he was in the conversation for a little bit in real life, I would say deservedly. What do you think Tatum would have to do to win it in real life?

R2K: I think he needs to take his game to another level. He lets his actions on the court speak for him. He’s really charismatic when you’re 1-on-1 with him, but doesn’t focus on being a character of the court, which is great in a lot of ways. But it’s also a media contest, right? So I think that has kind of limited his opportunities there.

The play on the court has been amazing. Ultimately, Boston is going to have to be No. 1, they’re going to have to put some distance between them and the rest of the pack in the East. And Tatum’s going to have to be undoubtedly the best player on the court every single night to be in that conversation,

Yes, he was close last year, but I think he’s gotta take another step, especially with that level of talent in the NBA. That’s what anybody that wants to win an MVP has to do. In this era, it has to be a transcendent season to be in that conversation.

CT: He’s got all the bona fides, but to your point, you do really have to level up to get that MVP. And the media narrative thing is not incidental. You have to peek at the right time.

You got to work with Tatum because he was the face of your revamped 2K Mobile. What’d you get out of Tatum? What was he like behind the scenes and what has the feedback on the revamped mobile version been like?

R2K: He is the nicest guy, and he’s also got such a dry sense of humor. He doesn’t put that out there unless it’s on kind of a 1-on-1 level.

I’ve gotten to know him over the years, and his agency has always been really great working with us, as well. Jayson and I have always had a really great relationship. And I think that comedy and the elements of that we really brought it out of each other.

We were messing around with that launch ad and key stuff to try and bring in the eyeballs to the mobile game and also have fun with marketing. Ultimately, we are a video game company and want to challenge our community to enjoy and have fun. That was a really, really great kind of shoot and one that I was really excited to have Jayson involved with.

CT: I just have a couple of miscellaneous questions.

I wanted to ask you about Victor Wembanyama. Today on social, you revealed Wembanyama’s player rating, which was an 84. It’s got to be one of the highest rookie ratings, right?

R2K: It is one of the highest rookie ratings ever. We had Zion at an 81.

The ratings scale drastically changed around NBA 2K15. That’s where it got really hard, as we were adding all the legends so the rating thing became a little bit more challenging since that time.

CT: What did you think of Wembanyama? He seems like a super characteristic kid.

R2K: Super, super charismatic. I think he was really absorbing the experience.

Those first few days in summer league were challenging for him, and that’s where we shot that spot. He had just come from France, he had a tough first game. He had a lot of people questioning him, and then he had a monster second game. We shot in the middle of that. The guy was confident, high-spirited and just really a pleasure on set. I really look forward, obviously with his tremendous potential, to working with him a ton more in his career.

CT: I don’t know if it’s too early, but some people have pegged Chet Holmgren as the person who might take Rookie of the Year out of Wembanyama’s hands.

You’ve worked closely with Chet before as well. Do you think Chet has a chance to get Rookie of the Year?

R2K: I definitely think he has a chance. I think that team is going to be a lot of fun, like a lot of fun, and he looks good.

We saw him at summer league. He played really well in the limited showcase there. And he just looks like he’s evolved a little bit. And that I think he’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder that people have sort of forgotten him.

So I definitely think that he’s going to be right there at the top of the list, and he’s definitely going to make a name for himself this year. I’m a big believer in Chet’s game.

CT: Alright, a few more. Between the trio of MVP candidates, whether Giannis Antetokoumpo, Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic, make your case for one of them winning MVP next season.

R2K: Oh, that’s a tough one! Wow! I mean you can make a case for all three.

I think I want to make a case for Embiid to go back-to-back, and I’ll tell you why. I think people are sleeping on the win-loss record there, and they had a kind of an interesting season in that they had a couple of streaks where they lost a few games, and I think some of those games could have gone their way. I think that the Sixers are going to be one of the favorites going into the season.

I just think Embiid’s got a taste for it now, and I think he’s going to take it to another level.

But any of those three guys, for sure are your leading three candidates, along with probably Durant in Phoenix. That’s probably it. It’s one of those four, I would say.

CT: Alright, Ronnie 2K, I want to congratulate you on what looks like a really fun launch for 2K24. I will get you out of here with one last question, and I’ll give my answer first to stall, so you can think about it.

I just want you to give me your hottest take for next season, and I’ll stall a little.

My hottest take is that I think the Thunder are going to be good like with a capital G. I think Josh Giddey is ready. I think Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been ready. I think Chet is going to be a huge addition. They have Jalen (Williams) and Jaylin Williams as X factors.

I think my hot take for next season is that the Thunder won’t just be a feel-good story, I think they will be a real player in the Western Conference. I don’t know that they’re going to win the title, but I think the Thunder have arrived. That’s my hot take.

R2K: I don’t think Sacramento was a mirage last year. There are a lot of people saying that they’re going to drop out of the playoffs, and it’s going to be a disaster. I don’t think so.

I think they’re going to be a top-four seed again. And I think they’re going to win a playoff round at least. So I think Sacramento is going to continue to progress as opposed to, and I’m sure you’ve seen that narrative, too, that it was kind of a one-time, one-hit. I don’t subscribe to that.

What about you?  Who do you think is an expected playoff team that isn’t going to make the playoffs?

CT: Man, I don’t know. I don’t want to say anything negative about the Heat. But how many Cinderella runs could the Heat possibly have in them? I mean, everything hinges on their point guard situation.

R2K: You can’t sleep on Jimmy. Playoff Jimmy. Jimmy Buckets in the playoffs. That’s what is.

We take the entire season, but the playoffs are all that matter. Now, will he be as engaged in Game 12 of the season? Probably not. But I think it’s going to be fun, by the end of the season that Butler’s rating is going to actually shake out pretty well.

Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire

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