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(W)NBA Live: The beginning of a mainstream takeover

For the first time in its 21-year history, the WNBA will be emulated in video game form, with the announcement from EA that WNBA rosters will be added to NBA Live 18.

Jewell Loyd, NBA Live 18, EA Sports Courtesy by Brad Hilderbrand

Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook...Diana Taurasi?

It’s known that boys and girls alike both love playing basketball. They love emulating their favorite players while playing streetball, they absorb every spine-tingling slam dunk on YouTube, and most of all, they play with their favorite teams on their console of choice.

And now, it seems like Electronic Arts is looking to appeal to more of the lady ballers, as they announced Thursday that for the first time, WNBA rosters will be added to the NBA LIVE franchise, as part of NBA LIVE 18.

Let’s see how the transition to the video game industry could work (or backfire) on the WNBA’s behalf.

PRO: MAINSTREAM APPEAL

The NBA LIVE franchise has been around for 21 years, though the latest installment will be its first release in two years.

The last couple of releases, while receiving ok reviews, have not been as receptive. So it’s understandable that EA decided it needed to switch things up. Making the bold move to include the WNBA into its newest installment definitely counts.

Look at how women’s basketball has been received over the last couple of years. The women’s NCAA Final Four this year was must-see television; the last three WNBA Finals have averaged 541,000 viewers a year. While it may not compare to the men’s game, the women’s game has shown that it is not a force to be ignored. EA saw that.

In North America alone, EA’s last release, NBA LIVE 16, has sold over 10 million units as of June. In the rest of the world, it has sold seven million. Think about that. Include their two releases prior to that (NBA LIVE 14 and 15), and you’re looking at over 64 MILLION new potential fans that the WNBA didn’t have prior. That’s a lot of outreach.

PRO: MARKETING POTENTIAL

The WNBA Draft class of 2017 couldn’t have lucked out anymore, as their class will be the first to be included in this historical game.

The potential of possibly being a cover star, the chance to tell your nephews and nieces they can finally be like you, etc. is more than enough reason to promote this game. And for the ever-changing league, the idea of potentially having your own video game down the road is something they need to embrace.

With the inclusion of live streaming games on Twitter, to finally having fan voting in the All-Star game, the WNBA is making positive strides toward marketing itself to a broader fan base. And now, they have the video-game market in its pockets.

If the league and EA can come up with a great marketing game plan, and sales go higher than projected, who knows? We may see a standalone WNBA Live 19, which would fulfill the fans desires of possibly having some of the old-school players make an appearance.

Think of the potential dream matchups if the WNBA had its own game. The 2014 Phoenix Mercury vs. the 1999 Houston Comets, the 2016 Sparks or 2016 Lynx against the 1996 Olympic Dream Team? Can you envision prime Maya Moore going up against prime Rebecca Lobo or Candace Parker against prime Lisa Leslie?

CON: WRONG PARTNERSHIP

It’s no secret that the NBA LIVE franchise has basically been usurped by the NBA 2K franchise owned by Visual Concepts. In less than a year, NBA 2K17 has sold over 3 million units worldwide and has owned the basketball video game market for most of this decade.

The smart move would have been for the WNBA to reach out to Visual Concepts and try to build a partnership with them. Considering its appeal to the younger generation of ballers both male and female, there was a chance for a quicker return on its investment by way of more players.

However, it is possible that Visual Concepts didn’t see the WNBA as enough of a draw to consider making it part of the 2K franchise. And honestly, this could be seen as a con for them as well. If NBA Live 18 outsells NBA 2K18 in the first few weeks, then Visual Concepts may have to think twice about reaching out to the WNBA for 2019.

CON: IS THE GAMING PUBLIC READY?

The everlasting argument for why people don’t watch women’s basketball is simple: the game just isn’t captivating enough. There are no rivalries; the players aren’t as skilled as the men or don’t have enough personality; there’s no real face of the league.

And sure enough, as news got out about the WNBA being featured on NBA LIVE 18, the hate came out quickly. Tweets from traditional gamers came out in droves, making fun of the history being made.

Players like Karima Christmas-Kelly of the Dallas WIngs weren’t about to let a few bad apples spoil the big news, however.

Are gamers ready for women’s basketball to be on the big stage?

Time will tell. And the WNBA and EA will have to work together to show the world, that women’s basketball is just as captivating on your console, as it is in real life.