Take a stroll through your Twitter timeline and you’re bound to see something over and over again. No, we’re not talking about team breakups, arguments over box score screenshots or NBA 2K League draft conspiracy theories. We’re talking about complaints about the 5-Out offense.
No topic in NBA 2K18 has garnered as much discussion or controversy as the 5-Out. It’s an easy to run offense that’s hard to defend against–and hard to watch. Even though Twitch viewership numbers for Pro-Am are as high as they’ve ever been, we’re past the point of pretending it isn’t a problem.
The idea behind 5-Out is simple as far as basketball sets go. Put a man in each corner in your half-court offense, a man near each hash mark at the sidelines, and isolate your main ball handler with a defender to create a one-on-one match up where you dare the opposing team to stop your best player with little help defense.
Should one of the off-ball defenders venture from their man to help, the ball handler can dump it off to the open man for an open three if the defense can’t recover in time.
It’s a tactic used in the NBA, but mixed in with numerous other sets, and the real-life version of the 5-Out is a motion offense where cuts and ball movement are key components. But the way teams use it in the virtual world, there is less ball movement, and point guards a lot of times will make the pass to a cutter too late, if they see the cutter at all. In 2K18, the 5-Out dominates the Pro-Am scene. “The community clings to what works. Copycat community,” Famous Enough, the voice of the Pro-Am community, told DIMER.
“I personally dislike it from my perspective because it doesn’t particularly get everyone involved,” said Mootyy, perhaps the most outspoken player from the PS4 side Throwdown. “It involves the majority of the the time spotting up and watching your guard dribble around attempting to score. But it doesn’t bother me because I’m used to playing my role and shooting when my number is called.”
Certain sets and plays come under scrutiny with every new edition of NBA 2K. Some players are just as frustrated with the Sharpshooter and Brick Wall-badged center pick-and-roll as they are with the 5-Out. It’s something familiar to all of esports, even professional sports. As long as there is competition, competitors will seek out every advantage they can.
What makes the 5-Out particularly problematic, however, is that a significant proportion of the NBA 2K community finds it boring to watch. That’s a potential problem for a new esports league.
Simply put, the NBA 2K League has to be fun to watch for it to succeed.
Teams and players in Pro-Am right now hardly care whether viewers find their style of play appeasing to watch, and they certainly won’t care when they’ll be playing for job security come May and will do anything not to be replaced by the next guy up.
But for a new league to grow, the “on-court” product itself has to be appealing to its audience. Diehard Pro-Am players and the friends and family of league players will tune in every week, but a casual fan may not bother to watch if the games are boring and there are numerous other entertainment options for them.
Professional esports commentator, and hopeful NBA 2K League commentator, Jamie Ruiz made his views clear on the 5-Out when he tweeted about it a little over a week ago, declaring it “boring to watch, boring to commentate.” His comments were met with some controversy.
“It didn’t surprise me. The people defending 5-Out are the ones who started doing it before most people in NBA 2K18, specifically with the 6’10 Pure Playmaker build,” said Ruiz. “So it makes sense as to why they defend it.”
So will the 5-Out be an issue for the league?
Probably not, and for a number of reasons.
It’s important to make clear at this point that this is not a discussion on the effectiveness of 5-Out in 2K18. The top teams use it, the top players use it, and we know it works. The case is closed on that one.
Rather, this is a piece on the watchability of 5-Out, and the impact that may or may not have on the NBA 2K League. This is a crucial distinction.
Now, there are a lot factors to consider when talking about the 5-Out in relevance to the league, but here are a few:
- Metagames shift
- NBA 2K League players will have head coaches and practice regimens, as the league is their full-time job
- The game build the league will be played on is not the same build as the retail version of the game
These are the biggest three, and these will be what we focus on. Here we go.
This is another concept familiar to both esports and professional sports. A game’s “meta” is its current most popular or most effective overall strategy. To apply this to professional sports, the NBA’s current meta is “small ball”, where teams are now putting smaller players who can shoot from range at positions that used to be reserved for big men so that they can open up space around the basket and take a higher number of three-point attempts. The Houston Rockets are the most extreme example of this. Their entire offense is based around either shooting a three-pointer or driving to the basket and getting a shot off at the rim or drawing a foul, sometimes going entire games without shooting a single mid-range shot. It’s why they’re currently the most efficient offense in the NBA.
But the NBA wasn’t always like this. Teams used to start multiple players who couldn’t shoot even 15 feet away from the basket, and post-ups were a larger part of half-court offenses. As offensive and defensive strategies continued to evolve, however, coaches realized the effectiveness of three-pointers. Those strategies will continue to evolve, meaning the way basketball looks today won’t be the same as it looks in 10 years.
In esports, new versions of games or patches shift the meta. League of Legends releases patches that update the balance of the game, and as champions get buffed or nerfed, the meta changes. Franchises like Call of Duty release so many games that each one gives an entirely new meta. Hearthstone, the competitive card game from Blizzard, does both of the above, releasing expansions with dozens of new cards every few months while also changing previously released cards if a certain deck is too strong.
NBA 2K goes through plenty of meta changes due to its annual releases of new games with different mechanics than previous versions. The previously mentioned pick and roll was popular in 2K17, while 7-foot guards roamed the 2K15 courts.
We’ll talk about the new game build the league will be playing on in a minute, but that also ties in to this point. Will there be a new build every season? Will they patch the build when they see fit? Will the build ever even be changed? These are details the league may still be ironing out. But just like in the NBA, offensive and defensive tactics will evolve with every season. Even if 5-Out does somehow remain the meta when the league begins, its time will be limited.
The NBA 2K League is a Full-Time Job
One of the biggest detriments of the Pro-Am scene is the inability to have team members’ schedules perfectly synced. While some have switched to full-time 2K playing, the vast majority of players have jobs, families or other commitments that keep them away from the game. That means, at most, teams will be playing together for a few hours for about five days a week, and that time is spent on competitive Pro-Am play.
That changes with the NBA 2K League. A strict schedule of practices and scrimmages will be in place for each team. Players will now have hours of practice time every week to practice set plays, theorycraft, and gameplan for opposing teams. The ability to run set plays in-game will be one of the biggest differences between Pro-Am as we know it and how league play will look. Pro-Am teams run 5-Out not just because it’s effective, but because there’s little time to practice sets to perfection. Some Pro-Am teams do have sets and plays, it’s true, but their playbook is limited. Improvisation is the king of Pro-Am, but organized play will reign in the league.
The addition of coaches, and potentially analysts, to team staffs will enhance play as well. While some Pro-Am players have played organized basketball at some level and had the benefit of coaching, plenty have only experienced basketball from a spectator’s standpoint or by playing 2K. Even some of those who have been coached haven’t participated in an organized game in years.
Pistons GT Manager of Esports Adam Rubin didn’t hold back in his evaluation of Pro-Am players in a tweet where he declared “99% of the 2k players drafted will have minimal real basketball IQ so coaches will be important in teaching the game…” That’s a scathing review of the best 2K players on the planet, and it’s impossible to put an objective number on that analysis. But while the community was up in arms over that tweet, there’s more than a kernel of truth to it. Defensive rotations and both offensive and defensive concepts are lacking even at the top level of Pro-Am. Watch any team and you’ll see players fail to make basic defensive switches or sag off Pure Sharpshooters in the corner for no reason and leave them open for a three-pointer. Transition defense is also a major issue for most teams. Coaches are needed to keep players focused on these little things, and it’s hard to both play and watch your teammates and tell them what to do. A coach’s perspective is invaluable, and the teams with the best coaches will have an advantage over others in the league.
The League will be Played on a Different Build
This is the most important point, even though at this time there are no details about how exactly the “league build” will differ from the “retail build.” But when asked about the subject, Director of Esports for Monumental Sports & Entertainment Grant Paranjape gave the clearest insight we have so far about the new build.
“From a team perspective, the biggest reason 5-Out likely won’t be as prevalent is that the 2K league will be played on a completely separate development version of 2K, which will take away a lot of what makes 5-Out so successful in the retail version,” he explained.
Assuming the league really is taking community feedback into consideration, one of the changes Paranjape hinted at that would have the biggest impact on the effectiveness of the 5-Out is an adjustment to the frequency of animations, if not getting rid of animations altogether. Animations are the actions and motions your player takes that are out of your control. You can tell your player when to do a layup, but you can’t control how they do a layup, not entirely anyway. It’s the same for dunks and other in-game interactions, and once you’re in an animation there is no way to get out of it until it’s over. Animations are the most random aspect of 2K gameplay, and they make the 5-Out as effective as it is.
How the NBA 2K League deals with animations will be the most important question of their new game build.
“The biggest thing that bugs me about 5-Out is that it’s being used because it’s an exploit in the game right now,” Ruiz said. “The ‘blow by’ animation is known by everyone, so they realize as soon as you make contact, you’re already in front of your defender.”
The “blow by” animation Ruiz refers to is the most infamous animation of 2K18, where a ball handler drives to the basket and is able to simply slip by their defender if they are able to activate the animation, ending up past their man with the defender unable to do anything about it. If the offense is in the 5-Out, it’s more likely than not the blow by will lead to a bucket since no center is there to help.
The snatch back has also drawn ire from the community. The snatch back isn’t really an animation as much as it is a dribble move, but its use in Pro-Am is just as prominent as the blow by. Ball handlers can drive down the lane and use a snatch back to create space between themselves and the defender. The defender either has to have razor-sharp reflexes to recover or try and predict that the ball handler will use the snatch back. If they don’t do either, it’s a wide open mid-range shot for the ball handler.
“You add in the snatch back, and it makes it boring because from both teams, it’s the same thing down the floor over and over again,” Ruiz added. “But I understand completely why [they’re] used.”
You can see the snatch back in use in this game between GFG and Team Caution. Drake Griffin pulls the ball back on Vandy, who can’t recover in time leading to an easy mid-range jumper.
In this game between Primetime Playaz and Lowkey Glitchy, Dymaris actually uses both a blow by and a snatch back to get a shot off near the basket.
Notice how in all three examples (including the GIF of Hood), teams are using the 5-Out, and every player is able to get two points against helpless defenders. The biggest issue is a defender must try and anticipate both the snatch back and the blow by at the same time. One is hard enough to defend against, but combined it becomes a tall task for even the most stout lockdowns. “It’s the most overpowered set in the game with how flawed defending is and how ridiculous ankle breakers are in this 2K,” said Mootyy.
“The community hates it! The main reason is not because it’s boring to watch but because of the animations you’re awarded for running it. If the meta was different and the animations weren’t there, teams wouldn’t run it,” Famous Enough explained. “Even the players who are running 5-Out hate it but they know it’s the easiest offense to run.”
It may be a matter of when, not if, these animations are dealt with by the league. And when they are, it should truly be the death of the 5-Out.
So if you’re still worried about the 5-Out, don’t be. It won’t be long until the league starts, and it won’t be long until the 5-Out is no longer a part of NBA 2K’s top competition. Expect something unlike anything we have seen before. Not only will NBA 2K League play feel fresh, it will be the most exciting virtual basketball to date.
As Paranjape put it, “Players should look forward to a very competitive experience come May!”
Have any suggestions about topics for future opinion pieces? Let us know on Twitter @DIMER2K or by email at DIMER2KNBA@gmail.com!