This year’s “NBA Live 19” breaks new ground as the first professional sports game to offer mixed gender competition, continuing a progressive trend from developer EA Sports.
Equal representation of both genders has been a struggle for the video game industry, with major developers often more interested in pleasing core male gamers than engaging the ever-growing audience of women playing video games. But EA Sports has quietly been taking strides to create games that reflect a global athletic community and include women competing at the highest level of their respective fields of competition.
EA Sports’s NHL franchise was the first to allow female create-a-players in a professional sports game in 2011. In 2015, EA added 12 international women’s teams to “FIFA 16,” another first. The following year, female fighters entered the octagon for “EA Sports UFC 2,” with Ronda Rousey, the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion at the time, sharing the cover with Men’s Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor.
So, maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when EA announced last year that “NBA Live 18” would feature all 12 WNBA teams and their rosters.
The move was announced just a month before the game’s release, but came as a welcome addition for fans of the WNBA and women’s sports in general. It was the first time WNBA teams were included in a video game in the league’s 21-year history. However, the WNBA teams were limited to only playing each other in the game, and the announcers did not reference specific players during commentary. Despite their inclusion, the WNBA portion of the “NBA Live 18” seemed more like a fun novelty than a part of the core game.
“NBA Live 19” addresses this issue by placing women front and center in the game’s career mode, dubbed The One. Players can create and play as a woman or man, and are placed alongside mixed gender teams of NBA and WNBA players. As a game mode, The One is focused on building the best possible streetball team to dominate courts across the world. Facing off against different stars will allow you to unlock them for your team, encouraging players to experiment and find the best combination of men and women.
Male and female players are judged by the same attributes, and there’s no apparent gender disparity when playing mixed-gender games. Player abilities are still based on their real life counterparts, but men and women don’t have any trouble squaring up against one another anywhere on the court. The place where things seemed to differ the most was height; taller players had an easier time coming down with rebounds near the basket, as they should. That said, my 5-foot, 5-inch player had no problem dunking on the boys during her first game.
While inclusion of women is much more satisfying than last year, there’s still room for growth towards equal representation in “NBA Live 19.”
WNBA teams are still limited to a single exhibition mode, meaning that fans cannot play through a full season of WNBA basketball the way they might with a regular NBA team. Likewise, playing as a woman in The One mode means that you are relegated to streetball courts, rather than being able to join your favorite WNBA team and compete in a more traditional version of pro ball.
The progress is definitely appreciated though. Hopefully EA’s continued dedication to including women in their sports games will lead more developers to acknowledge the vast number of women who are interested in sports and playing video games.