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Russell Westbrook on the cover of NBA Live 16

Can Russ propel the under-performing "NBA Live" series to new heights?

It's-a-me, Westbrook-io!
It's-a-me, Westbrook-io!
William Bennett Berry

It was announced yesterday that Russell Westbrook would grace the cover of NBA Live 16. Westbrook becomes the second player in Thunder history to grace the cover of a basketball video game. Kevin Durant is the only other, having appeared on the cover of NBA 2K13 and NBA 2K15.

NBA Live was historically the definitive NBA simulation for home consoles and PC. However, Live noticeably lost popularity in the late 2000s. An outdated engine and general lack of game modes contributed to Live's decline, as well as the rise of the NBA 2K series. With Live's sales declining, Electronic Arts re-named the series "NBA Elite" and attempted to reconstruct the game engine. The results were disastrous, as the NBA Elite 11 demo was released full of game-breaking bugs. EA was embarrassed, and decided to pull the plug on NBA Elite 11. (Kevin Durant, strangely enough, was slated to be on the cover of the doomed NBA Elite 11.)

With that, 2K established themselves as the undisputed champ of NBA video games. The only other competitor was Sony's "NBA" series. Sony's NBA games were always a distant third, as they were Playstation exclusives and focused on a really silly career mode. Sony stopped making NBA games after 2009, a year before EA stopped making NBA Live. This left the years of 2011-2013 with 2K as the sole NBA video game.

However, NBA Live made a glorious return to the market in 2014. NBA Live 14 was universally derided, suffering growing pains from being completely rebuilt for modern hardware. NBA Live 15 was a bit more of a success, establishing unique control schemes and more refined graphics. However, 2K is still the undisputed king of sales and popularity in terms of NBA video games. NBA Live is simply not as deep or refined at this point. Furthermore, according to VGCharts.com, NBA Live 15 has only sold 220,000 units globally. NBA 2K15 has sold 5.12 million.

Still several top 2K players have repeatedly complained about quirks in 2K's gameplay and a broken MyTeam mode. So the door is definitely open for NBA Live 16 to gain significant market share. NBA 2K16 is slated to be released on September 29th, while NBA Live 16 is still without a release date.