Since the dawn of the 21st century, two basketball videogame titans have left it all on the virtual court. On one end was Electronic Arts ($EA), whose NBA Live series dated back to 1994 when NBA Live 95 released days before Christmas on the Super NES, Genesis, and MS DOS. On the other was a younger challenger in the NBA 2K series, originally made by Sega ($PRIVATE:SEGA), before it sold 2K series developer Visual Concepts to Take-Two Interactive ($TTWO) in 2005, thus forming 2K Sports.
This year, NBA 2K released its 20th yearly installment in NBA 2K19. EA countered with NBA Live 19, going so far as to sell the game four days before 2K's official worldwide release.
Despite EA's attempts to woo 2K fans over, sales-rank data from number one videogame retailer GameStop ($GME) and streaming data from Twitch.tv reveal that the matchup between NBA 2K19 and NBA Live 19 played out like Game 4 of last year's NBA Finals.
NBA 2K vs. NBA Live 19: GameStop sales rank
Although 2K and NBA Live were sold on a variety of platforms, including on virtual stores for all current videogame consoles, GameStop is still one of the largest retailers in the world. Its sales rank data gives an idea of how both games sold against the rest of GameStop's inventory, which in NBA 2K's case, was incredibly well for its Xbox One and PS4 versions.
NBA 2K19's PS4 version was, in fact, the number one item at GameStop in terms of sales rank from September 8 to September 10. This was a period of time where the game technically wasn't released... Unless gamers bought the more expensive 20th Anniversary Edition, which allowed anyone to play the game starting on September 7 if they pre-ordered it.
NBA 2K19 was also available on the Nintendo Switch and PC, though sales for those versions weren't as great as that of its PS4 and Xbox One releases.
Meanwhile, NBA Live 19 only released for two platforms: the Xbox One and the PS4. On its own, it can claim a strong amount of sales at GameStop, as its PS4 version ranked as high as 153 among all other products sold by the retailer.
But when directly compared to similar versions of NBA 2K, NBA Live 19 gets stepped over as if it were Tyronn Lue, even when looking at NBA Live's best days of sales at GameStop.
In fact, sales of NBA Live 19 are best comparable to that of NBA 2K's Nintendo Switch release. This is a pretty staggering conclusion given how the PS4 and Xbox One not only have been around longer in this generation of consoles, but also have more consoles sold than the Switch.
NBA 2K vs. NBA Live 19: Twitch viewership
Another metric for gauging interest in a videogame is how many people view it on Twitch.tv, the popular streaming website owned by Amazon ($AMZN). As we've reported before, more than 100 million users per month tune in to watch their favorite content creators play what's trending in gaming.
NBA 2K19 isn't getting battle royale game viewership numbers, but it still has a sizable audience of sports videogame fans from the day of its 20th Anniversary Edition release on September 7.
(Note: Each data point represents an hour of that day in Universal Standard Time)
Here's what NBA Live 19 managed to pull during the same time period.
At its most popular time on Twitch.tv, the combined number of viewers on all NBA Live 19 streams was 691 viewers. That is 192 less viewers than what NBA 2K19 pulled in its worst hour of streaming, which was three weeks after its release on September 27.
Granted, NBA 2K has plenty of star power backing its streaming numbers. Outside of individual streaming superstars (and the odd NBA player such as J.R. Smith), viewership for NBA 2K is driven by the NBA 2K League, a professional competitive gaming league co-founded by the NBA and 2K last year. The league gives an avenue for the best 2K players in the world to earn a living out of its $1 million prize pool last year, and official NBA 2K League streams, such as the league's recent expansion draft, are sometimes promoted by the league itself.
NBA Live 19 does not have an equivalent league, nor regular popular streamers to promote its game.
So even when NBA 2K faces severe backlash over its microtransaction system and complaints about gameplay bugs daily on its community Reddit page, it still reigns supreme over the basketball videogame community.
The last notable time EA was losing to 2K was back when ESPN NFL 2K5, regarded as one of the best football videogames of all time, severely outpriced and outsold Madden 2005 in the fall of 2004. Then EA bought the NFL license outright, thus destroying NFL 2K for the foreseeable future.
Would this nuclear option come into play for the NBA? Given that there are zero talks about it and sports videogame fans are still upset about that move nearly 15 years later, chances are slim to none. Though at this rate, NBA Live needs anything to stand a chance against basketball videogame equivalent of the Golden State Warriors.