SEATTLE — With 144 players in the WNBA, the selection of players to choose from is almost overwhelming.

But for Storm All-Star forward Natasha Howard, the choice is simple: She just wants to play as herself.

"It's going to be fun and to actually look like ourselves too, like our hair and our tattoos, especially me looking at myself too," she said. "It's going to be amazing, and I can't wait to play."

The WNBA made its NBA 2K debut in the game's release of 2K20 last Friday. While the WNBA was featured in NBA Live in 2018, this is just the second time the league has been represented in a sports video game. Players were each given an Xbox with a code to download the game prior to its release.

"It means a lot," Howard said. "Like right now it shows the league is growing. We're in the sports games now, that means a lot to us and other young girls and young boys looking up to us. It's a really good feeling to have the WNBA inside the NBA Live, NBA 2k20. It's really amazing to actually be a part of that."

During the WNBA All-Star break in late July in Las Vegas, WNBA players from various teams were body scanned by game designers to record everything from their facial expressions and court movements, to their physical appearances.

More than half the league's players have been scanned and added to the game, which will continue to add more.

"It's about time," Storm guard Jewell Loyd said. "I think it gives credit to our talent and can help get other people, younger girls, into the sport by playing and maybe seeing themselves in the game. I hope it just inspires them to play."

With the WNBA presence in the 20-year anniversary of NBA 2K, players are hopeful the video game gives gamers the ability to recognize women's professional basketball on the same stage as the NBA.

"It's been a male-dominant thing for so long, and when kids played they had to play with just men, which can be kind of intimidating," Loyd said. "I think it's going to help get kids more active and inspired, and it won't be super-intimidating to the females who were scared to play because they didn't know the teams, but now they can figure out who the players are and how we play."

The NBA 2K League has simultaneously made strides to create a more welcoming environment for women in the e-sports community. In March, Chiquita Evans was the first woman drafted to the NBA 2K League, picked in the fourth round by Warriors Gaming — a 2K league team affiliated with the Golden State Warriors. She believes the WNBA's presence in 2K is a step in the right direction, as she hopes the game will not only bring attention to the women-gamer community but help bring out more confidence in women gamers as well.

"I really just hope that it just sheds the light on everything and proves the situation," she said. "I'm hoping that it encourages a lot of females to thrive in something they want to do. I just really hope that they see that it's possible with me getting drafted and the WNBA being featured inside of the 2K game, which has never been done before. I'm really hoping it changes perspective in how people view female gamers.

"We still have a lot of work to do, but it's definitely a move in the right direction. A positive one. I'm really excited about the future. … We just have to keep fighting, so the next step of the process is that we're feeling comfortable in our skins, it makes no sense to try to go out here and try to make it into the league as a female if we're not comfortable in our own skin."

The Washington Mystics' Elena Delle Donne and Storm forward and 2018 Finals MVP Breanna Stewart lead players with a 95 out of 100 rating — the same rating as Golden State Warrior Steph Curry, a three-time NBA champion.

Outside of Stewart, the top-rated Storm players are Howard (92), Sue Bird (87), Jordin Canada (85) and Loyd (85). Former Washington Husky and Las Vegas Aces point guard Kelsey Plum is rated a 79.

———

©2019 The Seattle Times

Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.