It was odd to see the announcement right after E3 instead of before or during, but the Monday after the show, WWE and 2K Games revealed the cover star for the upcoming WWE 2K18. When the game drops in October, the normal and deluxe editions of WWE 2K18 will have former champion Seth Rollins on the cover. This is notable in that it’s a first time a fresh face, a non-legend, a representative of the current generation of WWE Superstars has been on the cover since 2K Games took over the WWE license. In order, starting with WWE 2K14, we had The Rock, John Cena, Stone Cold and ending with Brock Lesnar, the WWE 2K franchise has been all about the legends. I think this could be a sign of the core theme of WWE 2K18, a sign that we may be finally moving away from the past and acknowledging the present.
Let’s look at the only other currently available piece of media on WWE 2K18. The annual live-action trailer. The whole, entire thing is about a cocky, reckless Seth Rollins burning down a warehouse full of lovingly curated WWE memorabilia. He destroys all kinds of iconic nonsense, from Stone Cold’s ATV to Mankind’s mask. It’s almost shocking – WWE is so far up its own butt about its history, especially the Attitude Era – I’m amazed someone as in control of all the messaging as Vince McMahon allowed it to happen.
What could this mean for the game? Seth Rollins doesn’t have the pedigree (wakka wakka) of previous WWE 2K cover Superstars. Sure, he was in the Shield, the most important stable of the modern era. Sure, he was WWE Champion for the better part of 2015. If he hadn’t been injured, he probably would’ve had a killer 2016. He’s a main event guy and that’s not going anywhere. But he doesn’t have the same kind of history the developer has been leaning on for the “showcase” single player content.
2K14 had every WrestleMania to date. 2K15 was frontloaded with the all-time great CM Punk/Cena feud and other infamous storylines from the past couple of decades. 2K16 covered the entirety, or at least the major bullet points, of Steve Austin’s career. 2K17… well, 2K17 didn’t ship with a showcase at all, opting instead to have miniature bits and pieces alongside DLC packs. The running line was that with Brock Lesnar as the cover guy, the game’s roster didn’t have the right wrestlers to pad out a quality, Brock-centric story mode. Frankly, we could be getting to that point – history has been exhausted.
This drying of the well could very well be why we now have the spotlight on a younger star. Seth Rollins is a representative of the here and now, a signal that the halcyon days of the Attitude Era and Rock n’ Wrestling might not be interesting content sources for a new videogame anymore (they aren’t). This could be a signal that 2K Games is going to continue focusing on the MyCareer and WWE Universe modes. It could also lead to retellings of recent history, such as the rise of the Shield, or instant classic storylines like Daniel Bryan’s chase for the championship. Or perhaps 2K Games could have sprouted a wild hair and is preparing to announce an original story such as the one featured in NBA 2K games or the upcoming Madden 18. We'll see what happens when WWE 2K18 drops in October, as usual.
Either way, this is a good sign. For a long time, it has really felt like WWE didn’t have confidence in its current roster, despite the unrivaled pool of current talent. Instead, part-timers graced the cover, some of whom were barely on TV during the year the game came out. After the success of WWE’s brand split, ESPN content deals and live events, this could be the proving ground for today’s crop of WWE Superstars. This is a great opportunity for the annual wrestling game to represent a new flashpoint in history. And if Seth Rollins is at the forefront of that, it’s a sign of his perceived worth at the company, and a huge opportunity for him and frankly, everyone else not on the cover as well.