Earlier today, WWE 2K Games announced that The Texas Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin, is their cover-superstar for the upcoming WWE 2K16.

This continues a trend from the past few WWE video game iterations where instantly recognizable stars like The Rock or John Cena were featured on the cover regardless of whether or not they were active on the roster or universally beloved by gamers/WWE fans.

Somewhat predictably, a number of gamers & wrestling fans are similarly dissatisfied with the fact that a younger, active member of the roster like Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, or Brock Lesnar isn’t on this year’s cover.

The argument against 2K’s most recent choice is, yet again, that they’re snubbing the younger generation, that this decision represents an inability to move on from the rosy glow of The Attitude Era, that this decision was a missed opportunity to “put over” someone who represents the current main roster or even someone who represents the future of professional wrestling like Finn Balor or Kevin Owens.

Normally, I’d be inclined to agree.

But I believe these reactions to Steve Austin being this year’s cover-superstar are born mostly out of group-think, a mental approach to such decisions that’s common amongst gamers and professional wrestling fans. It’s a form of thought that results in immediate, thoughtless emotional reactions that have the appearance of thoughtfulness.

Picture group-thinkers as Olympic sprinters, poised at the starting line, their legs taught, their fingers splayed on the track, awaiting the crack of the pistol. And when they finally hear that pistol fire, they take off down their predetermined course, racing to their finish line of hate.

If Roman Reigns was the cover-superstar these group-thinkers would have hated the cover.

If Brock Lesnar was the cover-superstar these group-thinkers would have hated the cover.

If Seth Rollins was the cover-superstar these group-thinkers would have hated the cover.

It is very easy to predict the behavior of a group-thinker because it’s been set in motion long before it’s even carried out - just as we all see the track those Olympic sprinters are about to run. A group-thinker is predisposed to rely on past arguments in an attempt to criticize present creative decisions regardless of whether or not those arguments actually pertain to present circumstances. A group-thinker does not adapt. Throw a hurdle of logic in the way of a group-thinker and they’ll just run right through it, ignoring it ever happened, or they’ll stumble and fall. They hold to what seems to work and that’s why they never learn. Group-think is not exclusively negative. A good example of positive group-think is as follows: “If Stone Cold is on the cover then that must mean we’re getting one more match from him!”

There’s no actual thinking taking place amongst group-thinkers.

So let’s think about this decision to have Steve Austin on the cover, you and I.

Some will think their way to regarding it as a bad decision still (and that’s fine) while others might see what I see; and what I see is the right man for the job. 

 Steve Austin in the 2K16 cover reveal trailer.

Steve Austin in the 2K16 cover reveal trailer.

Last year’s cover was a transparently safe choice. It seemed logical from a marketing perspective that regards John Cena as the WWE’s most popular ambassador, but it was a decision that also seemed to disregard that a lot of people who would purchase WWE 2K15 were IWC gamers who despised John Cena.

Regardless of the divided WWE fandom, John Cena does represent the current product, which made it a slight improvement over the previous year’s cover that prominently featured Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. While The Rock has strengthened his connection with the WWE in recent years, he floats in and out of the company. He does not represent professional wrestling nor “Sports Entertainment”. The Rock represents “Entertainment” or “Super Stardom”. That fails to resonate with the pro-wrestling fan who is also a gamer, especially when WWE 2K14 didn’t feature a Rock-centric story-mode, and especially when these games appeal to the diehard wrestling fan.

The Rock was mostly an abstraction in that game, just as he is in the actual company - a massive force for popularity who appears only when the stage suits his massive stardom or when an appearance helps build his legend along with the WWE’s mythology.

The Rock was also on the cover around the time Daniel Bryan had endeared himself to the world. The beloved Yes Man (and his legions of wrestling fans) received the concession of a reverse cover image - gamers could flip the cover from The Rock to an image of Daniel Bryan. That decision is internalized by the gamer as a snub. A snub that was, coincidentally, emblematic of Bryan’s status in the WWE at the time.

As a gamer and a wrestling fan, you don’t want your cover to be someone who’s featured simply because they’re the most popular human being on the planet, and you also don’t want your cover to be transparently safe, a means of appealing to all those monied parents of Cena-loving, video game-playing children.

You also don’t want your cover to be predictable.

And while Stone Cold Steve Austin is “safe” in that the image of him on a video game cover guarantees higher sales than a game cover with Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns, that’s not the only reason Austin is the right man for the job.

As a gamer and a wrestling fan, I want my cover to represent professional wrestling.

That’s all I want my cover to represent.

And that is why Steve Austin is a good choice.

He has done more for the art of professional wrestling and continues to do more for the art of professional wrestling than anyone on the current, main roster.

That is not an indictment of anyone on the main roster. That is not an argument for the superiority of The Attitude Era.

That is the simple reality of Steve Austin; who he is and what he represents. 

He is not a “sports entertainer”.

He is not a movie star and he’s not the top, white-meat babyface of the day who’s selling tee-shirts left and right to a legion of adoring kids.

Steve Austin is a professional wrestler.

Steve Austin is a professional wrestler who loves professional wrestling and he’s a professional wrestler who fights for professional wrestling twice a week on his podcast, and every single time he opens up a can of audio whoop ass on The WWE Network.

Steve Austin isn’t a safe or easy or predictable choice to grace this particular cover. Either purposefully or not, this is a choice that represents an increased desire to return to the honest realm of traditional pro-wrestling.

If you’re not engaged with Steve Austin’s podcast or if you haven’t seen his interviews with Vince McMahon, Triple H, and Paul Heyman on the Network then it’s easy to write this decision off as a cash-in on nostalgia or a cash-in on his instantly recognizable face. Even if that is 2K's only aim with this decision, that is not the only result.

The Steve Austin of The Attitude Era is not the same Steve Austin of today.

In today’s pro-wrestling world of "smart" fans and increasingly intelligent pro-wrestling analysis, Steve Austin is a voice of reason.

If you listen to his podcast or watch his interviews you already know this.

If you don’t already know this (or you’re a child who is unaware of Austin’s exploits, but will get WWE 2K16 for your Xbox or PS4), then his presence on this cover and in this game will lead to an invaluable education. To learn about Stone Cold Steve Austin is to learn about the history of professional wrestling.

Austin regularly, eloquently criticizes the WWE’s current product.

He does so in a careful and controlled manner, but he’s not lacking for passion and he’s not afraid to “call it like he sees it”.

In his most recent Network interview he openly criticized scripted promos, the misuse of the DDT, and John Cena’s springboard stunner.

On his podcast, he consistently spurns the use of the term “sports entertainment” and “sports-entertainer” (you can listen to my call-in conversation with him on his podcast about this very topic in the sidebar SASc 163), constantly arguing for sincerity in presentation in the WWE, for the company to return to its roots and present its fiction as reality. He does so in a way that’s not insulting to the company. He maintains that respect, never biting the hand that fed him, but still shooting straight on the obvious problems with the product.

He is one of only a couple pro-wrestling advocates today who are actually able to articulate the gripes of wrestling fans while remaining in the WWE’s favor.

This is because his status and his history continues to draw the company money.

A lucrative balance has been struck between the two bodies, and professional wrestling benefits from it.

Every time Austin takes to his platform and articulates a worthy criticism of the current product, he creates a more informed viewer, a more intelligent wrestling fan who will take up the pro-wrestling mantle and argue in favor of positive change.

Austin also gives a voice to all those disgruntled fans and particularly to those disgruntled WWE Superstars who have no outlet for their frustrations or who are in fear of losing their jobs if they do criticize the product.

Steve Austin is your voice, and he wants the same thing you want; a more sincere, straightforward WWE that’s professional wrestling through and through.

When I see Stone Cold Steve Austin on the cover of one of the WWE’s tentpole products, I see professional wrestling on the comeback.

I see the heart and soul of hell-raising pro-wrestling lighting a fire of truth through the lie of Sports Entertainment. I see Steve Austin’s influence growing. I see hope that Austin will continue to become more and more powerful within the company so that his words of wisdom might actually be heard by the company’s higher-ups.

Or, should the WWE not actually take Austin’s criticisms to heart, the WWE might see that Austin’s words draw money. And that can lead to change.

When I see Stone Cold Steve Austin on my 2K16 cover I see the man who’s not afraid to discuss the pitfalls of scripted promos and the superiority of NXT on the WWE’s own Network.

When I see Stone Cold Steve Austin on my cover, I see a guy who loves the same pro-wrestling that I love.

And that makes me want to play WWE 2K16.

Yes, Austin is not on the current roster.

Yes, his face is good for sales.

Yes, that's smart business.

But it's also more than that.

Austin represents a positive, rising tide of change in a way that members of the current roster simply cannot due to their position in the company.

A WWE 2K16 with Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar on the cover would be the safe bet. Those covers would spark very little discussion and very little thought. Austin’s presence on this cover will garner Austin and his podcast and his Network interviews where he preaches the doctrine of pro-wrestling even more attention.

Austin on this cover means more and more people will clamor for change in the WWE, and it means that the WWE understands that there’s money in that change (or at least that there’s money in letting someone talk about change).

All those gamers and wrestling fans who bemoan Austin’s presence on this cover see a destructive pattern on repeat; they see the past stomping on the future.

Quite the opposite. Austin is one of the best advocates the future of pro-wrestling has today, whether fans are aware of it or not.

He might not regularly appear on RAW, but he is engaged with the current product and the world of professional wrestling in a way past cover-superstars are not.

It’s also important to consider the way the WWE video games have structured their story-modes in recent years - focusing on John Cena & CM Punk’s rivalry, 30 Years of WrestleMania, and The Attitude Era. These modes feature custom-made vignettes and matches with specific objectives that inform gamers of WWE history. These modes play like college courses in professional wrestling.

If Austin is on the cover, I wouldn’t be surprised if his story is the focus of the game.

The WWE 2K series has been slowly evolving to a place of hyper realism, emphasizing professional wrestling, attempting to create the most engrossing pro-wrestling simulation of all time, and WWE 2K16 will undoubtedly continue that trend.

This is yet another reason Austin is a perfect representative of the series - he consistently argues that the WWE product should embrace this more realistic style.

Austin being on this cover will not be a quickly forgotten, fruitless bid for sales. If you listen to his podcast, you know that this will be treated as a significant event, an honor that embodies the professional wrestling tradition.

As a gamer and as a professional wrestling fan, I could not be more pleasantly surprised with 2K’s choice.

And I could not be more excited to raise some hell on October 27th.

What do you think? Do you still not like Austin on the cover? Did you like it to begin with? Let me know in the comments. Share this article with your friends!

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