When he’s not playing hoops, 2015 number one draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns is hitting the sticks. He’s a huge Call of Duty fan and he claims can hold his own against the most hardcore gamers online, especially in Black Ops 2.
If he’s as competent on the virtual battlefield as he is on the court, that may well be true. But before becoming the first pick in the draft this year, the former University of Kentucky standout made his first trip to E3, the biggest video game trade show of the year, in Los Angeles. He naturally spent some time at the Activision booth, where he threw down in the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.
The giant center—he’s 6-feet-11-inches tall with a 7-foot-3-inch wingspan—can do it all on the court, including post up, shoot, protect the rim and defend multiple possessions. With a game controller in his hand, he’s just as big a virtual threat in COD. Towns talks about his love of games, and his respect for pro gamers, in this interview.
What was it like attending E3 for the first time?
It was awesome. Being able to be at that conference was awesome and I got to play Black Ops 3 early, which is an honor and a privilege. I can’t wait for November 6 for the whole game to come out, but right now playing the game, where it is right now, it’s going to be one of the best Call of Duty’s to date.
When it comes to Call of Duty they’ve come out with Ghosts and Advanced Warfare over the last couple of years, but Black Ops 2 is actually still one of the most popular online games. Do you still play Black Ops 2?
Of course, I mean the thing is zombies. You cannot run away from zombies. It’s the biggest thing that Call of Duty has made to date. And Black Ops 3 is offering a zombie experience that no one has experienced before and no one could ever believe was possible.
How often do you get to play video games, or Call of Duty, in general?
Whenever I have some free time to myself, I definitely love playing Call of Duty. Playing Call of Duty was a little harder when we were vying for a championship (at the University of Kentucky), but with the more free time I have now and not being in school, I think I could play even more Call of Duty and play even more Black Ops 3 this year.
What are your thoughts about the fact that there are professional video game players today playing Call of Duty for a living?
It’s awesome. Everyone has a different calling in life. My calling was to play basketball. To other people video games is a great way to fund yourself and your family and to be able to live well. With how big the video game industry is and how much money that everyone makes for companies, definitely giving back to gamers who play their games so well is definitely worthwhile. It’s a great job and we all know how much Call of Duty—especially Black Ops with the tournaments—how much money that Activision gives back to the community for video games.
Do you get a sense playing a real traditional sport of how important teamwork is in a video game eSport like Call of Duty?
It’s important, especially for Call of Duty. Black Ops this year is even introducing co-op campaign. Teamwork will be important and it just shows that what you do in the video game you can do in life also. Sports and video games are so interconnected. Teamwork is needed, while you also need skill and talent.
Have you ever watched any eSports event or the Call of Duty pros play?
Definitely. I’ve always watched MLG [Major League Gaming]. If you’re a gamer, you know what MLG is and you’ve taken the time to at least watch some matches. And I just always take the time and that’s why I was so happy to be at E3 to see the games firsthand and see some of the greatest players playing the game.
Being a gamer and being someone who’s watched eSports, where do you see that going given the popularity that it has today five years from now?
It’s only going to get bigger. MLG is already big. I’ve seen when MLG started and it’s coming up now. It’s gone huge, and it’s only going to get bigger as more and more people get accustomed to playing video games. As more of the technology gets better and the games get better, so many more people will be attracted to video games. You could see how packed the E3 conference was. There wasn’t a single space left to fill and it just shows how popular video games are in not only the United States, but the entire world.
ESPN2 recently has been airing video game competitions. Pro gamers are getting on TV just like you guys do. What are your thoughts on that?
Video gaming is just like a sport. You need to have skill. You need to practice every day and you need to be fit. You need to be mentally sharp. The biggest thing is you have to understand video games is a mind of its own just like basketball, baseball, and football is all of a mind of their own. Video games is another sport that people play and it’s one of those things where it takes the best of the best to beat the best of the best. The video games edge on each player so slim that it takes a true gaming and a true team to come together to make something special.
How do you think you would do if you were going against the pros?
I think I would hold my own, but back in the day when I was younger I could have done really well.
Still confused about eSports? This hockey analogy might clear some things up, or you could check out these 5 reasons you should care about the growing competitive scene. Playboy also spoke with Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston about his role in Madden, and you can always check in with our Gamers Next Door for the latest gaming coverage.