Several people are gathered for food and drinks in the Chase Lounge at The Forum in Los Angeles while a large Call of Duty esports and interactive event occurs around them. But one 7-foot Minnesota Timberwolves center, Karl-Anthony Towns Jr., is here for the game. Specifically, to play the new version, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and watch the Call of Duty World Championships.
"I've played the first Call of Duty on PC; that was my first time playing [it]," Towns told ESPN. "It was just 'Call of Duty' at the time. It was awesome, I had a blast playing it and I have that nostalgia feel here when playing Modern Warfare Remastered [from] when I was really good at video games."
Towns joins the ever-growing list of traditional athletes who have taken an interest in esports, many of whom are or have been affiliated with the NBA. Some have zeroed in on Call of Duty in particular.
"I think [the reason some athletes like Call of Duty over other games] is because it gives us that sense of teamwork and also because it's action-packed," Towns said of the trend. "It's like being part of a movie. It gives you that sense where ... you don't have to work together necessarily to win, but if you work together, a lot of great things happen. It's great for people who like the teamwork and that also like the commando style, and that's why I think Call of Duty is so successful."
But unlike many of his peers, such as current Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (who has spoken about an investment before) and former NBA stars Rick Fox and Shaquille O'Neal, Towns has very little interest in investing his money just yet. He's mainly here to enjoy himself and check out the competition.
"For me, it being my second year in the [NBA], I need to invest my money wisely," Towns said. "Do smart moves and take care of my family and my kids and my kids' kids. I'm finding little things to make sure my future is set and my family's future is set, [to] just make sure everyone's OK."
Towns' interest in esports manifests mainly as a spectator as opposed to a player. He says he's familiar with a number of other competitive games, such as Counter-Strike and StarCraft, and enjoys watching those more talented than he is play. In that sense, he is very much like traditional sports spectators.
"These guys and gals are coming out here and they're putting on a show for the fans because there is no other or better thing to watch than two competitors -- whether it be on the court, whether it be on consoles or computers -- playing against each other to prove who's the best," Towns explained. "That's why esports is so awesome, it's just like professional sports. I think what's great about esports is that it's much easier to access; it's cheaper to access as well. I think that's a great appeal. It allows fans to see what they can possibly do in a game, that's the greatest thing. Not everyone is going to be gifted and 7-feet [tall], big shoulders and everything, but I think the greatest appeal is that anyone can be an esports competitor, anyone can be great at video games -- it just takes the work and effort."
Towns has tried playing other esports with some success, although none really interest him more than Call of Duty.
"I've tried [League of Legends] actually; it's hard, you've got to get your grasp on it and I don't have any grasp on the game yet, but I definitely have tried the game," he said. "Won both times I played. I've had a lot of fans playing it so far."
When asked about his peer Hayward, who has been outspoken about his interest in League of Legends, Towns said, "League is all him."
"[The upcoming League of Legends World Championship at Staples Center] is a Gordon Hayward special -- that's absolutely the whole chicken and fries put together," Towns added. "He loves that game."