Here’s how passionate Karl-Anthony Towns is about the Call of Duty video game franchise: This past holiday weekend, the reigning Rookie of the Year traded relaxation for attendance at the third annual Call of Duty World League Championship at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
There, he watched the best global gamers go at it, while playing a sample of the upcoming COD: Infinite Warfare title, which releases in early November. He was joined by Derrick Rose, former Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch and the most decorated Olympian ever, Michael Phelps, who all played against Activision and Infinity Ward employees.
During a break in the action, Towns chatted with the NBPA about his love for Call of Duty, the championship event and the impact of the game in his life. Also, the 20-year-old talked about his summer highlights, acting interest, training progression and next season.
NBPA: What has been interesting to observe being in a unique video game championship setting for the first time?
Karl-Anthony Towns: It’s awesome. I think it’s just the fact it’s a championship setting—people are addicted, the atmosphere is tense. People are trying to win, people want to know how to make that happen, and they’re here playing the video game at a high level. And that’s what I love to see—competition makes everyone thrive and makes the team even better.
NBPA: Thirty-two pro teams from around the world are in the championship, representing North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Being that you play in such a global league, what stands out to you about the international flavor of this event?
KAT: I think it’s a great experience. It’s just like basketball. It’s a global competition, it’s something that everyone can relate to. I think everyone in their life has played a video game, or if not, has come across some sort of fashion of a game, whether it’d be basketball or whether it’d be tic-tac-toe. And eSports is a great way with technology almost running society now and pushing us forward. Technology has given the ability for a lot of people to find a calling for themselves. eSports gives a lot of people a chance to join the competition.
NBPA: How have you enjoyed the event the most?
KAT: Playing against cool people and cool competitors is really awesome. I know a lot of great gamers who also use YouTube and Twitch to hype the game—a lot of people I really call friends and I play a lot of video games with; fans, too. It’s awesome. I talked to Marshawn Lynch and played Call of Duty with him. It’s been a cool experience—Marshawn and Michael Phelps coming through. It’s been a lot of fun. [Towns has also participated in a number of livestream events where he has played Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 online alongside YouTube personalities.]
NBPA: Who’s your toughest overall competition in the game?
KAT: I’d say the toughest player I’ve played against is [Andrew] Wiggins. It’s just a lot of competition there and trash talking. It’s really really good. He plays the game religiously.
NBPA: What’s the gaming culture like among your Timberwolves teammates?
KAT: It’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun to be able to play on the road. It bonds us, it brings us together. Also, it gives us something to do. While we’re all still playing, there’s a lot of time spent traveling. It just gives us something that we love to do on the road.
NBPA: Derrick Rose is at the championship, and you’ve attended other Call of Duty events with NBA players. With its popularity around the league, why does the game offer such a great bonding experience?
KAT: Because we just all love playing video games. And to come out here and see professionals play, but also get a chance to play against each other on a grander stage, is awesome. We get to prove our talents in video games, and as competitors that’s what we love to do—we love to go out there and compete. Inside our homes, just to play Call of Duty itself is a great bonding thing because it allows us to really learn about each other, get to enjoy each other’s interests and really get a chance to associate ourselves with each other.
NBPA: What’s your Call of Duty setup like?
KAT: I always usually play the game on the road, always bringing PS4 or Xbox [One] with me and just plugging it into the hotel TV and wa-lah, I’m playing. I play on the plane as well. I have Alienware, so I play on a portable gaming laptop on the plane. I always have to beat the campaign mode first by myself before playing against gamers online.
NBPA: What’s impressed you about the evolution of Call of Duty?
KAT: It’s a really cool game, which is always great to know, and I’m really excited. I’m excited to see where the game is being taken. We have a lot more time before the game comes out, but to see my first impressions here and to really get a chance to have a hands-on interaction with the game is amazing. And the game looks great. I can’t wait to see its finished product. I’ve been so excited to play the game here, I haven’t moved [laughs].
NBPA: What makes you excited about where the game is going?
KAT: I think every year they’re learning, and the craziest thing about Call of Duty, Activision and Infinity Ward is they all listen to their fans. They listen to what we have to say, what we feel can be better, and they implement that into the game. Also, they’re continuously being creative, they’re continuously getting better. This year, the game’s graphics are very very crisp, movements are smooth. Everything is working together. They’re listening to how we like to play. [Earlier this year, Towns visited Treyarch Studios in Santa Monica to meet the developers of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.]
NBPA: Since the season ended, you’ve made different entertainment appearances, like attending the ESPYs, making a cameo on Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything and being a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. What have been your summer highlights?
KAT: Definitely I would say the Disney show. I love acting. I had a lot of fun doing it, and it was a huge honor to just be part of that show. Cameron Boyce is awesome, everybody was great. From there, I think probably just doing the Foot Locker commercial with some of my best friends, D’Angelo Russell and Devin Booker, was awesome.
Also, I had a chance to do a special thing: enjoy some time with my family. I haven’t gotten a lot of time with my family since I was in high school. So for the first time in two years, I got to go home and actually spend some time with them—see my niece and nephew grow up a little more than I ever was able to do. So I had a lot of fun.
NBPA: You also hosted a draft special on NBA TV. Where does that comfort level with being on camera come from?
KAT: I used to act and sing when I was younger, so I’ve never been shy to do anything in front of people. It doesn’t hurt that I play in front of millions of people everyday in basketball, so you’ve got to be pretty comfortable with yourself. And I’ve always loved my personality and who I was. I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. I like who I am. And I just always act the same, whether it’s camera on or camera off.
NBPA: What would be your dream acting role?
KAT: I want to be in Space Jam 2; that’s my dream role. I don’t want to be in Kazaam 2 or anything else [laughs]. Space Jam 2. I’ll do the movie for free if I can get a chance to do it.
NBPA: On the court, take me inside your workouts with trainer Bryce Stanhope this offseason. What’s been your focus?
KAT: He’s been awesome. He’s a great trainer. With my dad having knee surgeries, it’s a little harder for him to do a little bit more of what I need. So Bryce has been great stepping into the role and helping me grow my game and get better. We’ve been just working on every single aspect of my game to be even sharper and a better player next year. Me and Bryce slow it down a lot. We make sure we get good reps in. It’s not always about going so fast and doing it so much. We make sure each rep is a quality rep and we take our time with the process.
NBPA: How do you see your game evolving?
KAT: I think it’s going to be much much better. I’ve had a whole season to learn under KG [Kevin Garnett]. I just feel that I can be a much better player. Having a whole year to learn and have the whole year to see for myself what it takes, I feel I’m going to be a much better leader from a player standpoint. I will take what I’ve learned in one season and build upon it. It’s going to be awesome.
NBPA: The Timberwolves are being viewed as one of the biggest breakout teams for next season. How would you describe that excitement brewing in Minnesota?
KAT: We’ve just got to go out there and work. It’s excitement because people feel that we have a chance to do something special, and we’ve got to deliver. So it’s about us working and constantly finding ways to get better.
NBPA: In your short time with Tom Thibodeau, what have you learned about him so far?
KAT: It’s awesome. He’s taught me a lot so far. He’s really smart, he’s a great guy. I look at him not even as my coach, but as a good friend of mine, and that’s how it has to be. If we want to be able to go to another spot to something greater, we have to always be on the same page and have a good rapport. That’s what we do have.
NBPA: Tell me about your rook, Kris Dunn.
KAT: He’s great. He’s learning, he’s definitely getting better and he’s always looking to find ways to improve his game. So he’s doing a great job right now of finding ways to take his game to the next level.
NBPA: What are your personal and team goals for next season?
KAT: Personal goals are based on team. We’ve got to make the playoffs. We’ve got to do something special, and it’s up to us to continue to work and to make that happen.
NBPA: What are your goals off the court in the community?
KAT: I’m just trying to find ways to help a lot of people and help in cancer research. Both of my grandfathers have died from cancer. Also, I want to help the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. So I’ve been trying to find different ways of not only helping people in Minnesota, but around the world.
NBPA: How do you carry on the impact that your grandfathers had on you?
KAT: Listening to my parents—really just taking every single thing they told my parents and using it to my advantage.