Basketball isn’t the only sport Gordon Hayward plays professionally
Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward has made a name for himself in the NBA. The former Butler University star who led his team to the 2010 NCAA championship game in his sophomore year has transitioned well to the NBA since being selected as the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
But aside from his dedication to basketball, Hayward has always loved playing video games. In fact, he was good enough as a teenager to win a couple of competitive Halo tournaments. He had to ask his coach at Butler to make sure playing Halo competitively didn’t violate any NCAA regulations (it didn’t).
While many athletes are endorsing electronics brands like Bose, Beats and SMS, Hayward signed a deal with video game accessories company HyperX, giving him an excuse to “game for work.” He talks about his love of gaming and explains why he’s ready to invest in eSports in this exclusive interview.
THE RED BULLETIN: What’s a favorite video game memory you can share with us from playing when you were younger?
GORDON HAYWARD: One of my favorite memories playing video games was right when regular Xbox came out when I was 12 years old. I was playing Halo with my cousin and I wasn’t allowed to buy the game because it was rated M for Mature. My parents were pretty strict and my mom didn’t want me to have the game, so I convinced her to let me rent it to test it out to see if it was as bad as she thought. We got it from Blockbuster for three days and my cousin and I were playing it to the last minute right before we had to turn it back in, and my dad came down and said, “All right, let’s go.” And I was pretty upset. We got the game out and I went to give it to him and he handed me the actual game. He had gone and bought it for me, so I was pretty happy with that.
You stuck with Halo. Can you explain how you got involved in Halo competitively?
Yeah, so Halo became one of my favorite games to play. In my opinion, it was probably one of the original eSports games with the success that it had on USA Network and with MLG and everything. Pretty much all I did in high school was play sports and work on my grades and then I’d play video games with my friends. So I got pretty good and my senior year we just decided to enter a couple local tournaments playing Halo and I actually won some money.
That was long before multimillion dollar Halo, Call of Duty and CS:GO tournaments. Given how good you were at the game, if eSports existed like it does today with the Halo Championship how might that have changed your trajectory?
I still don’t think it probably would have changed my trajectory. I might have been able to enter some more tournaments earlier on. I had a time limit growing up of playing video games. Maybe I could have convinced my parents to let me play a little bit more because I could have had some data to backup the reasons why I was playing. But basketball is still my love and what I wanted to do when I got older. And it was still my ticket to college as far as getting a scholarship. I know they give out scholarships now for some games at some small colleges, but it’s still not on the same level as sports scholarships.
When it comes to your own success early on with Halo, it’s a teamed-based game. Were there elements of basketball that translated when you were playing with teammates in Halo?
It’s one of the same reasons why I like League of Legends too. There are individual parts of the game as well as team parts of the game and that’s kind of how basketball is too…like you have individual matchups in basketball. You have one-on-one match-ups. You have a time where it’s just you versus another guy, but also it’s five-on-five at the end of the day. It’s a team game. You need your team to win, and the same can be said with Halo. The same can be said with League of Legends, too, so that was definitely something that drew me to the game. You’re allowed to play with your friends and compete with the team and try to win.
What are your thoughts about the fact that eSports now is now a $500 million business and there are many kids around the world who follow eSports teams and pros like you would have followed NBA teams and players when you were a kid?
It’s definitely a huge form of competition, which is one of the reasons why I like video games. It’s just another outlet for me to be competitive, but as we get a bit further along here and you start to have video game franchises and different things like that, kids are going to grow up rooting for teams and players. And the visibility that it has as far as on Twitch and maybe further down the road there’s a dedicated TV channel or something like that, and more and more people will start watching it. You can see the popularity just soaring. It’s pretty cool that it’s grown to the point it is today, and it’s going to keep growing with how the younger generations are playing video games.
The NBA has always been forward-thinking when it comes to technology, and we’re now seeing people like Rick Fox, Shaq and Magic Johnson investing in eSports. What impact do you see all of this having on the industry?
It just shows how mainstream it’s getting. It shows the value of what it brings to the table. People can kind of see where the next big sport is going to be, so they want to be involved and they want to find ways that they can help and continue to push eSports further and further along on its path. It’s really cool that they’re starting to get some big money into the game. It’s really just exploded over the last year even, and it’s definitely climbing rapidly.
Is eSports something you’re interested in from a business standpoint at all in the future?
Yeah, it’s actually something I’ve been looking at for the past three years, trying to find a way that I can get involved and at the same time trying to find the right spot for me. There’s definitely a lot of opportunities and I haven’t necessarily found the right one yet, but I’ve been actively looking for one for the past three years.
Are there specific games you’re looking at? League of Legends and CS:GO have become crowded, for example. ?
I’m just looking for the best opportunity overall. If I wanted to jump into the space it would be with an organization that would be legitimate across all eSports, not just for one title. I’d want to have something that people could recognize being a major player in eSports and no matter what game comes out this organization is going to be involved. You have to start somewhere though, and that’s the big question: Where do you start? Like you just said some of the main titles now are oversaturated and that’s why it’s a little more difficult to try to get in. But I’m sure I’ll find the right time and the right moment to get in.
What’s the comparison of seeing the Staples Center with all those gamers in there cheering on their teams compared to when you guys are there playing an NBA game?
It was very similar. It was really, really cool to see them turn the whole Staples Center into a stage for competitive gaming and everything that they’re able to do with the commentary and casters, who are just first class with how they do the game. If you knew what was going on, it was very easy to follow and easy to understand and definitely a cool atmosphere.
What’s it been like to partner with a video game company like HyperX?
The partnership with them has just been tremendous for me and they’ve been great as far as helping me with streaming. We’ve done some cool videos together, and it’s really just been awesome to partner with a company that has the vision that they do for eSports and the passion for it. In addition to giving me an excuse to play video games, I want to be involved in this industry and HyperX is a big part of that, so it’s been fun being involved with them.
Does HyperX strategically help you as you figure out your “in” into eSports?
Yeah, I think so. It gives me a little more legitimacy in the industry and a little more respect in the eSports community just because HyperX is so highly regarded. It was an easy partnership for me; definitely a no-brainer.