Gordon Hayward is one of the fastest rising stars in the NBA. Before turning pro, he played with the Butler Bulldogs. Now, he is starting for the NBA's Utah Jazz and signed a max contract with them in 2014. Gordon also happens to be an avid eSports fan and loves playing video games in general, even keeping up with the League of Legends World Championships as his Jazz gear up for their regular season debut against the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 28, three days before League crowns their champion.
We caught up with Hayward and discussed when he started getting into video games, what the future of eSports holds, and which team he believes will hoist the Summoner's Cup come Halloween night in Berlin's Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Q: Can you tell us about how you got into video games?
GH: Sure. I think it was kind of something that I grew up doing as a hobby. My generation grew up with video games and kept up with them as they got more and more advanced. Then I started with the original Nintendo and played pretty much every system up until now.
I got into PC gaming probably at the end of high school, early college. It was something that I enjoyed doing that was another outlet for competition for me, and I'm a huge competitor so I love trying to be the best at it and that made me play it all the time.
Q: From your love of video games in general, how did you get into following eSports?
GH: So originally, like I said, I'm a huge competitor and hate losing, so the competitive side of video games is really my favorite part of it. I dabble into role-playing games every now and then, but, for the most part, I love the competitive side of video games and that really started with Halo for me. A bunch of buddies and I, we had a team and we went to a bunch of local tournaments around the Indianapolis, Indiana area. We'd compete in the tournament and that was the most fun for me. That's how I really started getting into the eSports scene.
After that, I was big into StarCraft for a little bit and did some things with IPL, and StarCraft was obviously huge. Now League of Legends is big time, and I just love getting ranked in game, fighting for a better rank, and the competitive scene. Watching those guys now with the production and commentary of all the games is really cool.
Q: So League of Legends is currently the eSport you follow the closest?
GH: Yes, that's right.
Q: What positions do you prefer to play in League and who are some of your favorite champions?
GH: I like playing both of the solo lane roles. I started out playing top more than anything, and then I transitioned into more of a mid role. I don't like playing tanky champions, and that's why I kind of got out of top lane a little bit because for a while there it was pretty much just tanks. I kind of get bored doing that, so I transitioned to mid, and I also play AD Carry — I'm not really good at support or jungle, so I usually try to stick to those three. I can play all the roles, but I'm the best at those three.
Q: So you like playing offensive champions?
GH: I do. I definitely like being on the offensive, and I like adapting-type champions. Probably my two favorite champions are Tryndamere and Wukong — I like those two the best.
Q: Can you tell us your rank on League, or would you like to keep that a secret?
GH: Right now I think I'm Gold. It gets hard during the season to play a lot of League of Legends games and get my rank up because each game takes so long — so it's hard. But right now I'm Gold, so that's kind of average.
Q: As a topflight basketball player and an avid gamer, are there any skills that you take from the hardwood and apply to your League games?
GH: I think the biggest thing that applies to both basketball and League of Legends is communication. On both sides, it's extremely important to talk to your teammates so you know where they're at and they know where you're at, and in League, you have to know where the other team is at as well. It's the same type of thing in basketball — the best teams are the ones that communicate the best, and the very best teams are the ones that have played together so long that they don't have to say anything. They just kind of know where their teammates are going to be. I think communication is huge for both League of Legends and basketball.
Q: You're not the only professional basketball player that has come out as a fan of eSports. Jeremy Lin is an avid Dota 2 fan and was even on the analyst desk at the game's most recent world championship, The International. Are there any other players in the league that you know of that are fans of eSports or into computer gaming?
GH: I don't know if there is much of a following of computer games and eSports, as there is — I can't even name one guy in the locker room who does not play video games. I know everyone plays video games, but a lot of them are more into first-person shooter games or a lot of them play Madden. I know everybody plays FIFA, and that has a huge eSports following in its own right. And so does Call of Duty, and some of those other games too, but there are not as many players that play League of Legends or many PC games.
Q: Have you been keeping up with the League of Legends World Championships this month?
GH: Yeah, so I always try to check it out and it's been a little more difficult to watch Worlds with the time difference and we're in our training camp, but I've definitely seen all the results. Unfortunately, all the North American teams are out so it's hard to root for anybody else, but I've definitely seen some of the matches.
Q: Do you have a favorite player or team?
GH: Before he retired, my favorite player was Voyboy. We kind of built a pretty good relationship, and I'd always watch his steam. So I rooted for the teams he was on — most recently Curse and then I kind of just carried that over and was a fan of Team Liquid this split.
And as far as Worlds goes, I was rooting for CLG from the North American teams. I actually did Fantasy League of Legends with Riot Games and I did the celebrity fantasy league and I had a bunch of guys from Origen on my team so I'm rooting for them.
Q: So from the remaining teams left you want Origen to win?
GH: Yeah, if I could choose to root for a team it'd be Origen. I think it'd be cool if they could win.
Q: Alright, you want Origen to win, but do you think they'll win it all?
GH: If I was to go with my heart, like I said, I'd want Origen to win, but I think SK Telecom look pretty good. They're going to be hard to beat, so I think it's probably a long shot for Origen to win. I think SKT are going to win.
Q: Recently there has been a lot of controversy about eSports in the media — some talking about how it's going to be huge and others wondering why anyone is watching it in the first place. What would you tell the people who watch eSports that want their hobby to be accepted by the general public?
GH: I'd tell them to be patient, more than anything. I think eSports is completely on the rise and it's taking off, getting more and more popularity every single day. We had something on ESPN, Heroes of the Storm, so it's one of those things where it's just kind of a generation — like the old generation still has that stereotype about it: we're lazy, out of shape, and are like nerds. I don't think they realize it's a job and there are professionals, and it's a job in every sense of the word. I think as time goes on obviously my generation and the younger generation is more and more involved and into eSports it'll be mainstream.
I'd just say to be patient.
Q: Before we go, which professional player or League of Legends stream would you most like to duo queue with if you got the chance?
GH: One player in the entire world? I would — man, there's a lot of good players out there. I think if I had to play alongside somebody I think I'd want to play with Doublelift from CLG. I really like watching him play, and I think he could definitely carry me to victory.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.