Pizza Hut arcades started Towns’ love for gaming

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, right, and Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox battle it out at the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reveal on Thursday in Hawthorne, California. 

LOS ANGELES — Karl-Anthony Towns‘ love of video games began with a quarter and a slice of pizza in New Jersey.

“[Our family] didn’t have much money, and I remember back in the day, there was such a thing as an arcade. There were a lot of arcades, but for me, the arcade was Pizza Hut,” the Minnesota Timberwolves center said at the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reveal event Thursday. “They had [Marvel vs. Capcom], and I remember every time I went to Pizza Hut, my dad and my mom would order pizza for us. It’s cheap. It was easy to feed the family.

“I remember my dad and my mom realized how much I loved playing those games, so every time I went there, I was blessed with Pizza Hut employees giving me a quarter because we used to wait. Most of the time you walked in, you ordered, and you waited, so I remember Pizza Hut people would give me a quarter and let me go and play a game or two. I was blessed to be in the town I lived in. People always gave me quarters when they were rolling by, and I played the game until the food came out.”

Since those days, the 22-year-old All-Star’s love of video games has only grown. He played the Call of Duty series as a teenager and more recently got into the battle royale craze with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds over the course of the past season.

Towns went viral earlier this year, when fellow NBA All-Star and fellow former No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers joked in-game that Towns should have “plenty of time” to play PUBG with a matchup against the struggling Atlanta Hawks the next day. In that game against the Hawks, Towns broke the Timberwolves’ scoring record with 56 before going on Twitter to ask his girlfriend if it was OK for him to load back into PUBG following his career-defining performance.

“I love playing all types of games,” Towns said. “I’ll play everything, and the best thing is that Call of Duty is dipping their hand in the battle royale genre. Anytime Call of Duty puts their hands on anything, you know it’s going to be the highest quality, so I expect nothing less of Call of Duty, and they’re delivering.”

Starting with the immense popularity of H1Z1 two years ago, the battle royale genre has taken over the video game world, with PUBG surging into popularity in 2017 until Fortnite recently took over as the genre’s top dog. In keeping with the trend, the Call of Duty team announced during its reveal Thursday that Black Ops 4 will include a battle royale mode.

In its simplest terms, a battle royale game is one in which a large group of players are airdropped onto a map with the objective of being the last player (or team) standing. The field of play shrinks the longer the game continues, until the game forces a final conflict between the last remaining players.

The success of PUBG and Fortnite has spread across the NBA like wildfire, with players throughout the league bringing up their love of video games in interviews on and off the court.

Even so, Towns said he is “hands-down” the best gamer on the Timberwolves — and possibly in the entire league, though De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings might disagree.

“We got Andrew Wiggins, who plays a lot of video games,” Towns said. “I know Taj Gibson plays some video games as well. But absolutely, there is no doubt. I’d even say possibly I’m one of the best gamers in the NBA. I play everything. I play every single type of genre game.”

Gaming, Towns said, allows him to keep up with teammates over the offseason. Although some guys won’t see each other until training camp begins a few months from now, playing online is a key component for today’s NBA players to stay connected to one another.

“Video games [are] a great way to bring the world together,” Towns said. “I think that’s why it’s always been so popular because it’s brought competition, fun and brought that exhilarating, fast-paced action to people. … It’s amazing what video games have obviously done for not only the industry and for entertainment but for the world and social interactions.”

Along with its players, the NBA has been on the forefront of the video games expansion. Two weeks ago, the NBA began its own official esports league, the 2K League, with every player getting a salary plus health benefits to participate in NBA 2K competition. In its inaugural season, there are already 17 NBA franchises with a 2K team, and more could be on the way if the rookie campaign is a success.

The NBA is ahead of the curve, Towns said, because the league and its commissioner are in-tune with what the players are into.

“I think it’s because the NBA listens to us,” he said. “They listen to us as players. They see the world is changing, and we have a great commissioner in Adam Silver who is very, very good at listening to opinions and comments and working on them. He’s always an active listener. He realized a lot of video games are being played and a lot of us played, so I think that’s what separates us from other leagues. We have a commissioner who is so willing to listen to us as players.”

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