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Competitive video games bringing Suns’ Devin Booker back to glory days

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the final moments of the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the 76ers 114-109. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — It’s 12:30 p.m. and gameday against the Los Angeles Lakers for the Phoenix Suns.

Players have already come in well early for some work and treatment before a 10:00 a.m. shootaround, gone through said shootaround, got shots up after shootaround and again done any extra work and treatment required before they head out.

Usually getting out of the arena by noon at the latest, there are four to five hours players have to kill before they return for pregame ordeals and a 7 p.m. tip.

Some will nap. Others hang out with friends and family. Maybe pop on Netflix or play video games.

For Devin Booker on that Tuesday afternoon, he’s taking it a step further, hitting up one of his favorite entertainers to get some competitive “Call of Duty” matches in, streamed live with thousands watching.

Booker has been a fan of that entertainer, Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, for years, going back to Haag’s days of being a professional “Call of Duty” player.

“I was a fan of him way before, honestly, (the) NBA was even thought of for me,” Booker said.

Haag’s playing days professionally are behind him, as he’s now a content creator and eSports organization CEO that he was able to build off the following he gained.

He recently won eSports Personality of the Year at the 2019 eSports Awards, has over 3.1 million YouTube subscribers, 2.6 million Twitter followers and so on.

For someone like Booker who watched Haag play growing up, he said it really is like coming into the league and then being on the same court as guys like Kobe and LeBron when he plays with him.

The dude is kind of a big deal, which is where we should now explain how and why.

The world of online video game content, specifically on mediums like Twitch and YouTube, has exploded in the last half-decade, particularly since the battle royale game “Fortnite” hit the mainstream two years ago.

Just about everyone was playing “Fortnite,” and seeing streamers like Ninja or Tfue take the gameplay into a whole other stratosphere had undeniable viewing power.

Add in the personalities of these streamers and the interactive elements of a Twitch stream, such as sending messages to the streamer in the chat, and many have been hooked since, using their own downtime here and there to pop in on Dr. Disrespect or Shroud for a few minutes (or hours).

“I’ll walk into my friend’s room and he’s like, ‘Bro, this is what I go to sleep to. I just watch streams,'” Booker said.

Even if you’ve never watched a Twitch stream or a YouTube highlight reel of one, you probably have a son, daughter, nephew, niece or someone else who has. And they can’t stop watching.

New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard Josh Hart is probably the best player in the league to talk to about it.

Hart has been streaming on Twitch for well over a year now, primarily getting in on the aforementioned “Fortnite” craze.

He’s attended and competed in Pro-Am events, streamed with some of the biggest pro players and also NBA players.

As Booker starts to be around this setting more, Hart’s been entrenched for a while and can speak on the appeal.

“Obviously, we go out here and we hoop, we do what we do, but sometimes we’re kids at heart,” he said Thursday. “We like to decompress, play video games, play with friends, so it’s cool to see him kind of getting more and more in that world.”

One of the most difficult parts is explaining the “wait, so you watch them play video games?” phenomenon, which I’ll let Booker cover here.

“It’s entertainment,” he said. “I think it’s the modern-day television. People used to come home, watch a show … people like watching personalities.”

And, as I unfortunately know some of you reading think, Hart can delicately illustrate why you shouldn’t be upset that professional athletes are spending time playing video games instead of training, as if they’re supposed to do that 24/7 and not have hobbies or a life outside of their corresponding sport in the first place.

“We’re professional basketball players but that’s not who we are,” Hart said. “That’s just our profession, that’s our job. We’re no different than someone working a 9-to-5 who loves playing in rec league basketball or playing video games on their off time. We’re the same exact people that they are.”

Let’s get back to Book and Nade.

Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

While creating and managing one of the world’s biggest eSports organizations in 100 Thieves, Haag still makes time to upload YouTube videos and stream.

Like many streamers who are off-and-on, Haag streaming lately is because he’s really feeling a specific video game at the time, this one being October release “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.”

As I’ve discussed in passing with Booker, it’s a title that got a lot of old fans of the series excited, with a return to simplified, core mechanics that remind 20-somethings of the Call of Duty titles they played back in the day.

Booker’s been a gamer his whole life.

“Some of my best memories growing up, staying the night at my friends’, bringing our whole setups and just staying up through the whole night playing,” Booker said.

Haag was making hundreds of thousands of dollars competing professionally on those titles, while Booker would play in the same competitive landscape, albeit for no money, at home and online, just for bragging rights.

Gamebattles is a website that has been around for well over a decade. Anyone can sign up on a “ladder” with their friends/team for a specific title and set up competitive matches against others.

Booker, like myself, was playing — as the youths call them — “GBs” back in the day. He was a diehard, one of the many who would remake a team when they had too many losses, pursuing an undefeated or near-undefeated record to get to the top of the ladder.

“I remember (if) our team would get five losses, we would disband,” Booker said. “Every time.”

Please allow me to take a brief aside and humblebrag I was on a top 50 Call of Duty 4 team in the country on one of those ladders when I was a junior in high school. We were nice.

However, as those who play know, you realize you had some peaks once you get older. I am certified trash now, full all-and-well understanding what I need to do to win but lacking the “gun skill” to “outshoot” others that are truly in that competitive environment. I’m basically a role player now. A mid-2000s Jeff Foster. It’s sad.

That’s where this 29-year-old is, but at 23, Booker’s still cooking.

While Booker was humble in saying he’s not as good as he once was too, check him out in a live tournament from this offseason, playing “Apex Legends” with the aforementioned Dr. Disrespect, the two-time.

Yes, that’s a 25-point-per-game NBA shooting guard on the sticks. Just gunning fools. He admits that he surprises people with his skill and really knowing the game, which I can attest to.

While getting into a party on the game itself and chatting with your friends is a good time, playing GBs adds some competitive edge.

Again, though, it’s still mostly about shooting the (expletive) with your pals to relax and have a good time like playing the game normally.

This clip is Booker in a 1-on-1 situation, round 11, game on the line. Booker clutches it, all while sharing banter with Haag. Everyone can yell and laugh together after. (Language warning in the clip)

There was a moment in the first stream of playing GBs where Booker caught himself in the moment, telling himself, his buddies and everyone watching that this was his first Gamebattles match in a decade and he couldn’t believe it. He told me there was some reminiscing in those moments.

That’s part of what keeps Booker playing with Haag and Dennis “Cloakzy” Lepore, a frequent member of their squad who you hear in that clip and also is, by the way, one of the best “Fortnite” players on the planet.

Booker has played a couple of sessions with Haag and his buddies, whether that’s Cloakzy, former Optic Gaming CEO Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez or others that are prominent in the competitive gaming world.

With that comes Booker making new connections to bring him closer to that world, and also a new friendship with Haag.

Haag sent Booker a shipment of 100 Thieves apparel, which Booker was seen wearing before Thursday’s game.

Booker returned the favor by sending Haag some Suns merch and his own personally signed jersey.

As a good streamer does, Haag did an unboxing of it live. He was quite excited.

Booker even changed his bio on Twitter to add a third team beyond the Suns and his alma mater Kentucky.

“I’m representing them, Nade said he’s representing the Suns,” Booker said. “He said he didn’t have a team so trying to find him a home base.”

This is fairly new for Booker, so there’s still a lot to sort through, but he’s dipped his toes in considering an entrance into the streaming world before back in March.

And now, he’s got the perfect pal and an organization to put behind it as well.

Booker had Haag send him the entire PC setup he needs to stream, which he just started setting up yesterday. He hopes to start streaming within the next month.

Like Hart mentioned earlier, this is a great outlet for Booker to show his personality, who he is beyond a basketball player, while also having fun and interacting with his fans amongst some of the biggest personalities in streaming.

To be fair, a lot of this is, as Booker said, that it simply takes him back to the good ol’ days when video games were the best of times.

And look, for some of you older or younger, that might be something else. Whether it was going outside (ha!) and meeting with friends at the park, going to the mall, playing youth sports or what-have-you, we all have those nostalgic memories as youngins.

Booker had those times too, but some of the best were when he’d get done with basketball for the day after school, log on and play “Call of Duty” with his brother and their friends all day and night.

Like myself and plenty of others, those days have since long passed.

There’s a little blip on the radar every now and then, like when I went into the office last week forgetting why my ribs hurt until I remembered the night before and the way we kept teasing my one specific friend for continuing to come in last place on the leaderboard. A teasing that brought the most consecutive laughter I’ve had in a while and a night where we all admitted low sleep levels for work the next day were well worth it.

Those moments are special, and that’s some of what Booker can get from playing with a new friend in Haag, on top of time to unwind before facing off with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

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