LOS ANGELES – There’s a general unease at the Shrine Auditorium. The Call of Duty League event hosted by Optic Gaming LA and the Guerillas is lacking the juice of some prior weeks. It’s understandable, as the far-reaching effects of a world transformed aren’t yet set into motion and won’t be for another few days. For now, people are a bit guarded and a bit reserved, that is until Michael B. Jordan walks into the event space. It’s a universal language of hushes, neck craning, and pointing that almost every celebrity is used to by now. Except in the gaming world, Jordan isn’t just another celebrity. He’s part team owner (an investor in Andbox, which runs the CDL’s NY Subliners team, along with Overwatch’s Excelsior), an avid gamer himself, and a role model for those who love gaming, love anime, or love comics.
Jordan is equally at home courtside during Lakers games as he is at events like this, flashing a smile before he gets down to business in a 2v2 event where he and teammate Miles easily dispatch King Bach and former Rams running back Todd Gurley. But even he notices the strangeness of the moment, giving appropriate distance between himself and others while limiting daps and handshakes. This will be the last live CDL event for an unspecified amount of time, as live sports in general fade into the background of the new reality. What gaming and eSports does have is a platform to go mainstream, and with NASCAR’s iRacing events, the NBA’s 2K tournaments, and fans flocking to Warzone, Fortnite, Animal Crossings, and other trusted games, Jordan’s belief that gaming is for everyone has its watershed moment.
CDL returns April 10 in an online series, with Dallas hosting as it normally would have during the live event rotation. And it will be up to the league to make the contests engaging from a viewer perspective, continuing to bring in special guests, managing tech issues like lag, latency, and disconnections, and using production to enhance the experience.
— Call of Duty League (@CODLeague) April 6, 2020
It’s very well possible Jordan will be involved in some way, as New York hosts on July 10-12. The multi-talented actor, businessman, and gamer made time for UPROXX Gaming as he explained why he’s looking to usher in the next generation of gamers, what it’s like to have LeBron James as a trusted resource, and how hard it is seeing the Knicks continue to struggle.
Martin Rickman: So the story always is every musician wants to be an athlete, every athlete wants to be a musician. Now it seems like everybody wants to be a gamer. You’ve been early on this. I mean, this is like part of your DNA, right?
Michael B. Jordan: Yeah, man. I’ve been gaming since I was a kid, so this is like, to finally see us get our just do and the respect that we deserve to be taken seriously. As far as, once people start out, they find a way to make money off of it, now all of a sudden it becomes mainstream but it’s cool. I think the biggest opportunity I see for this one, for me that makes me most excited, is the fact just to rebrand it. Noting that like gamers have gotten a bad rep for a long time of just being like, “Oh, it’s not a real this or it’s not a real that.” Or like, “Get off that game. What are you doing?” There’s perception of gamers and I feel like we have a great opportunity to kind of reshape that and help usher the next generation of gamers, and guilt-free.
I was talking to Vince Staples about this a few weeks ago and he basically said what’s so big for it is the kids who don’t necessarily have that confidence growing up, it’s tough. Now you’ve got this ability to, in an oversharing culture anyways, kind of connect with people on a level. And then they see you guys not just as role models on a screen, but then, “Oh, they’re doing the same thing I’m doing. So I can become that.”
Exactly. I think that’s finding ways to close the gap between the fans and the people at home and people that look up to us for whatever reason and give them positive examples and encouragement that what you’re doing is cool and you should keep it up. Don’t let anybody discourage you. If this is what makes you happy and you’re good at it, keep working at it.
You’ve done some voiceover work in games, whether it’s 2K or Gears of War. How was that experience compared to some of the other stuff you’ve done, whether it is VO or onscreen stuff? Because, it’s harder than people think.
It is. It’s definitely a different muscle when you doing some of the motion capture stuff and being able to read the lines. Acting is one thing, but when it’s just the voice and you’re in these rooms and being able to project and voice act, it’s a lot of fun. And like I said, it’s a lot of hard work, so I respect voice actors and everything they do.
All the projects that you’re working on, I know you’re trying to build up, not just onscreen stuff, but all of the stuff behind the scenes. How have guys like LeBron helped influence you when it comes to something like that with an empire he’s built? Because, I know how often you’re at Staples.
Yeah, no big time. And I think honestly, LeBron — and you know Maverick [Carter] and Rich [Paul] and Randy [Mims] and everybody that he has and PR and everybody that’s around his circles — like I’ve definitely looked at it, that as an example of what entrepreneurship would look like. And yeah, so his camp has definitely been like a North Star for some of the ambition that we’ve had and some of the things and companies that I’m developing now and just trying to find our niche, our lane. And know that we have the abilities and the tools to do what we need to do. In order to be very successful and make an impact and disrupt. So it’s cool.
The power is not just saying yes to projects, and then you get to a point where you have that control over saying, no you don’t want to disappoint anybody but you only got so many hours in a day. How do you juggle deciding what you want to do next?
I think it is a balance and finding out how to go between the things that you really want to do versus the things that you feel you have to do. And then the things that you know that you have time for later. I think it is about finding that balance. But you know, there’s certain people that are wired, like a work horse and that’s kind of me. I really don’t stop. So I think I’m just going to keep going until I have to sit down, so that’s kind of where I’m at with it. And then yes, I think self care and self love is really important also. So being able to meditate, relax, and take time in yourself. You have to decompress before you just get thrown into the next thing. So just try to find time to sit still is important.
And it’s funny like gaming didn’t use to be treated as something that was that way. But you can think when you meditate like you’re allowing your brain to breathe. That was always a barrier or me. I thought I had to clear my head. I was like, I’ll never be good at it because I can’t stop moving.
That’s actually cool. It’s actually a great stress reliever. Maybe just to go ahead and be quiet, go to play on the game and just get it out and then be able to get back to whatever you got to do.
With regards to the Knicks, I know you grow up following that closely. Everything that’s been going on with them, especially the last week, with Spike Lee and everything. How do you approach a team like that? What would you do if you were in charge?
As a Knicks fan, it’s really tough, because Spike Lee is one of the reasons why I became a Knick fan. I think growing up, seeing him at the Garden all the time, I got a chance to see somebody that looked like me sitting courtside, every game rooting these guys on. It was really a part of why I became a Knick fan, obviously with the players and stuff like that. So to see where they are now, it’s been tough. It’s been really tough and hopefully they get it together, but it’s really hard for me, the way they treat certain people, you know what I’m saying? It’s really hard for me to go back. Yeah, the [Charles] Oakley situation was really tough too.
And obviously this is not being able to have a full understanding of everything that goes on. But I’ve been through that entrance a million times. I’ve been to the Garden for different venues outside of Knick games and so I understand how it goes. So I think there’s definitely something there that we won’t be able to see until later. But yeah, it’s really disappointing that the Knicks haven’t, as an ownership, as a team, as a franchise, really stepped up and embraced the people and embrace the fans in a way who, made the Knicks who they are.
It’s insane seeing you on Friday courtside at the Lakers wearing a Naruto shirt. You wouldn’t grow up thinking you could do that.
Exactly. And that’s why I did it. [Laughs] Just to make sure that people saw it, I think it was important.