LOS ANGELES — When asked about his love of video games, Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons pulls out his phone and flips through a gallery of photos. After a bit of perusing, he stops on the picture he was attempting to find, an older, sepia-tone one contrasting with his state-of-the-art smartphone.
In the snapshot, an adolescent Simmons lounges in an Australian living room, playing video games on a lazy day, with close friend and fellow future NBA player Dante Exum sitting beside him.
This is what video games mean to him.
“I’ve been playing my whole life,” Simmons says. “The first game I really got into was Resistance for Playstation. That was the shooter I played. And then from there I started playing Call of Duty, picked all those up and eventually got into PC gaming a little later [with Counter-Strike], PUBG, a little bit of Fortnite — not too much Fortnite, because I’m not into building stuff. It’s too much.”
With a new generation of stars like Simmons entering the NBA, video gaming culture has permeated the league alongside these stars. What once would have seemed uncool to bring up in the locker room has become standard talk between teammates and friends, with arguments sometimes settled through video games. Nowadays, players throughout the NBA stay connected by gaming together online and even creating leagues in games such as Madden and NBA 2K where they can compete regularly against each other.
While some players lug their consoles onto planes or set them up as a fixture in the clubhouse, Simmons primarily plays on a PC, a convert from his younger days of playing on the Playstation and Xbox.
“I used to be console [player], but PC is much easier,” Simmons says. “Every game is right there, you can log on and everything is much easier.”
Growing up in Australia, Simmons was just like any other kid fascinated with games, consuming Call of Duty content from the top players and entertainers on YouTube, such as Optic’s Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez. Since moving to America and reaching the NBA, he has gotten to know and grown close to H3CZ and Thomas “Temperrr” Oliveira, the co-founder of FaZe Clan.
Simmons’ game of choice nowadays is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which is why he is spending some time in Los Angeles this offseason while competing in PUBG Mobile’s Team Up Superstar Showdown. Although this version of PUBG is played on a mobile device, Simmons has had few problems adjusting, defeating every other NBA player he has faced and capping the event off by defeating a team captained by Eastern Conference rival and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Before leaving the venue, Simmons even razzes the MVP as Antetokounmpo is conducting an interview, reminding him that while the Milwaukee Bucks star might have gotten the edge against the 76ers on the court this year, he got the last laugh … at least, in the world of video games.
Simmons doesn’t just talk trash with NBA rivals, but with his own teammates too. In the hierarchy of gamers in the 76ers locker room, Simmons notes that there is only one other teammate who can keep up with him in terms of gameplay and trash talk — Joel Embiid.
“If you put me on PC, I’ll destroy him,” Simmons says. “He plays FIFA. I can beat him in FIFA. Here’s the thing: I don’t play FIFA, but I’ve beaten him in a game of FIFA. I can play any game.”
But does Embiid, the renowned pot-stirrer, have an edge when it comes to trash talk?
“Yeah, but that’s easy,” Simmons says. “I leave that to him.”
Simmons is the prototypical new-age star in the NBA today. He loves video games, social media and pop culture. When he isn’t practicing to get better on the court in an effort to win a championship for the Sixers, he often is at his place, grinding on his PC, playing PUBG and trash-talking to his friends. The picture of him and Exum as children playing video games captures a part of Simmons that has remained constant to this day — even though, at 6-foot-10, he is considerably taller, and his television is considerably flatter.
“I think it’s cool to game now,” Simmons says. “I think people thought it wasn’t cool to game and be out there and let everyone know you’re a nerd about how much you play; but for me, I love it.
“After this, I’ll probably go home, eat and play for four hours with friends and talk s—. Playing video games is fun for me. I love it.”