The NFL world knows JuJu Smith-Schuster as the dynamic Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver who is off to a sizzling start in 2018. The gaming world knows him as an aspiring streamer who made up a quarter of the Ninja-Drake-Travis Scott Fortnite squad that set Twitch ablaze in mid-March, shattering the streaming platform’s record for most concurrent viewers on a single gamer’s stream.
Often Smith-Schuster’s passions co-mingle in the form of game/manga-inspired touchdown celebrations or Fortnite dance moves, illustrative of a personality that’s helped him build a following of more than 550,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel.
Smith-Schuster has been an avid gamer for some time, seeing it as a kind of refuge from the grind of pro football. That’s something that could come in handy these days, as the media spotlight has been shining relentlessly on a drama-filled Steeltown to start the NFL’s 2018 season.
Given the scrutiny, when Smith-Schuster says he’s looking forward to the Steelers' mid-October bye week, you could be forgiven for thinking it has to do with an 0-1-1 start or Le’Veon Bell’s holdout or Antonio Brown’s Monday no-show at practice. But the main reason stems from the fact that one of Smith-Schuster’s favorite game titles, Call of Duty, will release its latest version, Black Ops 4, Oct. 12 and he’s more than ready for a week of steady streaming. He’s particularly excited since Black Ops 4 features “Blackout,” a new 100-player, battle royal format, a la Fortnite — a feature he hopes will attract his friend Ninja to come over to the Call of Duty world. (Ninja recently streamed the Black Ops 4 beta, a departure from his Fortnite-centric preferences, and is already scheduled to participate in a Black Ops event at Twitch Con. So, that Smith-Schuster thinks Ninja may make the jump is, um, interesting.)
Smith-Schuster recently spoke with The Washington Post for an interview that covered topics ranging from his origins in the streaming and gaming world to when Le’Veon Bell may end up back in Pittsburgh and what his “REAL FRIEND” Ninja may do in the months ahead.
Note: The following has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Q: I know you’ve streamed with Ninja in the past. Knowing what you do about Blackout, after playing the Beta, do you think he’ll be interested in jumping from Fortnite to Black Ops 4 when that comes out?
JuJu Smith-Schuster: I’m pretty sure. I’m pretty sure. You know as a streamer you always wanna show what’s new out. And obviously when Black Ops comes out, streamers, everyone is going to be looking forward to seeing if he’s versatile, and if he could play Call of Duty or any other games that’s pretty popular now. So I’m pretty sure he will be. I know a lot of guys who play video games or do streaming, they’ve been streaming Call of Duty a lot.
Q: So you’d like to see him come over to the Black Ops world when it releases?
Smith-Schuster: Oh, for sure. Most definitely. It’s a battle royal game, it’s a hundred people. Obviously they’ll be putting in new game modes. I’m pretty sure everybody’s going to hop on board and, you know, move with the new wave.
Q: What are your biggest takeaways from the Blackout Beta?
Smith-Schuster: It’s super team oriented. In close combat, everybody has to move as one and you can’t really go solo [in squad mode]. And the ability to heal yourself while moving is pretty dope. And the sound really plays a big part.
Q: What suggestions do you have for the developers?
Smith-Schuster: I’m really excited to see the new game modes that they come out with. Sniper mode, I like to quick-scope, so I always thought that’d be fun. Just using only fists, that’d be a fun game mode, where you just run around punching and fighting.
But the week it comes out, it’s going to be hectic and the Internet server is just going to be like, yo, you’re crazy. It comes out Oct. 12. I’ll be playing it all during my bye week.
Q: When did you first get into your streaming career?
Smith-Schuster: I just recently started. I’m big into video games, and when I joined FAZE clan, they’re big into streaming. And they’re streaming, every day, like six, seven hours a day. I wanted to get into that in my free time, not 6-7 hours, but 2-3 hours just hanging out and playing games would be pretty dope. And I just think I’ve got the personality for it, so obviously when Black Ops comes out I’m going to be streaming a lot and doing a lot of clips and stuff. So it’ll be fun.
Q: Does your streaming schedule vary depending on the time of year?
Smith-Schuster: Most definitely. Football comes first. That’s my main job, so it’s just like when I have time. Today [Tuesday] is an off day, so I’ll be streaming like all day as much as I can. Wednesdays and Thursdays I’ll probably get like two hours of streaming in at the most, or I might not even stream if I’m too tired. It just depends.
Q: Have you ever run into it in the draft process or elsewhere where there was a reservation from a team that they expressed or it came up in an interview where they indicated the team wasn’t into this [your streaming] or said it could be a problem? I was reading a bit about how an NHL player was talking about banning video games for young players and was curious to get your thoughts on that.
Smith-Schuster: Honestly in our generation, with video games getting more popular and now that people can get paid and can get scholarships and stuff, I found it interesting but I don’t think it’s an issue. If it becomes an issue [for a team] then don’t let them play video games. But other than that, I’m 21 years old, I play video games. My teammates know I play video games. Like, Ben [Roethlisberger] knows I stay up late-night playing video games. But when you get to work you’ve just got to take care of business.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception around gaming?
Smith-Schuster: Honestly, that people say it takes focus away from your main job, or you’re not taking care of business. Like you’re sitting at home all day looking at the TV. But honestly, I use gaming in the offseason, talking to my teammates, keeping up communication by talking to people online and [working on] hand-eye coordination. Little things like that can go a long way.
But I think a lot of people see it as a negative thing because it just takes time out of your day. People will say, well you could be reading a book, but instead you’re gaming. But honestly, two of my best friends I met through the gaming world. It’s crazy.
Q: How’d you meet?
Smith-Schuster: We were playing Call of Duty zombie maps in Black Ops 3. We’d stay up late, late hours staying up fighting zombies trying to beat it. It just so happened he went to USC [where Smith-Schuster attended college] and we became friends.
Q: What do you like about gaming so much?
Smith-Schuster: For me, I use it like therapy. For some people it’s meditation or massage or going out for a job, riding a bike. For me, I get away from everybody and I just focus on myself. Like today’s [Tuesday] my day off and I’ll just play video games and get away from everybody. Like I said, it’s just therapy.
Q: The Steelers have a bit of a relationship with Call of Duty since Le’Veon Bell and Alejandro Villanueva were turned into characters in the game for Call of Duty: WW2. Any chance you’re going to get a character in the game any time soon?
Smith-Schuster: We’ll see. Coming soon, man! [Note: Sorry, JuJu. Treyarch PR says he will not be in Black Ops 4.]
Q: You play with those guys [Bell and Villanueva]?
Smith-Schuster: Yeah, yeah, yeah, like Le’Veon, all those boys. They a’ight. We’ve got this thing though, like we call it “backpack.” Like you put them in your backpack and carry them. At least I do [with them].
Q: Have you been playing with Le’Veon while he’s been not with the team?
Smith-Schuster: Nah, nah, he’s doing his own thing.
Q: Do you think you’ll be able to play with him again this year? Both in Pittsburgh and on Call of Duty?
Smith-Schuster: For sure. Most definitely. Right now, it’s just part of this business, what he has going on. I don’t know how long he’s going to hold out, but he’s for sure going to come back. … I think it will be soon. I’m super excited, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be back.
Q: And as far as your streaming career goes, what are your grand aspirations? Is this something you want to do indefinitely, beyond football?
Smith-Schuster: Of for sure, one hundred percent. I started a YouTube [channel]. Because of my personality, I’m able to connect with kids on a personal level. Just being on camera playing video games, seeing that reaction, it’s pretty priceless. So I think that’d be pretty dope.
Q: When you get through with your NFL career, do you see yourself investing in esports in any fashion?
Smith-Schuster: I think later down the road I’d think about it more seriously, but yeah.
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