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Leonard Fournette on Call of Duty, why he doesn’t play Madden and signing with Jerry Jones

(The Washington Post)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting running back Leonard Fournette signed with a new team this month, one partially owned by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Don’t turn in your No. 7 Bucs jersey just yet, however.

Fournette is part of a group of sports stars that recently signed with esports organization Complexity Gaming as part of an initiative promising tailored gaming strategies to help athletes expand their presence and profit from video games. The Washington Post caught up with Fournette — while he was gaming — for what was likely the first battle royale round won during a Post interview. The discussion included Fournette’s tips on grinding Call of Duty, why he doesn’t play Madden NFL, the advice he gives younger players in the League, and how he captured the attention of a locker room full of future Hall of Famers and Pro Bowlers.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

The Washington Post: What are you playing right now [during the interview]?

Leonard Fournette: Right now I’m playing Rebirth, “Call of Duty [Warzone],” with a couple of my friends, you know, and I’m just killing. The usual.

WP: What is your involvement in gaming right now?

Fournette: I started playing Call of Duty, I want to say it was in high school, a while back, so I kind of got away from it [by] playing Madden and things like that. So during the pandemic, I started back playing. I was bored. I had nothing to do, I was inside with all my kids all day and they was getting on my nerves, crying and all that, so I started back playing the game and I thought about playing [the “Warzone” mode] Plunder. I wasn’t really up on the “Warzone” thing. … It was addictive, I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve been on it ever since. Balling, playing, that’s all I do. I go to practice, come home, watch film, and hop on the game for a couple of hours. … A lot of people know about Plunder because you can just level up. It’s easier to just rack up points, and I do the same thing.

WP: What caused you to look at gaming more seriously as a business opportunity?

Fournette: I know guys like [Twitch streamer and pro “Warzone” player] SuperEvan, that’s my guy, and the money he makes and things like that. And he was like, man, you can compete at a high level if you take it serious. So if he’s saying this, I know for a fact I got at least a decent amount of skills to play with those guys. And I’m very competitive too. So at first, when I was just losing, off and on, and guys was killing me, it upset me (laughs). So I took it upon myself to get better and just compete with guys.

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WP: Do you mostly play Call of Duty, or are you also playing other games, like Madden, for instance?

Fournette: Nah, I’m really on Call of Duty right now. I’m not thinking about nothing else. I haven’t played Madden in, probably, I want to say four years.

WP: Four years, which would have been right about when you got to the league. So is it because you didn’t like how they rated you, or what was the situation?

Fournette: Definitely, it was how they rated me. My rating, to me, I think it was too low. I think it’s too low and I wasn’t feeling it at all.

WP: Fair enough. You said you’re a long-termer playing Call of Duty going back to high school. Did you ever anticipate that the game, or just gaming in general, would present these kinds of opportunities, financially and otherwise?

Fournette: Never in a million years (laughs). You know, where I come from, you don’t get opportunities like that. You don’t see that. So by me, having this is a complete blessing. It was very surprising, out of the blue. So I think it was a blessing once again, because it’s like football, you get paid to do something you love doing. I love gaming. I love football. So this is a big thing for me.

WP: Do you see crossover between the brand that you want to build in the gaming world and the brand that you’ve built in the NFL?

Fournette: Yeah, definitely. It can definitely happen because, you may not know, a lot of guys in the NFL, everybody games. I think [gaming in the NFL] would be way bigger than what it is because a lot of guys you might not know play games. The only person who doesn’t game, you know, and he’s kind of old, you know. I mean, it’s Tom [Brady]. Tom don’t game like that, which I respect because, he’s 40-something years old.

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WP: Something that came up in an ESPN report yesterday was that you gave a halftime speech that had an impact [in Tampa’s Nov. 28 win over the Indianapolis Colts]. When you’re gaming and thinking about the persona you’re going to bring to that, do you think that it’s going to be similar? Do you intend for it to be that sort of same sort of aggressive, competitive, loud, brash, in-your-face style?

Fournette: You could say that. I think for our team, it just helps us, like especially from [Sunday when the Buccaneers trailed at the half]. We had so many emotions, a lot of things that was going on for us, and I feel like I just needed to try to be that boost for my team, you know? And being a young guy that’s on the team with a lot of guys such as Richard Sherman, Tom [Brady], Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], who have that pedigree … I think it’s big when you’ve got guys like that who are listening to you. And that’s my teammates. It’s really a big deal to me because, okay, I’m playing with some legends or three-time, four-time whatever Pro Bowlers or whatever the case may be. And I think, especially for me, because I’m a young guy from New Orleans, coming from where I come from, man, that’s a beautiful thing. And I will never take it for granted being teammates with those guys and those guys is listening to me.

WP: You’ve chosen to work with Complexity Gaming and I’m wondering two things. Number one, why did you make that decision? There are a lot of companies out there, a lot of different orgs that you could have chosen to go with. And number two, only half joking, seeing that Complexity is owned partially by Jerry Jones, should people look into you having a greater relationship with the Dallas Cowboys?

Fournette: I mean, I know a lot of those guys like Tim [“TimTheTatman” Betar] who I know is a big gamer [who also signed with Complexity], he’s one of the best. It’s just a family feeling for me to be here. And also, you know, me and Mr. Jones, we go way back. He’s a good guy, so I mean, why not? I figure this is an ongoing thing. It’s going to get bigger and bigger and better, so I figured, why not?

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WP: So if I’m understanding you right, you think that stars turning to gaming is not just going to be a short-term trend, but that it’s long term and something that you want to be involved with?

Fournette: It is definitely long term. I feel like gaming is forever. I’ve been gaming since I was 8 [or] 7 years old. So now that they made a platform where you can kind of make money off it, and boost you, it’s the smartest thing to do.

WP: And last question —

Fournette: Just to show you some proof. [Fournette turns the screen to the camera.] Just won!

WP: Okay. Got the receipts right there. That’s pretty good!

I’m wondering if you can share commonalities between those winning teams that you’ve been on in Tampa, in Jacksonville and at Louisiana State University. Are there common threads you see for teams that are successful versus those that are not?

Fournette: I think you have to find a group of leaders that’s willing to sacrifice a lot of things besides football, time. Willing to own up to the leadership and take control of the team. And I’ve been there, from Jacksonville, we had plenty of leaders my first year and now that I’m on Tampa, I mean, you got guys everywhere, Pro Bowlers, Mike [Evans], Chris [Godwin], Gronk, Tom, AB [Antonio Brown], Donovan [Smith], [Ryan] Jensen. I mean, Devin White, it’s so many and it’s not common.

You don’t get that, you know what I mean? You [usually] don’t get that at all. So my biggest thing I tell young guys is take control, like outside of football, if you got questions about where to put your money or investments, you’ve got guys who’ve been in the League 12, 13 years. This is a chance, the opportunity to just ask questions because, you know, we always have our little therapy sessions as teammates and we just be talking about like life goals, what we want out of this, things like that. And just being on this team and understanding that now that I’m older, you know, the younger me probably wasn’t really worried about it too much. But now that I’m older, I have my kids, my family, I’m trying to get money off and on the field. I’m trying to know what to invest in. You have all that around you. So I don’t take it for granted at all. I ask questions day in, day out. I don’t care what it is. It could be the littlest thing, but it’s not the dumbest.