Michael Phelps: ‘I Don’t Care If It’s Golf or Games — I Want to Win, and I Want to Be the Best’

When he's not swimming, Michael Phelps loves to play
When he’s not swimming, Michael Phelps loves to play “Call Of Duty.” (Photo: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Activision)

Though we have no idea where he finds the time to play video games, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps is a passionate Call of Duty fan.

“I’m a huge fan and have been a fan for six years,” Phelps told Yahoo Celebrity, adding that time flies when he gets into a marathon run of game play. “You don’t realize all that time goes by. I feel like you could sit there for hours, look at the clock, and be like, ‘It’s 6? Thought it was 2!’”

The swimmer has been going nonstop since returning home from Rio, and he recently hit up an event that allowed him to indulge in his favorite pastime at The Forum in Los Angeles, which hosted Call of Duty XP — an elimination tournament pitting teams of four against one another, battling it out in Call of Duty: Black Ops III for the chance to win $800,000.

While the competition attracted a crowd of thousands, plus more streaming the event from around the world, Phelps set up shop in a gaming lounge to clock more hours of game play with his favorite title. But he did take a break to tell us about his history with gaming, whether or not his son, Boomer, will be encouraged to play, and what he thinks of fellow Olympian Ryan Lochte’s chances on Dancing With the Stars.

Yahoo Celebrity: I was reading that you logged 500 hours on Call of Duty during your first two weeks of training for the Olympics. How is that even possible?
Michael Phelps:
I’ve logged some serious, crazy hours in this game. When we’re in training camps and when I’m at home and relaxing, it’s easy to get caught up in a couple hours — or four, five hours — playing Call of Duty. It’s something we always play just to really relax. I love the game — I’m a huge fan and have been a fan for six years. It’s been cool to watch the game change, how the character options change out, and the maps are awesome.

So you’re into the tournament?
Yeah, the way it’s set up today with teams of four on four sitting across from each other, trash-talking … it’s good to add to the mix, and it’s cool being able to see the world championship and the best players in the world. There’s $2 million on the line, and it’s intense to see how they play and what you can pick up on as a player yourself.

Phelps played alongside retired (for now?) NFL player Marshawn Lynch (far left) and NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Activision)
Phelps played alongside retired (for now?) NFL player Marshawn Lynch (far left) and NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Activision)

You mentioned trash-talking. What are your favorite forms of trash-talking when you’re gaming?
When I’m not playing with friends, I try not to trash-talk because I think it can get too intense at times. When I’m around friends and talking to them, we all know it’s just in good fun. I think it’s a good rule to keep to a minimum unless you’re with friends. But if you could rate from a one to a 10 how much I trash-talk, it’s a 10, if not higher. I unload whatever I can. I’m a super, massive competitor. I don’t care if it’s golf or games — I want to win, and I want to be the best. I try to get in people’s heads. But I also want to learn things from people here at the tournament — anything I can learn to improve my game.

Don’t you get fatigued? How do you combat that?
No, because it’s like, you don’t realize all that time goes by. … It goes by so fast when you’re doing something you love. When I’m playing Call of Duty, I’m always having fun. It’s something different that really kind of helps me relax and take my mind off other things. I don’t think I ever get tired playing. But if I’m getting whooped too bad, I might take a break for a bit.

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What’s the longest marathon run you’ve played?
Probably six to eight hours. It’s hard to really play more than that with the schedule I had and the schedule I now have. Being with my fiancée [Nicole Johnson] and baby boy [Boomer], it’s tough to log a big session in there.

What’s your history with video games in general — were you always a gamer, or did this develop later in life?
No, I’ve always been a gamer. I remember playing old-school Nintendo, with the gold Zelda cartridge, or Duck Hunt, or even Kaboom! on Atari. I grew up on old-school video games and then transitioned into other stuff, whether it was Sega, or Super Nintendo, or GameCube. I think I’ve played just about every single platform you could play video games on. PlayStation 4 is one of the platforms I usually play on.

What do you think about violence and video games?
There’s a reason why certain games are rated 18 and over. For me, whenever I play, I look at it as competition. Everything is about competition. But [the violence] doesn’t go past the television, that’s for sure.

Phelps says he's open to playing video games with his son, Boomer, someday. (Photo: via Instagram)
Phelps says he’s open to playing video games with his son, Boomer, someday. (Photo: via Instagram)

Will you encourage Boomer to play video games as he gets older?
I think that was something I was happy about that my mom did when she was raising me. Whatever it was — be it sports or some other kind of activity — mom gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted. She created an environment where I could explore things if I wanted to, but without any pressure. So if Boomer wants to play a sport, that’s awesome. And if he wants to play video games, then sure, dad will play with him. But growing up, I was given the opportunity to try some things on my own, and that was awesome. So if Boomer wants to play games, great. But I’ll leave that up to him.

One last non-video-game-related question: Are you going to watch Ryan Lochte on Dancing With the Stars, and what do you think his chances are?
I think one of the cool things about Dancing With the Stars is you get to see athletes that come from a number of respective sports get to try something new, and something that they might not do that much of. It’s interesting to watch them make the transition — whether they come from a background of swimming, football, etc. — and get out there, and dance with pro dancers. I’ve not seen Ryan dance before, but it’ll be fun to see how he does. But it’s the same thing — I’m competitive, and the show gets people who are competitive, so you know they’re going to have a good time and really put work into it.