TEMPE, Ariz. — A few hours after quarterback Kyler Murray led the Arizona Cardinals to a Week 5 win over the San Francisco 49ers, he went home, sat down in front of his dual monitor setup, put a headset on over his Phoenix Suns hat and started playing one of his favorite games, NBA 2K22.
Then he turned on his Twitch livestream so his 77,400 followers could watch him hoop for 36 minutes on this particular Sunday.
Murray sits in his ergonomic gaming chair, listening to music, relaxing and playing the games that have become his way of decompressing after football.
“It’s a thing for us to just calm down and kind of just take a step back, have a different perspective,” Murray told ESPN.
“A lot of us love to do it, so it definitely helps the mental, because the game of football, the sport in general, is very emotional.”
But even though Murray is relaxing in the comfort of his own home, he’s not doing so in private. Like more than eight million other people, according to Statista.com, Murray streams himself playing games on Twitch, the popular platform, under the username @TheKylerMurray. Murray has 800 to 1,000 fans concurrently watching him play during the season. It’s a chance to glimpse the real Murray, often unseen in a public setting. Here, Murray’s personality, competitiveness and trash-talking are on full display.
“That’s how you dial up some s—, bruh,” Murray yells after throwing a touchdown to a virtual A.J. Green while playing Madden NFL 22. “You all see how I dialed that s— up?”
It’s an understatement to call Murray an avid gamer. His skills with a controller have even prompted some to ask if he could have a career in the profession.
ESPN watched Murray’s Twitch streams during the first third of the season to see what we could learn about one of the NFL’s top young talents. The result was a unique, often personal, mostly authentic look at who he is and what he loves.
“Every time I turn the stream on, it’s kind of like you’re being watched and you can be yourself — at the same time you can’t,” Murray said. “Obviously, you slip up and it’s gonna be all over the internet. So, you just got to find a happy medium being yourself and not being stupid.”
Growing up a gamer
Video games have been a part of Murray’s life for as long as he can remember.
His father, Kevin Murray, and uncle, Calvin Murray, played video games, as did his older brother, Kevin Murray Jr.
There was always a gaming system around Murray’s house, whether it was Atari or Nintendo, he said.
That passion for gaming was passed down to Murray, who started playing on a PlayStation, then switched to Xbox. Now he uses a personal computer as the hub for his video games. He plays Call of Duty on a PC but plays Madden on XBox through a PC on a gaming monitor with an XBox controller.
“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s complicated. It’s a lot.”
During the offseason, Murray tries to play any chance he gets and usually is in front of his system for a minimum of two or three hours at a time. He went live on his Twitch stream 23 times from late February to late July, when he shut it down for camp.
Last year, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Murray spent a lot of time playing — a lot.
“It kind of got ugly the amount of hours that everybody was spending on the video game,” Murray said. “It was like back when we were in middle school.”
How many hours was he playing?
“I don’t know if I want to admit that,” Murray said, laughing. “We definitely had to take some breaks. You got to take some breaks in there. Otherwise you get heated and stuff like that and, just, it’s bad for the mental.”
Murray laughed when he thought about how much he was playing during this offseason. His days consisted of working out and, well, video games.
“You can’t work out all day,” Murray said. “You got to take care of the body and stuff like that. It’s easy to play video games longer than it is to work out.”
Murray’s feed is divided into multiple sections on Twitch so people can see what’s on his screen while watching a live feed of him playing. There’s also a chat function so they can interact with Murray, giving them unprecedented access to an NFL MVP-caliber quarterback.
Murray keeps an eye on his chat while he plays, almost always thanking those who buy or gift subscriptions to his stream, which are $4.99 a month and allow subscribers to skip ads and just show their support for Murray. Twitch takes a percentage and he gets the rest. He will also respond to questions or comments here and there.
Murray cut down on his streaming when training camp started, not going live from July 23 to Sept. 13, the day after Arizona beat the Tennessee Titans to open the 2021 season. During the season, he’ll only turn on the stream after a win — which has been every week thus far — on Sunday nights after home games or Mondays after road trips. He doesn’t typically stream later in the week, closer to game day, as he gets more “locked in.”
A day after leading the Cardinals to a season-opening win — a game that included an early candidate for play of the year in which Murray scrambled 43.5 yards before completing a pass to rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore — Murray played Madden NFL 22.
In the first game, Murray was himself.
“You’re so ass,” Murray says to another player.
As he plays, the chat fills up with comments and questions. When one user suggests that Murray’s speed rating on Madden is lower than it should be, Murray says: “They definitely got my speed f—ed up on here.”
When another user tells Murray, “U different bro,” the quarterback responds with: “Moose, I appreciate you, bro,” in reference to the person’s username.
In the next game Murray played that session, he picked the Atlanta Falcons. And that’s when the competitive Murray comes out.
He gets mad when he throws a pick-six because the ball didn’t go to the outside shoulder, and when a Falcons defensive back drops a would-be interception, Murray yells “Oh, my gosh.”
While video games are, in large part, a medium for Murray to calm down and relax after games, they sometimes have the opposite effect.
His stream may have made him the most accessible quarterback ever, and it’s given fans an inside look at Murray’s competitiveness. He doesn’t like to lose — never has, never will. Not on the field and not on the screen.
“I may yell or scream more on the game, honestly,” Murray said. “Just because it’s just like bonehead s— that happens during the game. But in real life, in football, obviously guys are gonna make mistakes.”
Murray celebrated the Cardinals’ dominating win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4 with a 52-minute stream the next day. He had 550 people watching when he started at around 2:45 p.m. PT. They were given a front-row seat to the different sides of Murray. He was joyous and upbeat early on, yelling at the screen as he played himself against the Baltimore Ravens.
As the game went on, however, Murray’s competitiveness came through. He got quieter, focused on trying to win. At one point, he yelled at a virtual Markus Golden for dropping into coverage and then was livid with the game late in the fourth when DeAndre Hopkins dropped a pass.
“Oh, my God. This game is fake as s—,” Murray yelled. “That’s why I don’t play this bulls—, dog. That’s what I’m talking about. You all see this s—? You all see this s—? You all see this s—? This s— is so ass. I should’ve just ran it. Oh my gosh, the game’s f—ing dogs—.”
Hours after beating the Houston Texans on Sunday, Murray hopped on NBA 2K22 for an hour and 21 minutes while a house full of family and friends buzzed behind him. At one point, Murray’s mom, Missy, and a friend were in his gaming room and on the feed. Murray asked them to get out and then said to his friends on the stream: “Too much s—going on right now, bro.”
Murray is often laid-back, though, belching or telling someone off camera good night. He’ll offer up a random factoid about his life every now and then, such as that he doesn’t have any tattoos or that he doesn’t like avocados (“It’s just green and it’s like mushy”).
It’s not rare for friends or family who stay with him to walk in the room while he’s streaming or for them to have conversations across his home. His mom has made multiple appearances, even bringing him a sandwich during a session last offseason.
Often he’s interacting with fans. He reciprocates the love from a couple of his followers, who simply posted in the chat: “I love you.”
To which Murray says,” I love you, too.”
‘Playing with your friends’
In a lot of ways, Murray is a typical 24-year-old playing video games. He’s usually playing with or against guys he grew up with in Texas, friends from high school and the University of Oklahoma and current teammates. Games have allowed Murray to forge friendships with people from around the world.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s crazy, but it’s a real thing.”
He chides his opponents and gives them a hard time. They talk about movies and music, with Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” playing in the background. Murray sings along, knowing every word.
And sometimes Murray “might have a friendly wager on the game and it gets real,” he said.
Streaming himself has allowed Murray to show another side. He likes to give fans a look at his face without a helmet on, in a totally different setting. It’s a “cool environment where I’m not just a football player.”
“Obviously, the spotlight’s on us a lot more — the spotlight is on me a lot more — as far as the NFL goes, but I feel like people, the more they talk to me or the more they watch me, I’m myself, a genuine guy that either you’re gonna love me or hate me, and probably it’s hard to hate me,” Murray said. “… I feel like fans enjoy getting to actually know on a personal level, somewhat see how guys act, see how they react, if they’re funny or not, stuff like that.”
What Murray enjoys most about playing video games is the same thing he enjoys most about playing football: winning.
“And the camaraderie of it all, just playing with your friends,” Murray said. “But, yeah, the ultimate goal in all of it is to win.”
Could Murray go pro in gaming?
If sports didn’t work out for Murray, he already had a career in mind.
“If I wasn’t an athlete, I’d probably be a gamer,” Murray said. “I think that’s one of the avenues I probably could have chosen. I don’t want to brag too much, but I was pretty good at video games.”
He still is, according to one of the best gamers in the world.
TimTheTatman, a well-known gamer out of Texas, first met Murray at Super Bowl LIV in Miami. TimTheTatman brought up playing together some time along with another gamer, Nickmercs. They all ended up following each other on social media and were soon playing Call of Duty together.
It didn’t take long for TimTheTatman to realize Murray wasn’t just a football player who plays video games as a hobby.
“Kyler is really good,” said TimTheTatman, who has 7 million followers on Twitch. “He really did impress me. You can tell he really knows what he’s doing.
“It’s just a different style of play and Kyler, you could tell that he was able to kind of keep up with that pacing.”
Murray already has a presence in the gaming world. He’s now streaming under the FaZe Clan umbrella. He joined FaZe, one of the largest esports and gaming organizations in the world, in April, along with Bronny James, son of LeBron James, and Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons. As FaZe members, which often consist of influential personalities across a variety of genres, they will create “lifestyle content” and stream.
Being part of the FaZe family has opened opportunities for Murray to play with well-known gamers on his stream. Other FaZe players, such as James, will pop into his stream once in a while and comment on the chat.
“They show love in the stream and it’s just amped my stream up as far as that goes,” Murray said. “But I don’t think it’s changed in any way.”
So could Murray be a professional gamer?
“I definitely think he could,” TimTheTatman said. “He has the skill set, obviously, not just in Call of Duty, but in general. But just his personality, as well. You can kind of tell that he has that ability to entertain and just kind of keep people engaged.
“I’d be pretty confident that if he really wanted to, he could slowly invest into gaming and do super well with that as well.”