In the last several years, video games have become a mainstream source of entertainment. But they’ve also become so much more than that. They have provided gamers with a sense of belonging and community.

Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons has become a major advocate for gaming and how it can be beneficial to community growth. He took the time to chat about his passion for gaming and a partnership with XSET and how he can help foster the growth of the platform on a mainstream level.

He also touched a bit on the Broncos inconsistencies and who he thinks will have a solid final stretch of the regular season.

JM: I know you’re super excited about your new partnership with XSET, an excellent e-gaming company. What made you interested in establishing a relationship with XSET in the first place?

Simmons: I’ve always been an avid gamer, and not just console gaming either. I’m hardcore, mouse-and-keyboard type of gamer (laughs). I always watched eSports growing up, even before it became as popular as it is today. There were a few things that put it over the top for me. Kyle Van Noy is a great friend of mine. I met him through football of course, and his tenure with the New England Patriots. I found out that he was an avid gamer as well. He was actually already involved with XSET. We began speaking more frequently and he started telling me all about it. I was immediately interested. It sounded right up my alley. The more we discussed gaming, the more he realized I was serious about it.

Once I began looking at XSET as an Esports organization, I was really impressed with how much ground they cover. It sets them apart from every other Esports organization. They’ve built a wonderful platform for themselves. They cover a multitude of areas, and they really give back to the community that’s been supporting them. They’ve always supported us streamers and content creators. That’s the biggest thing to me. Anybody that knows me and has followed my football career, I love giving back to my community. XSET is in my opinion the best at doing that. That was the icing on the cake for me.

JM: We love that. Because you’re such an avid gamer, I have to take it back to the beginning. What was the first game you remember falling in love with?

Simmons: The first ever game I really played avidly was the first Call of Duty. I’m talking about the original Call of Duty (laughs). I don’t even remember what year it was, I think it was the early 2000’s though [editor’s note: it was 2003]. That’s when I really first started playing video games. I actually played that on a PC (laughs). I had my consoles, I remember playing console games as well, but the first game I really got into was the original Call of Duty on my PC.

JM: That’s an awesome first game to fall in love with. Is there a teammate in your locker room that you enjoy gaming with?

Simmons: There’s a bunch of guys actually. Gaming has been picking up steam, man. I think the guys truly just enjoy streaming and creating content. We’ve seen streaming become more popular with each passing day. We genuinely enjoy it. To answer your original question, I really enjoy gaming with Courtland Sutton. He’s a pretty big gamer as well. He’s a Call of Duty: Warzone guy. I haven’t found anyone on the team that wants to stream Valorant with me yet (laughs). That’s my go-to game currently. As soon as I find that, I’ll have a new favorite teammate to play with (laughs).

JM: Esports, streaming and content creation are here to stay. It feels like more and more athletes are entering the industry on a daily basis. Where do you see this heading?

Simmons: This is definitely a part of a lot of guys’ lives. For the most part, everyone played video games growing up. We are all involved with it one way or another. That part isn’t new. You had an Xbox, a Playstation, a Wii or whatever. Maybe you had a gaming computer, Gamecube or even Dreamcast (laughs). Everybody had a gaming system growing up at some point. I think it’s super cool to remember how hard gaming was growing up. You would play against a friend you couldn’t beat, and you thought they were at the highest level or whatever (laughs). Taking it from that perspective and then amplifying it, Esports really is the best of the best. As time has gone on and as social media has become a bigger part of our lives, and as technology continues to advance, we’re starting to see teenagers and young adults be as good at video games as you are at football and what not.

These are professional gamers that are at the top of their game, the same way a high level football or basketball player is. It takes the same craft, work ethic and mentality. It might sound crazy, but if you really play the games these people are playing, I challenge you to put in the work that they put in (laughs). You’d realize that it takes a special type of talent and commitment to be able to do it at their level. I think it’s really cool. Even now, we’re starting to see universities and colleges give out full ride scholarships for Esports. You can see how it’s trending. It’s gonna’ keep amplifying on a yearly basis. It’s so cool. It takes a special craft to dedicate yourself to becoming one of the best. Esports will continue to grow. It’s gonna’ get bigger and bigger every year.

JM: That’s the truth. It sure looks that way. How would you describe the first half of the Denver Broncos’ season?

Simmons: If I had to put a word to it, I would say inconsistent. It’s been a rollercoaster. We’ve had some really good moments. We’ve put some great things on tape in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. We’ve had some special moments on the field. On the flip side, we’ve done some bad things as well. The best example of that occurred recently. Just look at these past two weeks for us as a football team. We went down to Dallas and played one of the best offenses in the NFL. We were up 30-0 in the fourth quarter. Our offense and defense were firing on all cylinders. Special teams had a great day too. We came back a week later and were losing at home to the Philadelphia Eagles 30-10 in the fourth quarter. The Eagles have a good offense and can run the ball effectively. We can look at that sample size and call it inconsistent. That’s how our season has gone thus far.

JM: If there’s a saving grace, it’s that the AFC West is super competitive. The Broncos are very much alive in the race to win the division. What does the mindset have to be like for your final seven games?

Simmons: The bye week came at a great time for us. We have seven games left, and five of them are division games. The division will be decided right there. You said it, the AFC West is wide open. We’re still in a position to control our own destiny. We don’t have to worry or rely on anyone but ourselves. The bye week came at a great time. Guys need to get away from the game for a few days and spend time with their families. We need to get healthy, we have a few guys that needed this time off to get their bodies right for the second half of the season. That’s going to help us throughout this seven game stretch. When we come back, the mindset is simple, we need to be all in every single week. We have a big seven weeks ahead of us. I think that’s going to help us get past the inconsistencies I spoke on earlier. It gives us a chance to get away from the game, but we’ll still be taking a peek at the film (laughs). It gives us a chance to evaluate ourselves. It’s a hard look in the mirror. These are the things I did well, and these are the things I didn’t do well. If we’re going to win these football games, and if we’re going to win the AFC West and get ourselves into the playoffs, this is how we have to do it. This is what I have to do in order to help the team. We all have to do our part. It’s a team effort. That’s how we need to approach these last seven games.

JM: That’s a great way to look at it. Your head coach Vic Fangio is a brilliant defensive minded coach. What’s one thing he’s taught you that’s really stuck with you throughout his tenure?

Simmons: From a safeties standpoint, I’ve learned so much through conversations with coach Fangio and coach Ed Donatell who serves as our defensive coordinator. From a safety perspective, they’ve really taught me how to remain calm. They taught me how to not show panic or frustration during a game. A safety is oftentimes the last line of defence. You are leading the defense. You’re the one that makes the calls and the checks. I have to put my teammates in a position to make plays. Guys feed off of that type of energy, both good and bad. We talk about being human. We talk about making mistakes. But when it comes down to it, how I operate from a physical perspective when I’m on the field, I have to remain calm and make sure everybody is lined up. I can’t get flustered when things don’t go our way. We have to simply make the correct adjustments when necessary. I’ve taken that advice from coach Fangio and coach Donatell. I’ve grown a lot over the last three seasons under coach Vic.

JM: That’s terrific. First round pick Patrick Surtain II has really hit the ground running in his rookie season. You obviously spend a lot of time with him in the secondary. What advice have you given him? What impression has he left on you?

Simmons: When I talk about Pat, the first thing that comes to mind is how wise he is beyond his years. Obviously knowing how much success his father had in this league, you can tell that he’s been around the game from a very young age. He’s been working at his craft his entire life. It’s easy to see. It comes effortlessly to him. He breathes the game of football. He’s so smart. That’s what really separates him from the pack. A lot of guys have the athletic ability to go out there and play corner. This is your man, so go ahead and lock him down. That’s not always the hard part.

What makes Surtain special is that he’s able to do that while also incorporating the mental aspect of the game at such a high level. He recognizes how offenses want to attack us as a defense. He understands route combinations depending on the receiver’s stem and what not. Having conversations with him, and obviously playing with him as well, you can tell that this is a kid, a rookie that understands the game of football at a level most rookies can’t grasp. I can’t even say that I’m shocked by what he’s doing. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m really just impressed. He’s an impressive dude. I’m very lucky to be able to play with him.

JM: He’s been so impressive. I imagine saying goodbye to Von Miller was a difficult situation for you. Without giving us too many personal details, what was that final conversation like?

Simmons: It was tough, man. The first thing I remember was that we beat Washington at home. It was a big win for us. The next morning, we came in and found out that Von had been traded. He’s going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Denver will retire his number one day. More importantly, he’s been a close friend of mine throughout my first six years in Denver. To find out that guy has been traded, that’s tough. Sometimes you forget that this league is a business. Something like Von Miller getting traded, that’s a reality check right there. You get so caught up in guys being around for so long, that you sometimes forget that it’s a business. Decisions like this are made on an everyday basis.

It was tough. I remember seeing him at his locker. We just sat down and reminisced on our time together. Our friendship has grown as the years have gone by. We had been a part of so many events together. He watched my daughter grow the last three years. He’s been involved in our lives. I was there when his son was born. We talked about fatherhood and what that’s like. We have so many memories to cherish together. We just sat down and reminisced. It was bittersweet. I was happy for him. He’s in a great situation with the Los Angeles Rams. At the same time, you selfishly want to keep your friend in Denver (laughs). He’s obviously a heck of a player. Saying goodbye was tough.

JM: Absolutely. Talk to me a little about the challenges that come with playing against two of the quarterbacks in your division, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.

Simmons: They definitely don’t make it easy on us, I’ll tell you that much (laughs). Playing safety against those guys is a difficult assignment. They do a great job disguising their pre-snap communications, and their post-snap intentions as well. Both of those quarterbacks are so talented. Mahomes has obviously been the talk of the league the past few years, and rightfully so. Every time he steps on the field, there isn’t a throw he can’t make. Heck, there isn’t a throw he doesn’t try to make (laughs). He has such great weapons around him at every position and he understands how to utilize them. He makes it tough on the defense. I know this year has kind of been like the twilight zone for [Kansas City]. They’ve had some turnovers and other things that haven’t gone their way but we’ve seen the roll they’re on now. I saw it on Sunday night when they played the Las Vegas Raiders and beat them 41-14. When they’re firing on all cylinders, they can beat anybody in the league. That’s the difficulty of preparing for them. They’re an explosive offense and they can always mount a comeback.

With Herbert, the improvement that we’ve seen from Year 1 to Year 2 has been astounding. Everything in-between is really clicking for him and it’s very impressive. He obviously has a plethora of talented receivers at his disposal as well. They have Austin Ekeler, who’s one of the most talented dual-threat weapons in the league. They have some tight ends that can make plays on the ball. Herbert understands how to utilize them so well. They have an effective run game. Herbert makes great decisions when throwing the football. It’s tough for a quarterback to have a gunslinger mentality and also take care of the ball. Herbert does that. It’s amazing. Those guys usually want to make the big play, the highlight-reel play. It’s not easy to resist that temptation and take the checkdown, but Herbert does that when necessary (laughs). He does a great job taking what the defense gives him more often than not. He knows when to take a shot and when he shouldn’t.

Those guys make it tough. You didn’t even mention Derek Carr, man (laughs). He’s in our division as well and he certainly isn’t a slouch. That’s the best part of playing in the AFC West. Every divisional game puts us up against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. It gives us a chance to prove ourselves.

JM: This has been terrific Justin. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with you. In closing, leave us with one under-the-radar teammate that’s going to have a big second half of the season?

Simmons: I love that question. If I can, I’m going to leave you with two names. I might be biased because I’m on the defense (laughs). I’m gonna say Kyle Fuller. A lot of people said Kyle had a rough start to the season, but it wasn’t all necessarily on him. We shared that blame across the secondary. There were a lot of things that didn’t go in our favor. Fuller has been playing some excellent football as of late. He’s been playing the nickel for us, which is something I don’t believe he’s done since his college days. This is his eighth season in the NFL. He came into the Dallas game and played nickel for us. We had an injury and moved him back to the outside and he played exceptionally.

I’m also going to say Bryce Callahan. He’s our regular starter at the nickel spot. I don’t think he gets enough credit as he deserves. We’re excited to get him back into the lineup. I want everyone to remember this conversation you and I are having right now. I really think Callahan is poised to have a breakout second half of the season. He’s our workhorse in the defensive backs room. He does any and everything that we ask of him. He does it at a high level year in, year out. He’s one of the most underrated players in the league.