Call of Duty beckons for Leafs’ Marner, Raptors’ Miller and rapper Zach Zoya

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TORONTO -- Pro video gamer Anthony (Methodz) Zinni first connected with Mitch Marner when he tweeted about "Call of Duty: Warzone" and the Toronto Maple Leafs forward followed him.

"I shot him a DM (direct message) and ever since then we've been gaming it up," said Zinni, a 22-year-old member of the Toronto Ultra "Call of Duty" team. "We talk pretty frequently now ... He's a great dude."

And as for Marner's gaming skills?

"He's actually pretty good," said Zinni.

Zinni and Marner are joining forces with Malcolm Miller of the Raptors and Quebec rapper Zach Zoya in a one-off "Call of Duty: Warzone" tournament Tuesday. The foursome will take part in the "Live From Warzone: Warstream" team tournament on YouTube, taking on other teams from around the world in online play.

Zinni met Zoya at the Ultra's launch party late in October.

"He was a really cool guy. I'm excited to further my relationship with him on the battlefield," said Zinni.

Warzone is a Battle Royale-style game with the winner the last team or player standing.

"I'm really excited for it," said Zinni. "I'm grateful to have a job that allows us to stay in and work and keep busy during times like this. I'm happy we can do something for Toronto, especially (since) we have a player from the Raptors, a player from the Maple Leafs and an up-and-coming artist from Canada.

"I'm excited to put on a show (Tuesday)."

The four players' streams will be carried live on Toronto Ultra's YouTube Channel, starting at 7 p.m. ET.

The Warzone mode has been a popular one, helping "Call of Duty" draw in more players.

While the all-action mode may be tense for most, it's a little more relaxing for Zinni than his normal "Call of Duty" responsibilities.

"It's definitely a little different," he said. "My skills still translate over. I'm still playing 'Call of Duty,' it's just that the mode is a little bit different. When I play in the Call of Duty League, it's a lot more intense, I'd say. I have four other teammates battling alongside me and we're all screaming callouts and just trying to figure out how to manoeuvre the map in the best way to put us in a winning position.

"Whereas Warzone ... it can definitely still be intense at times but it's definitely a little more laid-back, a little more chill as compared to the Call of Duty League, where you're competing for so much money."

The 12-team league, which includes nine Americans squads and teams in London and Paris, features a US$6-million prize pool in 2020.

After opening with matches in Minnesota, London and Atlanta, the league suspended play for a month due to COVID-19. It returned last weekend, switching to online matches.

The Ultra currently stand ninth in the league.

"We've had a lot of close games that could have gone our way that haven't," Zinni said.

But Toronto beat the fourth-place Florida Mutineers on the weekend and was narrowly defeated by third-place Dallas. Its next games are April 24-26.

Remote communication is nothing new to Zinni, who has been a pro gamer since he was 15.

"I've been talking to my best friends all over the world online for at least eight years," he said.

A native of Holmdel, N.J., Zinni is one of 10 players on the Toronto Ultra team whose roster includes players from Canada, Denmark, England, Spain and the U.S.

He previously played for the likes of OpTic Gaming, FaZe Clan and SoaR Gaming.

The Ultra players all live in the same apartment building in Toronto. While some are paired up as flatmates, Zinni lives with his girlfriend.

"Luckily with this online gaming world, we're able to still keep our distance," Zinni said of his teammates. "We have apps on which we talk on online, which is kind of weird because we are all in the same complex.

"This is becoming the new normal and it's still hard to fathom because a couple of months ago we'd all just meet up in the same room, or get drinks or go out to eat or do something. And now it's more so like we're doing the best we can to stay away from our teammates, which is definitely something I'm still getting used to."

The Ultra are part of OverActive Media, which also owns the Toronto Defiant of the Overwatch League and other esports teams.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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