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Three-time Call of Duty champ ‘Clayster’ opens up about mental health, struggles during pandemic

One of the winningest Call of Duty pros ever spoke up about mental health, and his own battles.

LOS ANGELES – James “Clayster” Eubanks wasn’t himself when he took a break from Call of Duty and the New York Subliners. He hadn’t been himself for months, really.

The ideal vacation for Eubanks isn’t fancy. A cabin among the trees with his closest friends and family members would be ideal, but he hasn’t had that in the pandemic, which just completed its 18th month.

He missed his loved ones. He wanted so much to take a pause but didn’t know if he could allow himself. The mounting responsibilities of being one of the most decorated Call of Duty professionals ever and unsung leader of a young Subliners team were too much for him for a moment.

Eubanks benched himself before the final major of the season, without public explanation. Assumptions were made, but only a few knew how much he needed to breathe.

“I’ve struggled a lot and even felt guilty about struggles,” Eubanks told The Dallas Morning News Thursday afternoon. “I won back-to-back champs, we are top-six in the rankings and have a good team. That would make me feel guilty for feeling like (expletive). It all stemmed from the pandemic.”

Mental health struggles among popular athletes isn’t uncommon. A 2019 Athletes for Hope study found that among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression and anxiety.

Simone Biles and Sha’Carri Richardson, two Texans who compete at elite levels of their respective sports, helped shed more mainstream light on it in the past six weeks during the Tokyo Olympics. Their struggles were met with widespread praise, though it wasn’t universal.

Eubanks, who also resides in North Texas, recognized his mental state was going south in February. He hadn’t had a true offseason in years because he’s been the odd-man-out on championship-winning squads. After winning in 2020 with a Dallas Empire team that’s still dear to him, he had to find a new home again.

“I’m in Cancun on the phone with orgs, negotiating contracts,” Eubanks said. “There’s not a break.”

His passion on stage, which was displayed in a thrilling 3-2 win over OpTic Chicago in the Call of Duty league playoffs at Galen Center, was matched by internal struggles. Eubanks hit a wall and put the controller down for two weeks in late July. Leadership with the Subliners encouraged Eubanks to take a break for months.

He finally gave that to himself.

“I wasn’t being me, and I felt like I was bringing the team down,” Eubanks said. “I felt like my play wasn’t good. Everything just wasn’t feeling the right way.”

As soon as Eubanks went on a break, speculation spun around the situation like a twister. Had Eubanks quit on a young team that needed him? Ian “Crimsix” Porter, Empire veteran and the yin to Eubanks’ yang, said that the Empire wanted Eubanks back after dropping him.

Did Eubanks give up on the Subliners because he wanted to be in Dallas? Don’t get him wrong, if there was any other team he’d play on it’d the Empire. But this was a resounding no.

“A lot of people think ‘Oh, he wanted to go to Dallas and so he quit on his team,’ or whatever,” Eubanks said. “That really didn’t play a factor at all.”

All of this was news to his three New York teammates. Eubanks said he apologized to them for how abrupt it may have seemed, and that the rumors were flimsy. Clayster and the Subliners placed second at Major III, and were dominating competition. Eubanks didn’t need to be saved by another squad.

Eubanks considers him a completely different person now than five weeks ago, but really he’s just feeling like himself again. And he wants to use his platform.

The three-time Call of Duty world champ was often quiet about his political activity. He’d donate to animal shelters and to autism awareness in silence. Mental health needed to be talked about though.

When OpTic superstar Seth “Scump” Abner tweeted about his struggles, Eubanks chimed in. The two have spoken privately, too. While Eubanks is proud and happy about his life, the pressure that comes with being the best can be crippling.

“My legacy is great right now, right? It’s the top-five ever all time, right? I’m content with that. My money situation is good. I’m content with that,” Eubanks said. “My competitive fire is still there, but if it’s causing me unhappiness, making me wake up miserable every day, you have to take a step back and fix yourself.

“That’s what I did.”

The New York Subliners are whole again, and Eubanks wants to lead a young squad to the promised land.

Clayster is back, and wants the conversation surrounding mental health to keep moving forward.

On Twitter: @seanzcollins

In This Story

Sean Collins, Staff Writer. Sean started at The Dallas Morning News in 2020 and covers North Texas esports, focusing on the Dallas Fuel and Dallas Empire. He covered high school and Kansas State athletics at The Manhattan Mercury. Sean graduated from the University of Kansas in 2018, where he worked for the University Daily Kansan as a sports editor covering Kansas hoops. seanzcollins
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