Long before quarantine forced everyone into their homes and gaming became a more everyday part of our culture, Aerial Powers was looking for new ways to connect the worlds of eSports and hoops. As a streamer herself, Powers already has more than 5,000 followers on Twitch. But after she launched the Powerz Up <em>NBA 2K </em>Tournament last summer, the Dutch eSports brand Team Liquid began talks to bring Powers on as a streamer and ambassador.
In many ways, Powers, a 2019 WNBA champion with the Washington Mystics, represents an intersection of much of what gaming can be in the future. As a passionate gamer who dominates at NBA 2K as well as Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, she will fight right in at Team Liquid. But as a Black female athlete who’s part of the trail blazing WNBA, Powers also is clearly unique among gamers. That’s why Team Liquid added another duty to Powers’ role with the brand when they named her the chair of the company’s newly formed diversity and inclusion task force.
Powers spoke with Dime on Wednesday about her partnership with Team Liquid, her memories from the WNBA’s Bubble season last summer, and where her head is at as she faces free agency this week.
What stood out about the Team Liquid partnership and what do you hope to accomplish along with them?
I mean, Team Liquid is just like, there’s a legacy there, right? They’re a legacy eSports organization, and anybody would want to be a part of them. I mean from talking to the co-CEOs Steve (Arhancet) and Victor (Goossens), just the values really align with me on what they want to do, and what they’ve been doing you know in the past. So this partnership was just the right way to go. For me, I’m going to be l on the Team Liquid side as a streamer, and a brand ambassador for them, and also leading their diversity and inclusion task force. So, I mean, when it comes to anything Team Liquid, they’re just champions in all areas. So, being a part of them is phenomenal.
In addition to being a streamer you also will be the chair of Team Liquid’s diversity and inclusion task force. What do you anticipate that role being like and why was that something you wanted?
It came together just from them seeing all that I was already doing in that space before actually being signed with Team Liquid. Like you mentioned before, I did the (all-female) NBA 2K Powerz-Up tournament. And that kind of came about because when I started out just streaming, you know, from a professional athlete standpoint, it’s all about, girls aren’t bigger, they aren’t stronger, this and that. And I came over to the eSports space and I felt that same kind of stereotype towards female gamers, and it wasn’t as inclusive and inviting for females, and it’s also looked at as male dominated. But it’s not.
So I’m like, how do I make my voice known, how do I help change this, because on the (WNBA) side, people looked at me for advice because I’m a public figure. When the 2K tournament started, it was all about being more inclusive to females and just making them feel like they have a community to come to and start just expressing their love for eSports. Now, Team Liquid saw everything that I was doing, saw that I was trying to make a change in this industry in the best way possible when it comes to diversity and inclusion. So, you know, when they approached me about being the leader of their diversity inclusion task force, it was only right that I accepted it and took it full force, because not a lot of orgs are trying to do that, especially building out basically a task force to make sure that it gets done.
I can’t imagine you expected when you did the Powerz-Up Tournament that this would come out of it, right?
Last year was just so crazy and everything that went on, you know, COVID, and everybody’s locked down in the house, right, and people are just looking to get into something, (and) eSports made this big boom. People that are in the industry know how amazing it is, (but) they don’t realize how it could feel, you know, to not feel included in this big booming thing that’s taking off, right? And I felt that when I played the game. When I got on the game and people were like, oh you’re a female, or saying little things that were basically cyber-bullying. When it comes to just me being a female — and it’s not about gender when it comes to eSports — it’s about the skills you bring to the table, whether it’s mouse and keyboard or controller. That’s the beauty of eSports. Anybody can play it. Anybody (can get to) a certain level, as long as you put the work in.
How do you think like eSports will continue to grow, even if people aren’t at home quite as much? I know it’s been a growing business for years and years, but what do you think changes when people aren’t necessarily cramped inside and they do get to go do stuff out of the house again?
Right. That’s a big question. And for me personally, I don’t think it will waver. The reason why I think that is right now, yes, we’re cramped inside the house so a lot of people are watching Twitch or they’re watching eSports because that’s the thing to do now, but you forget the aspect of live gaming. People going to actual stadiums and being a part of something bigger than just a traditional sport, but eSports, they get as much, you know, viewing and people come into the arenas, as an NBA game.
And we look at that now you have actually more people invested into eSports because now they’re locked in the house, seeing what it’s all about. So then they know hey, this might be a live event, I want to go, I’ve been watching this player. I’ve been watching them at home for the last year that I’ve been stuck in COVID at home, let’s actually go out to a game. I think it will only heighten the expectations for eSports and I think we will actually get to a point where people are really invested in everything when it comes to eSports.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on watching your Mystics, seeing them make a playoff push despite being short-handed.
Yeah, all of it was exciting. It was a different situation that no one had ever been in, being in the Bubble, right, and then unfortunately I had a hamstring injury. It happens, our games are back-to-back because of the Bubble situation, so anyone that kind of got hurt was like, it stuck, because you didn’t have any time to get kicked back to your team.
But to see my team come together like they did, it was phenomenal. I mean we didn’t have a lot of our starters, but that wasn’t the feel every time we went to practice or we went to games. It was, we’re trying to win this game, no matter who’s on that floor, as long as we were together as a team.
One of the images that sticks out to me was the way that Ariel Atkins kind of became the face of that night when the league decided to sit games and was on ESPN. What did you make of seeing Ariel do that and seeing the Mystics take center stage with the social justice demonstrations?
Ariel, she did a tremendous job, and what most people don’t know about her is she’s extremely quiet. She’s a girl that actually doesn’t talk unless (she) really, really (has) something to say. So for her to be the one to actually speak out on ESPN in front of the camera, I know our team felt it, and anyone that knows her felt every word she said.
The fact that my team took the initiative to wear something as crazy as the bullet holes on the back of the white shirts with the blood (as seen in the video above) … it was very graphic but it was graphic purposefully, because we wanted to show that we see this (and) this is not cool. Police brutality is not OK. So the fact that my team was courageous enough to do those shirts and speak up in front of ESPN, have the world hear their voice, t speaks volumes, not only of my team but the women of the WNBA. People look to us for advice, they look to us to hear what we have to say. So we will continue to fight that fight, and hopefully things will change.
Your hamstring I’m assuming is fully healed, you’re good to go with regard to that now, right?
Yeah, I’m ready to dunk on somebody.
Awesome. So, you are a free agent as well right now. How are you going into that process?
Free agency actually opens up in two days. So it’ll be hectic. I’m going into it open-minded. It’s a lot of situations with how the year last year played out with the Bubble, a lot (more) women actually in free agency this year. It’s my first free agency kind of situation. So, obviously, I don’t really know how to take it but to sit back and just watch what happens until I have to make my final decision.