WNBA champion Aerial Powers on diversity and inclusion in gaming: ‘I want my legacy to be she created space for women and people of color’

The Team Liquid and HyperX ambassador is making her voice heard in multiple spaces.

Image via 4th Floor Creative

Aerial Powers is a WNBA champion. But when she isn’t playing basketball, she’s active in fighting for diversity and inclusion in all spaces, including esports and gaming. 

Powers, who launched her own Twitch channel during the 2019 WNBA season, is a brand ambassador for HyperX and Team Liquid, while also acting as the chair of the organization’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. 

With legacy esports brands supporting her, Powers is constantly expanding her reach and making her voice heard while she works on increasing awareness for women and people of color across both sports and gaming. And as she continues to break barriers, Powers talked with Dot Esports about her gaming history, the importance of being visible, and how she’s trying to change the perspective of women in sports and esports. 

The WNBA, HyperX, Team Liquid, and your own initiatives—that’s quite the list already. But what made you decide to jump into the battle for diversity and inclusion?

Powers: Let’s take it back to when everyone started to notice that I was into gaming. It was about a year ago when I started streaming on Twitch and a lot of people from my WNBA games started to go over to Twitch to see me play and just hang out with me after games. But I only really started getting involved when I got into the [NBA] 2K League.

Everyone knew about 2K the game, but not many people knew about the league at the time because it was so new. So when I got into the game, I thought it was really cool because I love to play the game and I fell in love with the community. But the only thing was, they had their first female player, Chiquita Evans. But the next year, they didn’t have any. 

So I started thinking “why is that? How do we make history and then go backwards when there are plenty of female players trying to get into the space?” That made me dig deeper into esports as a whole and I started seeing the same things I see in the WNBA, where everyone compares the girls to the guys and says stuff like girls aren’t fast enough, cool enough, and all those things. 

But I also loved most of what I saw, because the beauty of esports is that you can take out most of the physical part, you can entirely take away the reality of being a man or woman because it is for anyone. It’s about the skills you bring to the game, and that made me feel like I needed to use my platform and voice to change the perspective. 

It all started with my Powerz Up NBA 2K20 Tournament and just started flowing from there. Luckily, I had the early backing of HyperX. They saw my vision and helped out, and from then on people not only started seeing me, but hearing my voice and the message I was getting through. 

Obviously, the WNBA has players, teams, and organizations taking stands for diversity, inclusion, and equality. How has being involved with the league and all of those players working for change impacted you? 

I mean, I’m considered a vet now, but when I came into the league and even now I’m looking to my vets for leadership. 

The WNBA started when I was two years old, now I’m playing for the Minnesota Lynx and Maya Moore was my favorite player growing up. The things she has done, that Sheryl Swoopes has helped pave the way for me, and that’s what I’m trying to do for other ladies, other women, whether it’s in traditional sports, esports, or any other career they want to go into. 

When they see a strong female like me voicing her opinion, having an educated opinion about things, I hope I am giving them someone to look up to. The biggest thing I want to see is more women in leadership roles, and to do that, we have to create them, right? We have to keep pushing the envelope. So that’s where I am in life right now. And that’s what I want to continue to do. No matter what I touch, no matter if it’s traditional sports or esports or any other field I go into, that’s just who I am. 

What would you say to a younger woman who’s looking at an area like that and asking how she’s supposed to get into it? 

My advice to the young girl would be if you have an interest in it, take part in it. Don’t let whoever is saying it isn’t for you or might not be for you affect you. If you’re interested in it, engulf yourself in it. You don’t have to be an actual streamer or a player, you can be a graphic designer, you can be a coach, or you can even be a team owner at one point.

And on the topic of encouraging that young girl, a lot of these people do hide behind those usernames and they would never say these things to you in person. Right? So what does that matter? Why would that matter to you with a person you will never meet says to you? It shouldn’t. 

That’s the beauty of something like esports too, there are just so many different ways to get involved. So many ways to build your confidence, get into communities that you like, communities that are welcoming. And then through those communities, you’ll form friendships and be able to see how into it you really want to be. 

From basketball to gaming, what made the jump into being actively involved in gaming and esports the move for you? And are there any aspects of fighting for diversity and inclusion in gaming that’s different than say doing it on the basketball side? 

It’s very similar, but for me at the time, the big difference was I didn’t see any female voices being backed in making a difference or trying to change the perception. That bothered me because I know that at the heart of women’s sports right now, whether it be soccer, basketball, or anything else, we are always fighting hard for equality. 

In the WNBA, the new CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] has increased our salary, but it’s nowhere near the men’s. We do the same thing, so we fight all the time to be treated as equals. And when I came over to the esports, I didn’t see anyone fighting for these women. So for me, it’s being the voice for the voiceless and I’m going to continue to fight that fight until I can’t anymore because it’s really important that these girls have a space where they feel included.

As you have gotten more involved in esports and gaming, your voice has ballooned and pushed you into all of these new areas. Working with Team Liquid, and now HyperX, how have these brands helped you with your passions as you have continued to make your voice heard? 

So whether you are talking about Team Liquid or HyperX, both have a following, and it’s not just in one or two states, it’s worldwide. So when the two of us are sitting here and talking about inclusion and diversity, the one thing I keep preaching is that the people have to be able to be visible and seen. Liquid and HyperX help give me that reach, providing me a chance to actually do things that are broad so women can be included. 

That goes back to when we talked about the WNBA and how I looked up to my vets. They created this path for me, this journey. I knew that when I saw my mom play basketball, and my gosh she’s a good player, that I might want to play and win. But that path was already laid out by the women who came before me. And then it’s going to be another girl, and another lady, you’re going to see more people in a position of power that just create these paths for other women. 

If I’m just talking as Aerial Powers, whether it be in the WNBA or esports, I want to be a champion in everything I do. I want my legacy to be she created space for women and people of color, just the next person up. The ball will never stop rolling. It should never stop rolling. It should continue on long after I’m gone, and this is my legacy in that sense.

Moving more to your stream, you play a lot of Apex Legends, Call of Duty, and NBA 2K, but what are some other games that you really enjoy playing, multiplayer or single-player, that might not get the screen time for your stream? 

Not gonna lie, I love all the games you named, and I actually just started talking to someone about this, but I want to work more on my Twitch and make it even more inclusive. 

That goes back to when I was a kid, playing in the Nintendo 64 days because the first person I ever saw playing was my mother. She loved GoldenEye 007 and we would play as a family, whether it be me and her against my little brother and dad or something else, but we played often. She didn’t play much as the games got better and better, but now she’s super big into Twitch. 

But what really got me going was when my dad came in and saw me playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare with my little brother. My dad’s a Marine guy and he’s like “Yo, I like this game,” so we taught him how to play, and I kid you not, the next day he comes home with two more Xbox and headsets and we just drove my mom crazy. 

And even beyond that, when I went off to college at Michigan State or am playing professionally now, my schedule was so packed or I couldn’t go visit because I might have been overseas. So in my odd time, I used games to connect with my family, because like, I can’t call you up at 2am to talk on the phone, but if I get you on the game? I know I got you hooked and you’re playing with me for hours. 

Right now, maybe with some horror games and letting them [the viewers] scare me with alerts or something. Overall, I am going to start broadening out the games I play and want to try out virtual reality stuff too. That way you can see me playing, you see the actual gameplay, but I’m like moving and being more active because, in this esports world, health is something we don’t talk about much and that is another important topic to speak on. 

If somebody wants to follow in your footsteps, make their voice heard, and try to do what you’re doing in amplifying a cause for something like creating an inclusive and diverse space, what would you say the first steps for them should be? 

For me, it was deciding what you want your voice to sound like. That was very important because, when I speak, I want everyone to know that I am a voice for inclusion. I’m the voice for diversity. So that means educating yourself on what you want your voice to sound like because when you start speaking, that is going to be what people know you as.