Minnesota Lynx Aerial Powers forward shakes up esports on Team Liquid
When the Lynx Aerial Powers striker comes home from practice, she puts on her headphones, logs in and starts streaming.
The WNBA star has been an avid gamer since childhood, when his family bonded Call of Duty and GoldenEye 007. But as she grows older and begins to play with strangers, or “randomly,” that camaraderie and support from her opponents isn’t always there.
“I got it where I play well, and I’m going to say something, and it’s like, ‘Wait, are you a girl?'” Powers said. “Or it’s like, ‘Are you a girl or a young teenager?’ They’ll instantly start saying nasty things about being a girl. It’s just mean.
Despite the sexist cyberbullying she faces, Powers refuses to let others get in the way of one of her greatest passions, so she’s used her platform as a professional athlete to create change. She is the chair of the diversity and inclusion working group for Team Liquid, one of the largest esports organizations in the world, and became one of its co-owners just two months ago. Since joining the organization last year, she has played an important role in tackling the toxic environment that exists for female gamers, bringing diversity to the forefront of an industry in which she is often neglected.
Esports is an industry that, at first glance, appears to be male-dominated. But Powers says that image is misleading. According to a 2021 study, 45% of gamers are women; however, women in esports routinely face cyberbullying or feel the need to mute their microphones or disguise their voice to avoid giving out their identity.
“It’s just a battle that we’re going to continue to fight as female athletes, whether it’s esports or traditional sports,” said Powers, a 2016 first-round pick. esport is a space where it should be equal for everyone.”
His role on Team Liquid allowed him to lead this battle on the biggest stage in the sport. She played for the Mystics from 2018 to 2020, and team owners Ted and Zach Leonsis were investors in the esports company, which boasts 60 championship-level athletes in 14 of the best games in the world. Its collective teams have won the most prize money in esports history as they rank among the best in Dota 2, League of Legends, fortnite, Counter-Strike: Global Offense, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Super Smash Bros. Melee, street fighter and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The Leonsis family knew about Powers’ passion for esports. After her 2019 WNBA title run, they introduced her to co-CEO Steve Arhancet, and the partnership was formed.
“We started talking about What can we dosaid Arhancet. “Why aren’t there more women competing at the highest levels of competition? Why don’t young girls dream of becoming professional gamers? Why aren’t there “There aren’t more women-only events to help bring more women into this industry? Why aren’t some content creators and influencers talking more about issues around the under-representation of women?”
In January 2021, Team Liquid, which was valued at $310 million by Forbes in 2020, signed Powers on as a streamer and chair of its diversity task force, so she can help the company answer these unresolved questions and strategize to bring about meaningful change for female gamers .
“The only thing that stood out to me was just their team culture,” Powers says. “Talking to Steve, his vision and goals aligned with mine, and it just took off from there.”
Over the past year, Team Liquid has already made significant progress in the DEI space with the help of Powers. He signed an all-female Valorant team in Brazil in hopes of increasing the likelihood of women playing on mixed rosters at the highest level. Powers also teamed up with Team Liquid sponsor Alienware – a Dell hardware subsidiary known for its gaming laptops – and traveled to Austin to encourage young kids to get involved in esports and games. STEM by revamping their playrooms. She will now work as an ambassador for Coinbase, which sponsors both the WNBA and Team Liquid, to learn more about cryptocurrency and help educate her community about it. And in December, she even became one of five Team Liquid players to invest their own capital in the company as a co-owner.
“It’s a way of showing up and getting the job done and giving someone like me, a young black girl from Detroit, a chance to invest in something that I don’t think I can imagine doing,” says powers. “I also invested because I believe in what we do here at Team Liquid. I believe in our organization. I believe we choose people who have the ability to do great things and who have great potential, so how can you not succeed when you have this in your back pocket?”
Given the the rise of esports during the COVID-19 pandemicTeam Liquid will continue to build on Powers’ guidance, keeping inclusivity at the forefront as the billion dollar industry continues to grow.
“Aerial’s greatest contribution is voice and perspective to influence the decisions we make,” says Arhancet. “It’s been really helpful in being a lot more inclusive in the things we do and making that part of our DNA.”
Through everything she’s done for Team Liquid, Powers still has her WNBA job.
“It was definitely a lot of work,” she says. “What I’m trying to do is build an empire, and you do it slowly, building brick by brick.”
Whether on the field for the Lynx or behind a screen with Team Liquid, Powers strives to continue championing women in all sports. She believes esports is a prime destination for change.
“The more new games come out, the more new leagues come out, the more women will start to be in the leagues too. There’s going to start to be more equal opportunities for women to be able to play against guys, showing that they’re there. at their skill level,” Powers says. “Think about that. It’s fucking huge.
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