There are few athletes in professional sports more connected with his fans than Chargers running back Austin Ekeler. While on Sundays Ekeler is spending his time dodging tacklers and powering his way to the endzone, during his free time it’s not uncommon to find him engaging in a different kind of game. Ekeler is an extremely active Twitch streamer with over 28,000 followers and he uses that time on Twitch to engage with his fans in a way that many athletes aren’t able to. He gets to move past the walls of social media, or press conferences, and speak with his fans directly through Twitch chat. Ekeler really values this time he has with his fans on platforms like Twitch, because while he’s unable to put faces to names, there are people he’s gotten accustomed to seeing in his chat. These fans will show up every week just so they can have a chance to interact with Ekeler, and that connection is what makes his stream different from the average athlete Twitch stream.
While it’s not uncommon to see athletes streaming on Twitch these days, they aren’t always as interactive with their chats as Ekeler is with his. When the average athlete is playing Call of Duty, or Grand Theft Auto, they’re typically playing with their friends and occasionally commenting at what chat is saying. Ekeler on the other hand largely dedicates his stream to the chat aspect.
‘It’s really about forming these bonds with my community.” Ekeler told UPROXX. “There are people who, I’ve never physically met them, but I recognize their Twitch name and I feel like I know them. I recognize people who I’ve been seeing their names in chat for over a year now. I’ve told them that if they ever come to a game to hold up a sign that says ‘Hey Austin, I’m [Twitch Name]’ and I’ll run over to them no questions asked.”
The way Ekeler got into streaming is a similar story to how a lot of hobbies were formed within the last year. As the COVID-19 pandemic pushed people inside, Ekeler saw Twitch as a way to continue interacting with his fans due to events like meet and greets no longer being an option. As his brand as a Twitch streamer grew he formed the “Gridiron Gaming Group” to give other pro athletes a chance to stream and form their own communities as well. It didn’t take long for him to get other NFL players like teammates Mike Williams and Justin Jones to get on board.
However, while Ekeler was forming GGG he never forgot about the ones who helped him get to this point. It’s Ekeler’s love for his community that has made him want to give back to it so he formed a partnership with SteelSeries to give back to them. To give them the opportunity get some of this same gear that he’ll be using in his streams. It’s also an opportunity to continue building his brand as a streamer.
“It’s no secret my passion for gaming and esports runs deep, so I am honored to become the first pro sports athlete to serve as an ambassador and join the SteelSeries family,” Ekeler said. “SteelSeries is celebrating their 20th anniversary as the original esports brand and they continue to lead the way by pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo, so I jumped at the opportunity to align and collaborate with them as I continue to build my brand across sports and culture.”
While nobody has come to a Chargers game with a sign yet, Ekeler still feels the warmth of his community pushing him forward every day. He’s one of those guys that has a storybook background in how he reached this point in his life. He was a complete unknown coming out of college, but he chose to drop out for his final semester so he could put his entire focus on football and preparing to get ready. He had a standout performance at a Pro Day and, although he went undrafted, he found himself signing with the Chargers, making the roster, and in the backfield taking his first ever carry as a pro. He didn’t waste it.
Ekeler can tell you everything about this moment from whom he was playing, to the number of yards he ran, but despite his background, he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder the way you’d expect. He’s instead thankful for not only being in this situation but for proving himself wrong more than anything else. He wasn’t supposed to be in this situation. “I’ve always been proving myself wrong.” Ekeler said. “I never thought I would be in the NFL. I never thought I’d be on the team. I never thought I’d be at this moment of my life.”
He shows that thankfulness in how he talks about his community. Despite being this ultra-competitive NFL player, he’s able to take that competitiveness and push it towards his growth as both a football player and a streamer. Of course, this doesn’t mean his competitiveness never comes out. He just tries to keep that on the field, or while playing League of Legends.
“I usually gotta play with the chat off on League or I’ll get tilted…the worst trash talk I’ve ever heard was in that game, because everyone is hidden behind a computer screen so they can’t see who the other person is.”
While League of Legends may retain its title as having the most toxic community in the world, fans of Ekeler’s can be happy that isn’t the case. His Twitch chat is very inviting and he tries to make sure everyone feels welcome. Go check him out and who knows, maybe you can be his first fan to bring their Twitch name to a game.