When WNBA players head to Bradenton, Fla. next week for their shortened season at IMG Academy’s bubble site, Washington Mystics forward Aerial Powers will be there with her entire video game set-up in tow. Powers, known by the gamertag powerzsurge on streaming platform Twitch, is arguably the league’s most avid gamer and has become a woman on the rise in eSports.
Since getting started on Twitch last September during the late stages of the 2019 WNBA season, Powers has earned 2.6K followers and now streams almost daily, playing mostly NBA 2K20 and Apex Legends. During the season, gaming is a way for the WNBA star to wind down after practice or games. She even travels to road games with her PC monitor so she can play in her hotel room.
Because she’s been quarantining at home in D.C. the past few months, Powers has been streaming a lot more to satiate her competitive appetite and increase her visibility in the gaming space. In March, Powers competed in the first-ever NBA 2KL Three For All Showdown alongside her fellow WNBA players Allisha Gray and Alexis Jones. She’s also teamed up with the Washington Wizards 2K League squad and became the first WNBA player to commentate an NBA 2K game live on ESPN in June when the network began airing NBA 2K League matches.
“I think people really like when I play [NBA 2K20] just because of my basketball background,” Powers told Uproxx with a chuckle. “They really get into it and they can see what I’m like on the court. It’s fun to get into that mode especially because I can’t [play] right now with our season being on pause.”
The 26-year-old Michigan native grew up playing on different consoles including the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation Portable. The Powers family loved playing video games, and it was through her brother that the eventual WNBA champion first learned about playing online against people around the world. Powers’ brother would frequently play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and once he handed his headset to his sister, she was hooked for life.
“And then my dad came in and got a whiff of all of it, and then the next day, he brought home two more XBoxes, two more TVs, and we were like all in one household, playing the game, driving my mom crazy,” Powers says while laughing. “So that was pretty dope.”
Now, Powers loves connecting with people all over the world through her Twitch streams, reading their comments as they hear her hilarious commentary while she dunks on people in NBA 2K20.
“I have people from Italy, Turkey, people from all over the world come to my streams because they know me or saw me somewhere,” Powers says. “But it brings us all together. Now, with the pandemic going on, we’re not able to go out and hang out as usual so for me — especially with our season not happening right now — it’s connecting me to my fans. So that’s the reason why I love it.”
Released in September, NBA 2K20 is the first version of the game to include a WNBA mode. For the first time, Powers, who had been playing the NBA 2K games since she was a kid, was able to play as herself on the Mystics. But for all the progress made in the video game, she agrees that there is still a long way to go in terms of the actual gameplay and different modes. In NBA 2K20, the WNBA mode only lasts one full 34-game season whereas the NBA’s GM mode can go on for decades. Additionally, users cannot online against other people with WNBA teams, contracts and player ratings are often less than realistic, and users can’t even create their own female player, meaning Powers has to play as a man when she heads into The Neighborhood.
While Powers enjoys gaming and streaming on Twitch, she is also looking at different ways to use her platform for good. She hopes to challenge the stereotype of what a gamer looks like and to educate people on ways to stay healthy even while sitting and staring at a computer screen for hours. When she is streaming, Powers makes sure to be mindful of what snacks she’s eating and sometimes she games while exercising on her stationary bike.
“When you think of a gamer, you think of someone eating chips on the couch, not being healthy at all,” Powers says. “But there’s tons of ways that gamers can be healthy and stay healthy when it comes to gaming. I think that perception needs to change a little bit.”
Another perception that needs to change: the notion that young girls don’t have a clear interest and passion for eSports. As a prominent Black female athlete in the gaming space, Powers is one of few who look like her in a world that is often run by and filled with men. And while the WNBA star was raised in a family that supported her love for video games, she knows that is not always the case for many young girls around the world.
“When I got more online, it was like, ‘Hey, are you a girl?’ on the other side of the mic and you know, people making girl jokes,” Powers says. “But all in all, it didn’t affect me because I wanted to play and I wanted to be good at it so I didn’t let what the other people said take me out of the realm of playing video games. That’s another thing I want to teach other girls. If it’s something you like and it’s something you enjoy, then keep doing it.”
Even when there are girls who confidently love gaming, they don’t have as many role models in the growing professional esports space, which is something Powers has been working on with the NBA 2K League and their Women in Gaming initiatives. According to Statista, women account for 46 percent of all gamers in the U.S. yet no female gamer made Forbes’ list of top-earning gamers in the world in 2019.
“I think it’s important for younger generations of female gamers to see that so they know that girls do game. We do take it seriously,” Powers says.
With her presence on Twitch, not only is Powers able to grow her profile in the gaming space, but she’s also introducing new fans to the WNBA every time she streams. As the biggest gamer in the WNBA, players from around the league have even come to Powers asking how they can get started playing video games or to get advice about streaming.
“It means a lot to me,” Powers says. “To be known as someone that knows what to do and how to do it is cool because this is just something I love. It’s something that I picked up from an early age and I’ve done well with it. It’s definitely a cool accomplishment.”