Like many others, DAMES alumnus Will Powers graduated in the midst of a recession in 2008. Unlike many others, however, Mr. Powers went from being a bartender in Raleigh after graduation to participating in The Tester, a reality TV show. His presence and performance on the show eventually netted him a job at Sony.
At Sony, Mr. Powers did QA (quality assurance) for about six months, then shifted over to PR and marketing. He’s been following that route in video games ever since, though he’s left Sony behind to pursue opportunities at several other industry giants.
I’ll ask the question sure to be on everyone’s mind. What games have you worked on?
Arena of Valor, Journey, Tokyo Jungle, Dead Island, Saints Row… seeing my name in the God of War font for the first time was really cool!
What do you do in your current role?
My company right now (The Story Mob) mostly focuses on esports. I’m the person who comes up with the talking points for my executives! As in, no one wants to say that the gaming industry is currently profitable. That’s insensitive. But the numbers are up, no question, so it’s better to say that the pandemic has opened up doors that didn’t exist before. It’s a silver lining to a really, really dark cloud. Turmoil presents the opportunity for innovation, and entertainment like video games and esports fills the void many of us are feeling right now because of the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
Is working in video games difficult, especially esports?
Sometimes! I’m working on something that’s watched by 100 million people, but I can’t just go out on the street and talk to the average person about it. I don’t know who’s plugged in and who isn’t. Since COVID started, though, ESPN and other big channels have started broadcasting a lot more esports, so it’s becoming more socially obvious and acceptable. We also get more exposure when traditional sports athletes cross over and play our games.
You know, our generation is the first to not age out of video games. It’s this viable source of interactive storytelling that rivals movies. Cannes and BAFTA have video game categories now. Mainstream credibility is finally starting to seep into the industry.
What is your favorite thing about your job? And your least favorite?
The answer to both of those questions is the same: I never know what I’m going to do on any given day. 90% of my day is putting out fires. I only get 10% routine, so it’s not like working at a bank! There’s no normalcy.
I also have to constantly debate with myself as I consider my future career in the industry: do I want to work on small projects and have a big impact, or vice versa?
When you came to UNC and chose to major within the Asian Studies Department (now DAMES), did you envision an eventual career in video games?
I came into college and left it not really knowing what to do with my Japanese degree. I loved the language, but to be honest, the religion and culture classes were the most interesting to me. Now, though, I have this superpower with Japanese. It and my INTS degree have been instrumental in helping me relate to the international gaming community.
The cultural understanding I gained at UNC, especially on the international level, is something I use all the time. No class or book can teach it. It’s something that’s experienced through exposure in a program or study abroad… it’s completely invaluable, and I tap into it on a daily basis. I have to have split-second understanding of cultures across the globe to be able to work with them, to not offend them. Legitimately, a lot of the classes I took at UNC are the foundational knowledge behind that. Self-images of cultures are so important. How they project their identities, how they want to see them reflected… the classes I took [in DAMES] helped me think about things like that.
Mr. Powers shared with me one of his most memorable experiences from UNC:
I did the Summer in Tokyo study abroad program in 2007. I still talk to my host family! And I have this vivid memory: we’re sitting around the dinner table, my host mom, my host dad, one of three kids, and I’m having a conversation about tea. I worked at a tea house with my dad from age 7-17, so I’m trying to describe to my host family how tea is aged in caves. I didn’t have the vocab. They weren’t getting it, so eventually I ended up explaining it by saying that tea “sleeps” in caves for five years!
And look at his cute dogs, because they’re just as fun as video games.