DUNBAR, W.Va. – With over 350 million monthly active players, Fortnite has become one of the most popular games in the world, according to Business of Apps. A cultural phenomenon, the game has continued to grow in users and revenue since its release in 2017. And now, with platforms like Twitch gaining traction, people don’t just like to play the game–they also like to watch other people play it.
Michael Reynolds, also known as The Fierce Diva, is from Dunbar, West Virginia. He began streaming Fortnite on Facebook in 2020, and since then, he gained 37k followers, each video consistently getting views in the thousands. In honor of Black History Month, Reynolds said he wanted to give back to West Virginia and decided to lead a campaign to raise money for Mountaineer Food Bank.
“History is very community centric. So for me, when I think about Black history, I think of community, and I think [of how] this community has really helped raise me into the person that I am today,” Reynolds explained.
Mountaineer Food Bank serves people with food insecurity in 48 out of West Virginia’s 55 counties. According to Feeding America, one in seven West Virginians struggles with hunger. Reynolds said the decision to partner up with Mountaineer Foodbank was a no-brainer for him.
“They were the first people we called,” said Reynolds.
This isn’t the first time that Reynolds has raised money for charity, and he says giving back is an important part of his page as well as having real and open discussions on mental health, which he finds is something many in the gaming community struggles with.
Growing up Black, growing up gay–I think we’re on the same page that there are adversities that are unique to both of those communities, and pairing both of them together poses even more unique challenges to overcome, and there were definitely challenges that I had to overcome as a child…I think what it did, though, is it allowed me to connect with people in more authentic ways because I had to put my authenticity in front of people in ways that they didn’t have to do with me, and I think that that allowed folks to connect with me in a more tangible and deeper way.Michael Reynolds, aka The Fierce Diva
Reynolds shared that he went to graduate school for national development and conflict resolution and afterward, was unable to get a job in the field he got a degree in. According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, it’s a struggle that nearly half of recent graduates face.
“It was a rude awakening, and it was a very depressing awakening. I went through a lot of challenges and a lot of self doubt, a lot of grief, a lot of embarrassment because I couldn’t do it, and I came back, and my friends were buying their dream houses, starting families, and all that, and here I am, moving back home and not knowing when I’m going to get a job, running out of money, kind of running out of hope,” said Reynolds, “So I remember what it felt to be in those situations and go through those challenges and also, you kind of feel alone in them, even when you may have a strong support system.”
Reynolds said he’d always had a passion for video games and decided to create his own streaming page after some encouragement from his friends with the idea of using his studies to create a community around his streaming that would have an impact. On top of engaging in discussions around diversity and mental health, Reynolds began assisting his followers by paying for their services on Better Help, an online platform where people can visit with a licensed therapist through video call, phone, or messaging.
Then, in 2021, he helped to raise money for the Thurgood Marshall College fund on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, alongside other Black gaming creators on Facebook.
“I wanted to bring people together, other Black gamers like myself on Facebook, and so I reached out to Facebook Gaming, and I spoke with a representative, and they were all in for what I wanted to do, so that actually brought together a lot of folks on the platform,” The Fierce Diva remembers about the 2021 charity work, “But I knew that I wanted to do something more. I wanted to do something even bigger.”
Watch: The Fierce Diva describes how video gaming can have an impact on the real world
Soon after he started streaming, Facebook launched a Black Gaming Creator Program, which provides mentorship and training for select creators. Reynolds was one of the few creators who were accepted as a member of the program. Since then, he has been invited to talk with Mark Zuckerberg live twice: once in the Metaverse and another time in the new Facebook audio rooms.
“That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life,” Reynolds said, “But it’s interesting because all that fear that I had getting into that room was immediately washed away because…he made us so comfortable. I never at any moment felt that I was out of my league. It was an awesome experience that I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Reynolds said that partnering with Facebook Gaming gave him the means to start looking at local charities and projects he wanted to start, and this partnership with Mountaineer Food Bank is only the beginning.
“I definitely went through some situations that were unfavorable [in childhood], but a lot of people came around, and I think that most folks would be surprised the number of people who came around and that shows the heart of the community, and that’s why we have to give people a chance and not read a book by its cover, but also make sure that we are there when the community needs us, too.”