As pro streamer The Fierce Diva, Michael Reynolds brings Southern charm into the brutal battle royale world of Fortnite. But although streaming provides an outlet for his unique blend of “Black, gay, sassy, FIERCE” comedy, his content is about much more than fun and games. Through his platform, Michael has been able to overcome his own struggles with mental health, and he is on a mission to help others in his community do the same.
From the very beginning, The Fierce Diva was born as a vehicle for positivity. After establishing a successful corporate career, Michael turned to streaming in order to escape the soul-draining and morally-dubious world of sales. “I didn’t want to be 40 years old and just a rat running through the maze,” he tells INTO. “I want to be happy, and I want to do things I’m passionate about as well.”
He left his job and became The Fierce Diva, a gamble that ultimately paid off. Now, he’s a Facebook Gaming partner, boasting a community of nearly 80k followers. Recently, he was one of fifty people chosen for the 2022 Game Awards “Future Class,” honoring creators fighting for an inclusive future in gaming. And most importantly, Michael has been able to leverage his influence to raise money for charity and to connect his followers to mental health services.
We spoke with Michael about his passion for building communities, his mental health journey, and how he creates content that is both entertaining and impactful.
How did you get started as The Fierce Diva?
I’m not the best storyteller, I kind of go around and around a circle, so bear with me: I studied for a master’s degree in international development with a concentration in conflict resolution. I was very passionate about being involved in real-world issues and presenting solutions. That was my dream, but faced with reality—it just was not going to happen, unfortunately. I went into the corporate culture, as an executive recruiter. I never wanted that life for myself. Morally, I just had a lot of problems with it. Because with being an executive recruiter in the healthcare space, our office was paid more if we paid the folks that we were recruiting to fill positions—if we paid them less. So they essentially manipulate them to earn less, and I had so many issues with that.
So to make it to that point, it just threw me down this crazy spiral of depression. I was like, ‘This cannot be life—after all that I’ve done—it just cannot be my life.’ That finally threw me to a therapist. Luckily, going to therapy changed my life. All I needed was for someone to say, ‘This is normal. You’re normal. You’re not lazy, you’re not a piece of crap, You’re not this, You’re not that.’”
I told her there are some things in my life that I really wanted to try. I wanted to be just in charge of where my life was going professionally, romantically, all these things. I told her that podcasting was very important to me, streaming, I love video gaming. I don’t know why I never tried streaming. I wanted to, but I was afraid to put myself out there. Because with streaming and podcasts and things like that, your success, your failure is so present in front of everybody. It’s such a humbling experience.
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With streaming, I knew that I could do things that I was passionate about, creating a brand and creating a presence online, that I can bring people from all walks of life together, and allow them to connect with each other intimately. We all like gaming and we all like comedy, we like sharing a space where there’s positivity. That was something that I really wanted to do, and I think that I’ve achieved it.
Did you have professional aspirations right away with streaming? Or did it just start out as a hobby?
I had no idea what I was gonna do. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced in life where it’s like, you want to do this thing, you have no experience in this thing, but you believe you can do this thing. I just said to myself, ‘I’m gonna give it a year. I’m really gonna try my best and we’ll see.’
With streaming and podcasts and things like that, your success, your failure is so present in front of everybody. It’s such a humbling experience.
Literally in seven months, I started making somewhere around 60, close to 70% of what I was making at my job. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m only giving this a small percentage of me right now because of my job. What can happen if I go all in?’ And I decided right then and there, ‘It’s time to go.’
I know online gaming has kind of a reputation for not being the most welcoming place for marginalized folks. Has that been your experience?
So it’s funny, because I definitely anticipated encountering those experiences pretty regularly. And that it’s not been my experience at all. That’s not been the norm.
Every now and then, I will get crazy stuff like that in the chat. I try to be very patient. And I love when I do get those people in there because I can use them as examples, right? What I’m passionate about too is just how to help people in need, especially going through my life experience with being in such a dark place when I had started that [recruitment job], I was in such a horrible place.
From the very beginning, The Fierce Diva was born as a vehicle for positivity.
But it’s very sexy to help people that are fun to help, right? The people who are compassionate, so friendly, so nice, easy to talk to, yada yada yada—it’s sexy, and it’s easy to help them. But the people who truly and genuinely need that are the people out here that can come in a chat with 300, 400, 500 people and speak such crazy and foul language. Those are the people that if we really do mean when we say—that we want to be there for people—those are the ones that need it, right? Like, those are the ones that are gonna say things and make you question all of this, but we need to really be patient with them so we can freakin elicit some kind of real change right here in the chat.
At what point did you realize that what you’re doing was more than a hobby, that you could really help people and make a difference?
I guess when I had gotten to that point of making a decision to leave my job, when I could financially support myself. I was like, ‘Alright, it’s time that I look at this as a serious endeavor. But I hadn’t really gotten to the point to understand what I could actually do for people yet, like it was forming in my head, but I wasn’t quite there yet.
But when I really understood that I can help someone tangibly help someone, I’d say around 2020. Around November, around October I had gone back to my hometown in the Charleston area and I linked with another co-worker for the job that I was super unhappy at. He had brought a friend that he was dating, and she was a therapist in the area. So I talked to her, I was like, ‘Girl, oh my god, like I would love to be able to give therapy to my community.’ So we talked about it and she agreed that she would see some people that I would send her, and I was going to cover the cost. And that probably lasted for about two months. So then about seven months later, in August, I started communicating with Better Help. And we got a little dashboard that I could apply people to and start paying for their services that way—we started doing that. And since then we’ve paid for [around 50] people’s therapy.
Also on that note, you mentioned in your Future Class video for the Game Awards that you were diagnosed with ADD. How has your personal mental health affected your streaming?
So I know that I’ve suffered my whole life and it’s so interesting being diagnosed at an older age, to be able to go back and really learn about yourself. I got diagnosed the same week that the country got put on lockdown actually, so in March somewhere, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And [afterwards] I could see a tremendous difference in my life. I didn’t know how scatterbrained I was until I had gotten medicated. I was like, ‘Oh, people live like this every day?’
Since then, life has been so much better. Sometimes I get kind of sad because I have to take medication to be normal. “Normal,” right? So that frustrates me. But I’ve been working on accepting that, and I think what helps is to be like, ‘Whatever I am “normal.”’ And so [getting diagnosed] just made it better. For me, I can just be more organized. I can actually execute strategies that I come up with rather than before, I would just stall out.
What advice would you give to somebody that’s looking to get started streaming or making content online as a queer person?
Okay, so you’re going to have to mentally prepare for people saying very bizarre and mean-spirited things to you and try and take advantage of you. That is the one thing that I would recommend people come to terms with because it can be so jarring and can just leave you so mentally drained when you do see that stuff. And you’re not prepared for it when you have an off day. It’s crazy—the days you’re just having a bad day, I’m telling you, that is when it happens. It really is and it just knocks you off.
So just familiarize yourself with [other streamers] who have been very candid in talking about these experiences so that you can be very prepared for that and have some kind of solutions in place when you go into it. Because it’s one thing when you’re like, ‘Okay, I’ve seen all the people experience this. I can just handle it off the cuff.’ But it’s another thing when you go into it, and you’ve already written some solutions out so that you’re really prepared. So that’s number one.
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[Number two is] people need to understand the scope of being in this space, you have a responsibility. Finally we’re at a stage where the digital space can affect the physical space in beautiful ways. So really respect and understand the responsibility that you have to the community. Because when you do meet negativity or toxicity with toxicity, all you’re doing is continuing the creation of toxicity in our community. So understanding the power you have, understanding the leverage you have and understanding your platform, what you owe the community and the space that you’re in.
Finally we’re at a stage where the digital space can affect the physical space in beautiful ways.
Number three is understanding that this is not fun all the time. You’re gonna get roped up into looking at numbers every day. You want to see growth, you want to see there’s some tangible results to the passion you’re giving, every single day. There are times that I’ve missed birthdays, and I’ve missed so many things that are important to so many people in my life so that I can continue to stream. And it can become much. So understanding that you need content strategy, you need to take this very seriously as a business, that you’re not just going to turn this camera on and start this big, great endeavor and there’s going to be growth day after day after day.
I’ve seen so many people come and so many go. And when they go, they are so jaded. When they came here, they were so hopeful and inspired and passionate about it. And when they leave, it’s like this was probably one of the worst experiences they’ve had. I hate seeing that. And I think that that’s the result of not doing your due diligence of actually understanding what it’s like to be a content creator, before you join up and jump in.
It can become—when I say “overwhelming,” that does not do it justice. It can have a real burden on your mental health. So I really hope that people who are trying to get in this space just really do their research and come in prepared. ♦