On the road. In the airport. Even before a big show.
Playing video games has always been an outlet for WWE Superstar Austin Watson, better known as Xavier Woods.
The founder of YouTube gaming channel UpUpDownDown, which earned a Guinness World Record for the most subscribed to Celebrity Video Gaming Channel, Woods had the opportunity to visit the Bell Fibe House in Toronto earlier this month. There, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s NBA 2K League team Raptors Uprising greeted the current WWE SmackDown Tag Team Champion at their high-tech Lakeshore gaming home.
If you are unfamiliar with the video game enthusiast, or haven’t had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the wrestling star fly across your television while performing a breathtaking stunt, what you need to know about Woods is that he naturally captivates.
A member of one of the most successful stables in WWE History (The New Day along with partners Kofi Kingston and Big E), the well-educated Georgia-native entertains millions on a nightly basis, either in the ring or with his online presence. However, for the six-time WWE Tag Team Champion, who has also found the time to currently pursue a PhD in educational psychology, socializing with others wasn’t always so easy.
“Minus video games, I would still be that super shy, not-talking-to-anybody, very reserved, in-my-own-head kind of person,” said Woods, inside the Raptors Uprising home. “Ever since I was a little kid, [playing video games] was kind of what I did to deal with being super socially awkward. I’d play with other kids and my mom realized that was the only time I really felt comfortable, so she would set up play dates for me with other kids in the area, and then that grew into them vouching for me at school.”
Woods brought that same sense of comfort with him at the Raptors Uprising gaming home where, reminiscent of one of his childhood play dates, he bonded alongside the team playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch, and it wasn’t long before everyone’s personalities began to show.
“That’s one of the things I really enjoy about being able to play video games with other people,” said Woods. “It brings you out and shows you that there is a community that likes the same stuff you like, they want to talk about the same things as you do […], so you don’t feel as isolated as you may have once felt when you first started.”
While many know the WWE wrestler for his personality in the ring, Woods and gaming have constantly gone hand-in-hand. In fact, so much so that the 32-year-old always ensures that he has access to his video game setup wherever he goes.
At an airport layover, Woods would unzip his backpack, take out his PlayStation and portable monitor, locate an outlet to plug everything into, and then kick back and unwind. If he’s on an airplane itself, he’ll fire up his Nintendo Switch, which he always carries with him, and de-stress that way.
Even before a big WWE event, you can bet to find the dynamic athlete embedded in a video game.
“We normally get to shows a couple hours early,” said Woods. “So I’ll set my stuff up in whatever back room that we have so we can play fighting games, or I’m on the side playing Apex Legends by myself, whatever it is, that’s kind of what has kept us all sane because we have another outlet.”
In terms of the gaming culture and its acceptance inside the WWE locker room, Woods credits legends like Booker T and Sheldon Benjamin for paving the way. While there used to be a time when video games were severely frowned upon backstage, the 32-year-old says he was fortunate to never really receive that type of pushback.
“There used to be a stigma [in wrestling],” said Woods. “‘No video games’. People would get mad; people would get in trouble. But for me, I always got the chance to travel with my gaming stuff.
“Obviously, wrestling is incredible; it’s fantastic. I love getting to interact with fans and getting a chance to be a part of the show. But then there’s that downtime where you can relax and kind of get your mind right. And for me — and a lot of guys on the roster — that’s playing video games.”
So when the WWE stopped in Toronto earlier this month, a trip to Raptors Uprising’s gamer’s paradise was essential for Woods, who appeared to be impressed by the NBA 2K League team’s setup along the Lakeshore.
Woods was treated to a tour of the state-of-the-art home that boasts 10 gaming stations in its LED lit basement — all running on 2 x 1.5 GB Bell Fibre high-speed internet connection — a pool table and ping pong table in its hardwood-floor living room, six bedrooms spread across the house’s three stories, and a spacious backyard where Woods played some Spikeball alongside the team.
A NEW CHALLENGER APPROACHES! Can @XavierWoodsPhD hold his own in a few rounds of #SuperSmashBrosUltimate when he takes on some of the best #eSports players on the @RaptorsGC? #UUDD #UUDD2MIL https://t.co/7rRM6nqkSy pic.twitter.com/0AbcJKwuA0
— UpUpDownDown (@UpUpDwnDwn) August 27, 2019
And if you ask Woods, who finished off his visit after a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. with Raptors Uprising players, the WWE athlete will say the variety of activity at the player’s home is music to his ears, as the multifaceted star has been trying to break a stigma that’s followed wrestlers — and, to an extent, athletes — for generations.
“You don’t have to put yourself in a box,” wrapped up Woods, who brings fellow WWE wrestlers, gaming personalities, and other guests onto his show to play games. “That’s kind of the main reason I wanted to make the channel: to show that every one of us on the roster is so diverse and we’re interested in different things. I want everyone to know there are layers to every single person in the company.
“I have two degrees, a master’s, and almost have a PhD — and I have this YouTube channel with almost two million subscribers. I don’t want people to think you have to be whatever society tells you that you are.”
The WWE Superstar’s visit to the Bell Fibe House was refreshing for the professional Raptors Uprising players. After a long second season in the NBA 2K League, the YouTube personality provided an uplifting vibe and revitalizing presence. But more importantly, Woods, who literally wears his love for gaming on his sleeve with an emblem from The Legends of Zelda tattooed on his left forearm, brought along a subtle reminder as to why we all fell in love with playing video games in the first place.