Gaming in general is moving toward accessibility, but that’s not as much the case in esports, which like other sports are competitive and by nature somewhat exclusive. Xbox and the Special Olympics are working together on a new event that combines competition with inclusion, and it’s going on right now.
This week, Special Olympics athletes will be competing against each other in tournaments of Rocket League, Madden NFL 22 and Forza Motorsport 7. The prize, other than prestige and pride, is playing with one of the Special Olympics’ celebrity supporters: “NBA superstar Jayson Tatum, NFL legend Jamaal Charles, and WNBA superstar Jewell Loyd, and WWE Superstars Dominik Mysterio and Ember Moon.” So many superstars!
“This tournament is a meaningful and important step in making esports more accessible and it empowers Special Olympics athletes with a new way to compete,” said Jenn Panattoni, head of Xbox Social Impact. “Xbox has invested in numerous accessibility features and products, like the Xbox Adaptive Controller and features like copilot or speech to text. The purpose of all this continued work is to ensure that players feel welcome and that they belong on the Xbox platform.”
The tournaments are being recorded right now, and will be broadcast over the rest of the week, along with the “celebrity showcase” coming Saturday with recaps. You can check out a schedule at the bottom of this post, but generally just keep an eye on the Xbox Twitch channel and Special Olympics YouTube channel.
These events were highlighted because it’s accessibility has been on the back burner for so long in the gaming world, and now we’re seeing big moves by developers, publishers and partners to make things better. Microsoft’s XAC is a great example, as is the panoply of visual, audio and difficulty options in the latest Ratchet & Clank game. Esports is definitely one of the areas that needs more diversity, though, and the participating players were glad to take part. I asked Special Olympics athletes Jose Moreno and Colton Rice for their thoughts on the matter.
This competition and other events in online gaming have been essential to keeping the Special Olympics community connected and active over a difficult couple years.
“Special Olympics has a long-standing partnership with Microsoft that has been incredibly valuable for the athletes and families of the Special Olympics movement,” said the organization’s chief information and technology officer, Prianka Nandy. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, our main concern has been the safety and health of our athletes, who are amongst the most vulnerable population to have an adverse or catastrophic outcome from the virus.
This led to the cancellation and postponement of thousands of annual in-person events and competitions — which meant our athletes have missed out on the connections and opportunities to experience the joy of being with their teammates, coaches and friends.
At this time, our goals remain to raise awareness of the Special Olympics movement and the accomplishments, hopes and dreams of our incredible athletes, and to change attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities within the gaming community, all while remembering that gaming can be fun and inclusive for all.”