At the recent Association of Colleges’ FIFA Cup esports tournament, three disabled gamers were able to participate in the event. Despite being widely promoted as being an inclusive sporting arena, esports has perhaps dropped the ball a little when it comes to promoting the chances and opportunities for disabled gamers.
For the three students, it was the first time that they had been able to take part in a tournament and it is this situation that the British Esports Association (BEA) is keen to end for good.
They are calling for a complete rethink about how esports offers opportunities for people with disabilities.
Making the Breakthrough as a Disabled Esports Competitor
While there have been individuals that have overcome their disability to break into the professional scene, such as Randy “N0M4D” Fitzgerald who has shown his abilities in a number of First Person Shooter esport games, such as Call of Duty, as well as Street Fighter V, competitors with disabilities are by no means widespread in the esports community.
BEA is arguing that by calling on the expertise of a number of technology companies, they can bridge the gap that often stops disabled customers from competing at the top levels within the industry.
Tom Dore of the BEA explained that it hopes that the example set by the three gamers in the FIFA event will act as a ‘pilot’ for future more inclusive esports tournaments and events and that to facilitate this, it intends to access some of the biggest names in the industry.
“We’re intending to speak to Microsoft about the opportunities to get a group of colleges like National Star involved in a pilot competition like this because the impact that they’ve seen is huge.”
Microsoft is one of a number of companies that have developed adapted technology to allow disabled gamers to access esports controllers. One of the competitors in the FIFA tournament, Daniel, used an Xbox Adaptive Controller to allow him to compete against other players.
The technology was so proficient at allowing Daniel to play on equal terms with non-disabled competitors, that other players were not aware that Daniel had any disability.
“Play Against People Who Use The Same Technology As Me”
However, as Daniel pointed out while playing in the tournament meant a lot, he still felt at a distinct disadvantage compared to other players.
“Being able to play real [able-bodied or non-neurodiverse] opponents is really hard because I play the game in a different way to them,” Daniel explained.
“I would like to be able to play against people who use the same technology as me so that it is fairer.”
Although there have been attempts to arrange esports events for disabled gamers, it has been on a somewhat disorganised and ad-hoc basis. Other companies have been formed to help players with physical or mental impairments get into esports, such as SpecialEffect, GamesAid, eTeam Brit, Get Well Gamers, and Autistica.
However, for all their good intentions, their benefits are often limited as while they can create a wonderful and diverse of products and equipment to enable disabled players to compete in esports, they are then only able to play against other players that do not have the same impairments.
Are Disabled-Only Esports Tournaments Inclusive?
One argument against the creation of disabled-only esports events is that they are themselves, non-inclusive for able-bodied athletes.
This is a somewhat self-centered view, however. There are plenty of tournaments for able-bodied competitors to try their luck in if they so wish. Yes, disabled competitors can enter these events too, but often with a huge disadvantage, even with the best adaptive or specialist equipment.
For me, the whole issue revolves not just around equality of opportunity, but fairness. Sure, esports tournaments do not have any rules precluding disabled competitors from taking part, but the nature of the games is such that these players, through no fault of their own, are at a massive disadvantage in this type of situation.
In terms of fairness for all, competitions that are open only to players with similar disabilities make perfect sense. We have already seen how this can work effectively when we look at how the Special Olympics events classify athletes by their varying degrees of disability.
Esports tournaments should be a level playing field and it should be your ability, not your disability, that decides your chances of success. As such, tournaments for disabled esports gamers are a positive way forward to address the issue.
However, it needs proper funding, superb organisation, accessibility, and much more thought than simply throwing a tournament on in an ad-hoc basis.
It is that challenge that the BEA now faces in sorting out on its mission to improve access for disabled esports gamers.