MONEY WILL SUPPORT SOAZ’S ESPORTS PROGRAMMING AND HELP FACILITATE INCLUSION IN ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING SPORTS
Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from Fiesta Bowl Charities to help support SOAZ’s rapidly growing esports programming. These funds will help facilitate Inclusion in esports by supporting SOAZ’s efforts to expand crucial access to one of the fastest growing sports worldwide, while also striving to eliminate stereotypes about what individuals with an intellectual disability (ID) can and can’t do.
“We are so grateful to Fiesta Bowl Charities for this grant. Esports is becoming such a big part of Special Olympics Arizona and this will be very helpful as it continues to grow and more athletes start to participate throughout the state of Arizona,” said Jamie Heckerman, President and CEO of Special Olympics Arizona.
First piloted in 2020, esports with SOAZ is quickly growing. Special Olympics athletes (with ID) and Unified Partners (without ID) participate side by side, breaking stereotypes of what it means to be an athlete. Since not everyone plays physical sports, esports provides an alternative route to Inclusion, furthering the purpose of SOAZ to empower individuals with ID to live healthy, fulfilling, and meaningful lives to the fullest extent.
SOAZ’s esports follows the same format as other Special Olympics sports. Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons require eight hours of practice before regional competitions and a state tournament. SOAZ also hosts a multi-state esports tournament during the summer for continued play. Esports pop-ups at highly attended Summer and Fall Games will spread excitement for the growing program.
As esports rises in popularity, research shows that video game play is positively correlated with well-being. Benefits are shown to include social connection and improvements to attention, memory, problem-solving, decision-making, and job skills. For students, esports improves academic performance, inclusion, attendance, and life skills. Perhaps one of the greatest reasons to embrace esports is its potential to empower individuals with disabilities. The availability of accessible games and adaptive equipment is impressive, and proven benefits can address many challenges often faced by individuals with ID. However, there is still much work to do to ensure that inclusive opportunities in esports are available for players of all abilities, especially in our shared Arizona community.