MONEY WILL SUPPORT SOAZ’S ESPORTS PROGRAMMING AND HELP FACILITATE INCLUSION IN ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING SPORTS WORLDWIDE
Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) was recently awarded a $50,000 grant from Fiesta Bowl Charities to help support SOAZ’s rapidly growing esports programming. With the support from Fiesta Bowl Charities, SOAZ was able to host an in-person esports tournament in April at Youngker High School in Buckeye.
Additionally, 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.
The tournament will take place in Youngker High School’s Performing Arts Center from approximately 9 a.m. – noon, and will feature gamers from approximately 8-10 high schools in the West Valley playing the hit game Super Smash Bros. Participating gamers can warm up in the practice area which includes gaming stations and 36 monitors, while the majority of the tournament action will take place on the main gaming area stage. Four winners will advance to the final bracket play where a winner will be crowned.
“We are so excited to be hosting this in-person esports tournament, it has become so popular with our athletes. They are really looking forward to this event and we can’t thank Fiesta Bowl Charities enough for making this happen,” said Jamie Heckerman, President and CEO of Special Olympics Arizona. “Gaming is a great way for our athletes to connect with other athletes and make lifelong friendships. While we will crown a winner at the end of the day, ultimately, all of the participants are really just looking forward to spending time with friends while enjoying some friendly gaming competition.”
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.