Accessible eSports: technically feasible, but lacking social visibility
Accessible eSports: technically feasible, but lacking social visibility
Although it is a newer sport – and yes, it is not a sport in the traditional sense of the word – eSports enjoys mass appeal. Having said that, people face the same challenges in the digital realm as they do in the real world when it comes to the participation of people with disabilities for example.
As president of the ESBD, Hans Jagnow would like to see more support from the umbrella sports associations.
For Hans Jagnow, president of the Esport-Bund Deutschland (ESBD), the evolution of eSports means that disability will someday no longer be an issue. In this interview with REHACARE.com, he explains what eSports, manufacturers, sports associations and policy-makers still need to do, describes the possibilities this holds for participation and offers advice for up-and-coming young talents.
Mr. Jagnow, Niklas Luginsland is a professional athlete with a disability for the VfB Stuttgart football team. Are people with disabilities able to make it into professional sports teams that require this level of precision?
Hans Jagnow: Every person’s disability is incredibly unique. When it comes to eSports, it makes a big difference whether a person has a mobility impairment or whether he or she has a motor skill or visual impairment, in addition to the nature and degree of the disability. Esports offers the opportunity to make adaptations from a technical perspective without changing the actual games. We have all witnessed the endless debates in traditional sports that question whether the performance of an athlete with prosthetic limbs can compare to the performance of an able-bodied athlete. Since this type of sport is rooted in the digital realm and tied to program codes and digitality, we can adapt the game framework at any time to facilitate equal participation and break down the barriers between disability and non-disability. There are many ways to do this: On the one hand, you can change the game itself, i.e., the visual display on the gaming screen, which allows people with visual impairments to participate on an equal basis. On the other hand, you can adapt the gaming input and change the controller. There are many ways that ultimately have to result in binary code, which tells the game which action is performed. This gives us more technical options to bring people with and without disabilities together. What we still need at this point - and I believe this is a major task for both the association and the disabled sports organizations - is to study and define the social background. What does it take for this to happen? We need to make technical suppliers realize that their creative minds are needed in this setting. On the other hand, we also have to show people with disabilities that this is a new type of sport that facilitates equal participation. Ultimately, this should eliminate the question of whether a person has or doesn’t have a disability. That's why I would like to see the DBS (National Paralympic Committee Germany) officially support eSports - especially as an option for people with disabilities.
What skills do up-and-coming eSports athletes need to enter the professional realm?
Jagnow: That's the beauty of eSports. In many areas – of course, this also depends on the athlete’s type of disability – they need the same prerequisites as other competitors, meaning it takes hard work and it’s something not just fun. Professional gamers also have to be able to struggle through difficult phases - in other words, they must deliver great performances and work hard. They also have to attract attention and point to their progression and demonstrate their skills. They must be able to successfully integrate into a team and find their place and ultimately be able to communicate their special needs to the team. I think many teams are not sure how to address disabilities. However, they would appreciate effective communication of a teammate’s needs and finding out how they can offer support as a team.
To become a successful eSports athlete you need the same prerequisites as other athletes too. It's all about hard work and great performances to show your skills and the need of getting attention for that.
Earlier you mentioned input devices. Do you see any trends that other manufacturers, aside from Microsoft, are following suit in terms of hardware for people with disabilities?
Jagnow: These trends have always been there in my opinion. After all, input devices are not just a challenge when it comes to gaming but in job settings as well, where they have to enable people with mobility impairments and motor skills disorders to work on computers. These are ultimately the same technologies that apply in eSports. No matter what program you run on the computer, it’s always about the input, which is why there are already a wide variety of available options. USB interfaces are considered universal interfaces and facilitate custom use. Depending on the impairment, these input devices are made in small quantities since all disabilities are unique and the devices must be adapted accordingly. This represents the crux of the matter. We need to increase awareness that many technical solutions are already available and that people can also use them for gaming or eSports. This tends to be more of a social problem, not a technology problem. The trends are emerging, we just have to give them space and amplify visibility.
So far, many people found their own solutions because there has not been a standard, commercial solution that met their needs. Has Microsoft’s involvement changed all that?
Jagnow: The leading manufacturers are now increasingly aware that they bear and assume social responsibility. Regardless of what happens, the digital sports movement must be committed to utilizing and promoting opportunities in the hardware sector, and if necessary, even bypass commercial interests.
What improvements and changes does the ESBD like to see in the future?
Jagnow: It should be noted that Germany has been a fervent event organizer for more than 20 years. We are primarily lagging in athletic performance. And this is where we as an association come into play and emphasize the creation and professionalization of structures. It's all about having a strong popular sports sector. This means giving amateur athletes the chance to grow and improve in the game, but also to evolve their personalities and build an athletic profile. In doing so, we boost the professional realm, which can benefit from young, highly skilled players. We need a solid regulatory framework to make this possible. We need charitable non-profit structures for organizations that offer eSports options and for pure eSports clubs. As an event and tournament location, we also need an expansion of current visa requirements and qualifications. Right now, holders are allowed a total stay of up to 90 days for sports purposes. This is a first legal ruling that focuses on sports. However, to be able to encourage long-term commitments from athletes or trainers or build major leagues, we need the general approval of "sports privileges".
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com