Special Olympics athletes are upping their representation in esports
Special Olympics is a massive part of Ben Gregory’s life. He’s happy to show you the tattoo of the organization’s logo on his left shoulder that proves his dedication. For nearly two decades, Ben has traveled from his hometown in west central Indiana to compete in basketball, swimming, golf, and bowling. He has also given back as a coach and mentor.
Ben’s all-around skills landed him a spot in a two-day workshop at Xbox Studios in Redmond, WA, along with two other Special Olympics athletes, Amber Gertsch from Utah, and Jose Moreno Jr. from Illinois.
The athletes worked with esports pros to develop their shoutcasting, or play-by-play commentary skills, in preparation for the second annual Special Olympics Gaming for Inclusion event. Their participation ushers in a broader representation of people with intellectual disabilities in the rapidly growing gaming universe.
The Gaming for Inclusion 2022 event, which took place on September 10, brought together Special Olympics athletes and others to compete in Rocket League on Xbox and PC for the chance to participate in the Celebrity Showcase. The showcase featured NFL athletes, TikTok stars, and WWE Superstars who played alongside the athletes. Ben, Amber, and Jose hosted the livestream games and kept the audience engaged in real time. Each athlete brought a unique background to shoutcasting.
I feel like I won the lottery. This is a dream come true.
Ben is a seasoned Twitch streamer with a knack for the technical side of casting. “I’m definitely a bit of a goof…I say that I am the best of the worst. At least I admit it. I like to have fun,” Ben said about his engagement on Twitch.
I want to open up gaming to everyone who is interested and show them that it doesn’t have to be exclusive in any way.
Amber has participated in Special Olympics for 26 years. She is a renaissance woman, lifelong redtail falconer, teacher, volunteer, and Halo fanatic. She advocates good sportsmanship and inspires confidence in other players. “My gaming style is simply loving to play as a team. I love to learn from other players. Gaming has a way of pulling you to the next level,” Amber said.
I want to see a person with special needs working inside the broadcast booth alongside everyone else. That’s my goal, and it’s going to happen.
Jose has been a Special Olympics athlete for 19 years, and is also a community leader, athletic mentor, and accomplished public speaker. Jose is known for being a charismatic host with a quick sense of humor. “It was really exciting because it has given me the encouragement that I never had. It was pumping me up for those goooaaallls,” Jose said about the workshop.
At the workshop, the three athletes paired up with pros like Xbox livestream producer and presenter Joshua Gray, former pro gamer and current shoutcaster Jon Kefaloukos, top gaming host Kate Yeager, and prominent Rocket League caster Sean “Spaceman” Rodgers.
Courses included leadership points, intro to livestreaming, shoutcasting practice, and Rocket League 101. They were also taught storytelling, interviewing, game analysis, public speaking, and improv acting.
Both days ended with visits to game studios. Day one was Mojang, the creator of Ben’s favorite game, Minecraft. Day two was 343 Industries which creates Halo—Amber’s favorite game.