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Japan: eSports players with disabilities break the clichés

They are blind, in a wheelchair… And above all passionate! In Japan, ambitious young people are trying to destroy prejudices about disability through eSport, the competitive video game. A booming sector that allows them to surpass themselves.

By Andrew McKirdy

With an expert chin kick, Shunya Hatakeyama pulls off a devastating hold in the fighting game.”street fighter“. Born with muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease, this 28-year-old Japanese mainly participates in eSport tournaments in Street Fighter V, open to all. The possibility of “overcome disabilities and compete against different people“according to him, makes all the beauty of fighting games.”When I go to a tournament, I don’t want my handicap to be a problem. I want to impress people with the way I play“, he says to theAFP.

Esport: 1 billion dollars per year

Totally blind since he was 20 due to a congenital eye defect, Naoya Kitamura, also 28, manages to play Tekken 7 just using sound. “I will block a shot (from the adversary Ed), and the sound it will produce will tell me what shot it was“, he explains. “Then I’ll react and make my move“, he adds, demonstrating with an impressive attack while playing Lucky Chloea character from tekken. Esports is booming worldwide, with revenue estimated at over $1 billion a year worldwide. The sector in Japan is not as dynamic as in China or South Korea, but it is gradually gaining importance there.

Custom joystick

Wanting to give Japanese gamers with disabilities every opportunity, Daiki Kato, an employee of the Japanese Social Security, founded a company called ePara in 2016. She employs gamers like Shunya Hatakeyama and Naoya Kitamura and gives them time to practice video games alongside their work, which includes managing the company’s site and organizing video game events. Shunya Hatakeyama has used a wheelchair since he was 6 years old. He’s always loved fighting games, but his muscles have weakened so much over the years that he couldn’t even hold a controller. Depressed, he decided to quit gaming for six years, until he decided with a friend to make a custom joystick that he could use with his chin, while tapping his fingers on his keyboard. computer. Now, he trains other handicapped players by explaining to them the different sequences and certain techniques. “If I had never played fighting games, I think I would never have sought solutions even when I was in adversity“, he believes.

Changing the perception of disability

According to Kato, there is a growing market for gamers with disabilities and video game companies will soon start to take this into account. “If you have more visually or hearing impaired people playing, then builders will respond by making more games for them to play.“. Mr. Kato wants to use eSports to show talented people with disabilities, with whom the Japanese “don’t really get a chance to interact“. For Naoya Kitamura, eSports helps to change the perception that people with disabilities have “only need help“.”I’m really good with computers and I’m able to do things some sighted people can’t.“, he says. People with disabilities do not have “just need help. Depending on the circumstances, we can also help others. It’s a story of cooperation“, he pleads.

Coming to the Games soon?

According to him, the termeSports” helps to be taken seriously, giving an image of competition, and not only that of “people who play video games“. Many believe that eSports will one day appear in the Olympics and Paralympics, but “there is no need to distinguish between people with and without disabilities in eSports“, asserts Mr. Kato.”Whether you are in a wheelchair or not, these are the same rules and the same competitions“.

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