We’re very excited to see another example of an E-Sports participant take the spirit of our inclusive programs and run with it.
Chris Combs is, like so many in America, a father of an avid gamer. And where many parents see a time and energy sink, Chris saw an opportunity.
Chris has two sons, both of which who have experienced learning challenges since they were young. His younger son, Jack, has additionally struggled to partake in meaningful social interactions and make friends.
Jack was having a hard time. He was kicked out of the typical school he was attending, and still struggles to connect with other kids at his new school. I wanted find a way to give him opportunity for social interactions and, more importantly, to have friends.Chris Combs
After doing some research, Chris came across a study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (Gaming Social Capital: Exploring Civic Value in Multiplayer Video Games) which gave him an extraordinary perspective on how his son best interacted with his peers. It was this insight that gave him the idea for E-Gaming.
Early on my kids were having challenges with reading and writing and I found that playing video games motivated them to learn to read and write, because they wanted to play and also win. Video games propelled them to learn to read. I am an advocate that video games inspired the desire to learn.Chris Combs
A phrase that stuck with Chris during his research and conversations with specialists was “families that game together, stay together.” The points his support team was getting across to him was that when it came to helping their kids adapt, the onus is on the parents to learn how to connect with their kids by meeting them where they’re at.
Seeing the opportunity
After deciding to embrace the potential social upsides to online gaming, Chris got to work brainstorming ways to utilize his kids’ favorite pastime for relational growth. Having grown up benefiting from public school programs like sports and clubs that promote teamwork (but tend to, more often than not, exclude kids with special needs), he knew what kind of experience he was shooting for. He just needed a means by which to integrate his kids’ hobby, and bring other kids along for the ride. Enter E-Sports.
Chris has been a longtime supporter of E-Sports, and an advocate for inclusion. He reached out to some other parents and volunteers who had experience leading E-Sports programs, and pitched the idea of having an inclusive video gaming event that would pair typical and special needs kids together, socializing through (lightly) competitive gaming. It didn’t take long for the idea to gain steam and begin to materialize.
We started with gaming together as a family. I invested in several machines for our home, and it wasn’t long before we were making a trip to Blizzcon to watch the Overwatch championships. It began to sink in for me just how powerful a force this space is, and we got excited about the potential for replicating this experience for Jack and his friends.Chris Combs
Chris went on to purchase several more gaming rigs and got to work setting up his home for multiplayer mayhem. All that was left was recruiting parents and kids to participate.
Chris contacted a few friends, and got the ball rolling. He set a date, and dubbed his kickoff event “E-Gaming,” taking the “Exceptional” mantra of E-Sports to emphasize the inclusive nature of his new venture. Flyers were made, calendars marked, and soon enough the RSVPs started to roll in.
On a Saturday late in January, E-Gaming launched and it did not disappoint. Dozens of kids showed up, both typical and kids with various special needs, and all had a blast playing Overwatch and Gran Turismo together.
I felt really encouraged about the event on Saturday. I met some of Jack’s friends from school and witnessed how they were able to benefit and have a good time. I also met their parents, and learned that they are experiencing the same challenges that we go through. I realized how much this program can impact people.Chris Combs
Long tables and living rooms were packed with kids donning their controllers and headsets. Many high fives were exchanged in what must have been reminiscent of an esports (the other esports) tournament. And while the enthusiastic participants were making connections, the parents were forming bonds of their own, talking and relating their experiences.
Watching his son Jack have a blast interacting with his peers in his element not only encouraged Chris, but inspired him as well. The turnout was better than expected, and plans are already in the works for the next E-Gaming session.
Additionally, Chris is exploring working with high schools to create inclusive gaming opportunities. He envisions JV and varsity teams competing against each other, with kids developing friendships that would not have otherwise been possible.
Interested in getting involved with E-Gaming? Check out their website for more information about their program and how to participate in the next event.
If you have an idea of your own for an inclusive program or activity, check out our Start an E-Program page and let us help you get your idea off the ground.