Equipment, rules, organization … Players with disabilities facing “difficulties”

In recent weeks, a Frenchman has shined in the North American competition of League of Legends† Loïc Dubois, 20 years old and better known as “Toucouille”, is a player in his own right. Firstly, because he was voted the best player in the French Championship (LFL) last year and confirmed at the highest level with the FlyQuest team, which took an unexpected first place after three weeks of competition. Then, because he combines all these feats of suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease better known as that of “glass bones”.

“Toucouille” is a rare case in the e-sports ecosystem, where players with disabilities are still few in number. “E-sports are a welcoming environment, but a lot still needs to be done,” summarizes Martin Laffay, project manager gaming at Handicap international. This is one of the reasons why the Battle4 benefit event was organised. Organized from 4 to 6 March at the Stade de France for the benefit of the Handicap International and Apart associations, this “streaming festival” aims to mix sportspeople, disabled athletes, gamers, streamers and comedians. And this in favor of inclusion, especially in e-sports, a field that is still young, but already lagging behind this theme.

On the spot, many difficulties

“Esports are not inclusive,” said Théo Jordan, president of the Rebird team, founded in 2019 and made up of the vast majority of players with disabilities. “It is an extremely young discipline, at least in Europe. As a result, it does not yet respond to all the issues that other sports have been able to come up with. “Sometimes very basic things, as Martin Laffay points out: “Sometimes, in tournaments, it happens that it is impossible for players in wheelchairs to get on the podium”.

“You have to understand that the movement of a person in a wheelchair causes a lot of restrictions when you arrive on site: they must have access to the toilets, the computers or the tables are not too low,” specifies Theo Jordan , himself a quadriplegic after a accident. “There is also plenty to adapt for the deaf or visually impaired. These elements have been somewhat forgotten by the organizers. We are often called upon to check in advance which changes need to be made, but we still run into many problems. †

Less suitable games

Before even thinking about getting on the scene of LANs and tournaments, it is still necessary to have the resources to compete at a high level. From the choice of game, the options are necessarily limited. Tony Helynck, former professional player of counter attack today at the head of the association esports villagedetails: “The favorite games of people with disabilities are often games with fewer ‘microphones’, which require pressing different keys quickly. Even able-bodied people struggle because coordination is more difficult.”

Sports games (such as FIFA) or “versus fighting” (street fighterto draw…) are therefore more appropriate, “because they have a typology that is easier to access and few keys to use,” says Tony Helynck. “Games can stop at three or four keys, but on League of Legends“You can go up to 20 keys,” he continues. Some games that are considered more difficult today still try to offer more options, such as: Fortnite and its “deaf mode”, which allows you to see the sound effects in the game, but they remain in the minority.

Disability would not be considered a priority by Sony

Once the game has been chosen, you’re left with the other essential accessory: the controller. However, companies producing suitable controllers are rare, and prices are necessarily affected. “The equipment is really built according to the needs of the players, explains Théo Jordan. People with the same disability can play differently, like in the Rebird team, where we have three players who only have one working arm. †

One of them is called Julien, aka MentonTV. This specialist in Fortnite, which has moved away from competition to focus on training young players, uses a so-called “paddle” controller, which has some buttons on the back. He controls the joysticks with his face. “I’ve been using it for three years. I didn’t know about its existence before,” he confesses. It must be said that few people have delved into the construction of suitable controllers. In France, Hitclic, affiliated with the association Handyamers, the name that comes to the fore.Precise prices are difficult to estimate: count at least around 170 euros for a “pallet” controller.Otherwise it can climb very quickly, such as systems that work thanks to the breath , which can go up to 800 euros.

And the big players in the market, in all of this? Microsoft is the only one to offer a solution, with its “Adaptive controller” sold for 90 euros. Its main competitor, Sony, offers some options for customizing keys in the interface of its consoles, but nothing more.

The “Paralympic” circuit, a solution?

Finally, something still needs to be done with unclear legislation, which in most cases is even lacking. “There are still a lot of things unresolved regarding disabilities,” notes Théo Jordan. For example, a tournament is often run by the game publisher and he sets the rules. Where it can be a problem is that the editor may very well say “We only play with the controller or only with the keyboard”, and forbid any modified controller. As a result, some eligible peripherals may be rejected. †

Would the solution then be to create a circuit exclusively reserved for players with disabilities, on the model of the Paralympic Games? Julien, aka MentonTV, is not convinced: “We don’t mind playing with able-bodied players. When I play with guys who are 100% and I manage to beat them, I’m happy. Tony Helynck goes in this direction: “Today there is no difference for a publisher like Riot Games (League of LegendsValorant† A woman or a person with a disability can participate in the same competitions as the others. Creating a separate competition would only be an alternative to what already exists. If we do that, we are going against inclusion.”

“We are only at the beginning”

Every challenge is there for the different actors who are questioned: it is first a matter of making the players visible, in order to allow the rest to evolve. MentonTV talks about its efforts, through the Twitch platform, to promote players with disabilities: “I had the opportunity to stream on the Kiinstar channel [un ex-joueur pro de Fortnite]† I had almost 700 viewers, we had a themed evening and presented equipment used by players with disabilities. People asked a lot of questions. Something is developing, we are just at the beginning”.

The purpose of these initiatives, such as Rebird or Friday’s Battle4 event? “Let everyone play together”, jury member Martin Laffay of Handicap International. “The advantage of video games and esports is that it’s easier to get everyone involved. Enjoy as well. Despite the work still to be done, all players remain optimistic. “We should not hope for a revolution, it takes time,” MentonTV tempers. But ten years from now, I hope things are in place in games, on consoles, on custom peripherals. “Theo Jordan, he concludes with ambition: ‘What we want is that a player cannot be recruited because he is handicapped, but because he is good. The power of esports is that we can all play together.”