Tag Archives: Olympics

First-Ever Xbox Gaming Tournament Hosted at 2018 Special Olympic USA Games – Xbox Wire

The Xbox Gaming Tournament at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games was a first in the world of competitive video gaming. Xbox and Special Olympics partnered to facilitate the pilot video gaming tournament at a Special Olympics event, featuring Forza Motorsport 7 on July 2nd at the USA Games in Seattle, Washington. Players across the nation came together throughout the month of April to compete in prelims for a spot in the final tournament and a chance to win a custom-wrapped Xbox One X prize.

The Xbox Gaming Tournament originated from a hackathon in last year’s Microsoft One Week, where employees spend an entire week to go work on passion projects. Stephen Smith, Karen Woessner Smith, and Thomas Labuzienski all came together to map out what a competitive video gaming tournament at Special Olympics would look like.

The goal of this pilot tournament was to make esports more accessible, reducing the high bar to entry which currently causes competitors to feel intimidated. Xbox and Special Olympics put together a smaller-scale tournament, with high-quality production value, in hopes this model can be leveraged at other venues to empower all gamers that want to compete and bring the joy of esports to more people.

The athletes were competing for a chance to win a 2018 Special Olympics USA Games custom edition Xbox One X, of which there are only TWO in the world!

Unified Teams and Prelims

The competitors played in Unified Teams, a model within Special Olympics where teams consist of an athlete with an intellectual disability and one without. During the prelims, athletes across the country competed on the same tracks, with the same cars and those with the fastest combined times advanced to the finals. After qualifying rounds in four states across the nation, four teams from Utah, three teams from Washington, and one team from Connecticut that qualified for the 2018 USA Games.

The athletes competed in Forza Motorsport 7, a racing video game published by Microsoft Studios; the game was chosen by the team for its multiple accessibility features and existing esports presence. Speaking of esports, members of our very own Forza Racing Championship team showed up in full-force to manage the pilot competitive gaming tournament to professional standards and maintain competitive integrity.

Tournament Semifinals Bracket

To kick off the tournament, we were incredibly fortunate to have the Chairman of Special Olympics, Tim Shriver, speak to his excitement about the tournament being at this year’s USA Games, as well as his intentions to take gaming global to the Special Olympics World Games. His message on evolving our thinking to focus more on everyone’s different abilities really touched home on the message of inclusion of the USA Games.

For the semifinals, all eight teams competed in the same tracks/cars in two separate groups, and were seeded by their preliminary times. There was a diverse array of courses and cars to test the athlete’s capabilities whether it be managing twists and turns, or dealing with different handling capabilities of different cars. Scores were determined by points, which were then tallied up across the three races to determine their final scores. The top two teams from each semifinal bracket proceeded to the final four to compete for the ultimate prize, the custom 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Xbox One X console.

Finals

With four teams remaining, three teams from Utah and one from Washington, it came down to the final seconds in an action-packed, nail-biting finish. The crowd erupted into applause as the leaders of the pack crossed the finish line. Team Dempsey, aka “Team Shake and Bake” from Washington state were announced as the winners of the first-ever gaming tournament. The team, Timothy Dempsey and Nicholas Rasmussen, didn’t know each other before the preliminary tournament in April. They coordinated schedules as time allowed over the last few months, and that practice really showed off as they were able to take home the gold. The friendship and teamwork between the two in this tournament speaks to the success of the Special Olympics Unified Teams program.

Tim and Nicholas were presented with the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Custom Consoles by Alan Hartman, the head of Turn 10 Studios, creators of the Forza Motorsport franchise. Tim Dempsey summed it up best with his response to the question “how do you feel” that he was “speechless” – to see this first of its kind video gaming tournament finish up with such excitement and a full house of spectators speaks to the future of inclusion and the future of competitive gaming.

The winning team, Nicholas Rasmussen and Tim Dempsey of Team Dempsey AKA “Team Shake and Bake” with Beth Knox, President and CEO of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. 

The Next Day…

The following morning, the athletes and other members of the Gaming Special Olympics team were invited to tour the Microsoft Studios where they were given a tour of both 343 Industries and Turn10 Studios. Alan Hartman personally gave the athletes a tour of the gaming studio and even brought out a couple McLarens for the athletes to take photos with!

So, What’s Next?

Partnering with Special Olympics to bring the Xbox Gaming Tournament to life was an incredible experience, and we’re thankful for everyone’s hard work and dedication. The tournament was packed to the brim with spectators, and we’re thrilled by the excitement surrounding competitive gaming tournaments. We hope to take the lessons we’ve gained from this pilot tournament and apply them to future opportunities to empower more gamers to compete.

Special Olympics open in Seattle with celebration of inclusion; Microsoft CEO applauds athletes’ spirit

Special Olympics
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses the crowd at the Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games at Husky Stadium in Seattle on Sunday. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games opened in Seattle on Sunday at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium with a parade of athletes and musical performances and inspiring moments meant to showcase acceptance and inclusion.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was among the dignitaries who took the stage to offer encouraging words to those in attendance. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is the premier corporate partner for the Games.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses the crowd at the Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games at Husky Stadium in Seattle on Sunday. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Here are Nadella’s comments in full:

“It’s such an honor to be here today. The energy, the enthusiasm in this stadium is palpable and it’s incredible. On behalf of everyone at Microsoft I want to extend the warmest of welcomes to all of you to Seattle.

“Your courage, your spirit and the pursuit of passion are truly inspiring. We can’t wait to watch all your hard work and training come together as you compete this week. But Special Olympics is about much more than just sports and competition. It’s a model for building a more inclusive world. A world where everyone is celebrated for their unique abilities. A world where everyone is invited to participate.

“Being right here in Husky Stadium, I’m reminded of one of my favorite books, ‘The Boys in the Boat.’ It’s based on an inspiring story about a University of Washington crew team that against all odds made it to the 1936 Olympic Games and took home the gold. It’s a reminder of the power of teamwork and perseverance, and there’s a passage that’s fitting for us all here today. There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing, it’s called ‘the swing.’ It only happens when all the eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one of the team is out of sync with those of the others. An inclusive world — that’s what good swing looks like.

“Together you’re showing the world what is possible when we reflect the perspectives and the experiences to everyone. So enjoy the moment. You have achieved so much and you’re building such an amazing, inclusive world.”

An athlete is carried into Husky Stadium on his teammates’ shoulders as others high five members of the Blue Thunder drum line. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

More than 4,000 athletes and coaches from the across the United States are scheduled to compete in 14 team and individual sports across Seattle as the Games run through Friday. Tens of thousands of family members, volunteers and spectators have converged on the city.

‘Defining moment’ for Seattle as Microsoft, Amazon, others support Special Olympics USA Games

Sunday’s festivities, broadcast live on ESPN, were emceed by actor Taye Diggs and featured musical performances by DJ Marshmello, Charlie Puth, Allen Stone and Heart’s Ann Wilson, who sang the “National Anthem.” The Seattle Seahawks’ Blue Thunder drum line participated and the team’s recent draft pick, Shaquem Griffin, served as grand marshall for the parade of athletes into Husky Stadium.

Microsoft President Brad Smith was among a number of executives who would be competing in the first-ever ESPN / Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge at the UW’s Husky Ballpark later on Sunday.

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The execs, their employees, celebrities and Special Olympics athletes — on teams of five people — were competing in multiple Unified Sports challenges including Hot Shot Basketball, Penalty Shot Soccer, Electronic Dance Game, Bocce, Inflatable Dart Board, Football Accuracy Challenge, Giant Memory Game and Golf Putting.

DocuSign also participated with a team led by CEO Dan Springer and Starbucks’ team was led by Vivek Varma, EVP for public affairs. Seattle sports celebs competing included Gary Payton, Steve Largent, Walter Jones, Apolo Ohno, Jim Zorn, Kasey Keller and more.

Microsoft President Brad Smith speaks at Husky Stadium in his role as honorary chairman of the Games. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft’s Smith also took the stage at Husky Stadium as honorary chairman of the Games to offer his own comments in support of the athletes. Here are those comments in full:

“All of us in Seattle have been working for the last 2 1/2 years to get ready. To get ready for today. To welcome all of you and your family and your friends. We are so happy that you are here.

“Every time a city has the opportunity to host an Olympic event or a World’s Fair, it’s an opportunity not only to be a great host, but to create a legacy. Fifty-five years ago, Seattle hosted the World’s Fair and it built a legacy, an icon — the Space Needle, a symbol that people associate around the world with this place. But this week we will build a bigger legacy still. It is in each and every one of you.

“Together we have an opportunity to build a legacy of understanding, of appreciation, of commitment. A commitment for each of us to bring out the best in ourselves, to bring out the best in everyone around us. That is what each and every one of you represent.

“When we think about what we will all do this week, whether we’re competing or spectating and cheering all of you on, this is a week when we can do even more than rise together. We can stand together, we can stick together and more than anything else we can build together. Let’s build a legacy, a legacy that lasts.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee greets the crowd in Seattle on Sunday. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver cheers on the athletes alongside Frannie Ronan, an 8-year-old gymnast from Kirkland, Wash., and the youngest competitor in the Games. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee officially welcomed the Special Olympians to the state. In addressing the crowd, Inslee said everything needs to be done to fight back against the “dark forces” of fear that work against inclusion in society.

At the end of the Opening Ceremony, the Flame of Hope completed its journey to Seattle and into Husky Stadium. Jennifer Goodley, a 37-year-old powerlifter from Bremerton, Wash., took the final handoff and lit the official cauldron.

Special Olympics 2018 USA Games cauldron (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Griffin, the Seahawks’ inspiring rookie, who had a hand amputated as a young child, then declared the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games officially open.

DJ Marshmello performs as one of the musical acts for the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

If you want to follow the Games more closely throughout the week, a new, free mobile app was launched over the weekend. The app, developed by AppInteract on Microsoft’s Azure platform, features sports schedules, details on athletes and teams, venue information, events and news. Download for iOS or Android.

ESPN will also provide in-depth coverage throughout the week on its app and on ESPN.com. And ESPN3 will carry live streaming coverage from swimming competition taking place at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center.

Special Olympics USA Games choir (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

‘Defining moment’ for Seattle as Microsoft, Amazon, others support Special Olympics USA Games

Michel Kozoris raises his arms after competing in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2011. (Photo via Special Olympics)

Seattle-area tech companies are making a statement about building an inclusive workforce as the city hosts one of the largest sporting events in the region’s history.

More than 3,000 athletes will arrive in the Emerald City next week for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games and compete across 14 sports. The event, now in its 50th year, not only spotlights the talent of athletes with intellectual disabilities, but perhaps more importantly promotes inclusion beyond the playing field.

“In many ways, this can and should be a defining moment for the Seattle community,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in an interview with GeekWire. “It’s a great opportunity to show the nation that we aspire to be a real city and region of inclusion.”

This group raised a Special Olympics flag atop the Space Needle in Seattle on Friday morning. From left to right: Beth Knox, CEO, Special Olympics USA Games; Allen Stone,singer/songwriter; Devon Adelman, Special Olympics athlete; Brad Smith, Microsoft President; and Taye Diggs, singer and author.

Microsoft is the presenting sponsor of the games. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is a long-time supporter of the Special Olympics through donations of software, technical assistance and even cell phones over the years.

But the company is stepping up even more with the games in its backyard this year. It’s a reflection of Microsoft’s broader focus on accessibility — one that got away from the company until Satya Nadella took over as CEO in 2014, Smith said. “We lost our industry leadership position in terms of meeting the needs of people with disabilities,” he said.

That renewed commitment has helped spur a larger culture shift across the company, Smith said. He pointed to products like the new Xbox Adaptive Controller and the company’s $25 million AI for Accessibility Initiative as examples.

More than 2,000 employees will be volunteering at the games next week. Microsoft’s Xbox division is also hosting the first-ever video game tournament at the USA Games.

“If you think about our mission of empowering everyone, then fundamentally we have to do a good job of meeting the needs of the billion-plus people on the planet that have some kind of disability, temporary or permanent,” Smith added. He and Nadella will speak at the Opening Ceremony on Sunday at Husky Stadium with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Devon Adelman, a Special Olympics USA Games athlete and ambassador, speaks at Microsoft’s Ability Summit in May. (Photo via Microsoft)

Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and other companies are participating in the first-ever job fair at a Special Olympics USA Games this year called “Journey of Employment,” where athletes will gain career advice and meet with potential employers. It’s designed to raise awareness for a talent pool that organizers say is often overlooked.

“These partners are committed to creating inclusive work cultures and to helping improve the unemployment rate for people with disabilities,” said Special Olympics USA Games CEO Beth Knox.

The unemployment rate of people with disabilities was 9.2 percent in 2017, double that of the rate for those without disabilities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And even with government support, nearly 29 percent of disabled, working-age Americans live below the poverty level, according to U.S. Census data. That line is set at $12,082 for one person.

Artists known as “They Drift” created a mural that was placed on Amazon’s campus in Seattle as part of the “Choose to Include” campaign for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. (Photo via Amazon)

Amazon will also be heavily involved next week. The e-commerce giant is sponsoring the closing ceremony near its campus in South Lake Union and will have more than 400 employees volunteering throughout the games. It is also donating boxed lunches for athletes throughout the week via FareStart and launched a neighborhood restaurant campaign this month called “Choose to Include.”

Amazon says it is committed to inclusive hiring. It runs an Alternative Workforce Supplier Program that identifies people with disabilities for hire in the company’s fulfillment centers. The company also partners with Northwest Center, a Seattle-based nonprofit supporting mentally and physically disabled adults and children that provides employees to Amazon. Many of its products and software services offer accessibility features, too.

“At Amazon, diversity and inclusion are an inherent part of our culture,” said Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources. “The unique talents, experiences, and backgrounds of our employees are the driving force which enables us to build and innovate on behalf of millions of customers around the world.”

Amazon’s Spheres glow purple in Seattle this past March as the company joined others in marking 100 days until the Special Olympics USA Games begin in the city. (Amazon Photo / Jordan Stead)

Bellevue, Wash.-based wireless carrier T-Mobile and coffee giant Starbucks are getting involved as well. T-Mobile, which has more than 7,000 members in its Access for Disabilities Network, created a text-to-give program that enables donations for the games.

Starbucks has hundreds of employees who are volunteering at the event. For the past three years, Starbucks has received a 100 percent score on the Disability Equality Index survey sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network.

“Going forward, I would like in my lifetime to see where you hire somebody – a barista who has autism and it goes viral and it’s on the “Ellen” show – that that doesn’t get the attention anymore. That it just is commonplace,” Starbucks manager of Equal Opportunity Initiatives Marthalee Galeota said in 2016. “We have one world – one accessible world where disability is adaptability, it’s humanity, it’s innovation and it’s our global responsibility.”

Smith, Microsoft’s president, said the tech industry should consider how products take into account the needs of people with disabilities, while pursuing new breakthroughs that meet their needs in new ways.

He also said employers should involve people with disabilities in the creation of products. One phrase used in the community is “nothing should be created for us, without us.”

“The key to long-term product improvement for this important community is actually to do a much better job of bringing them into our workforce and making them a key part of our overall ecosystem,” Smith said.

You can get tickets to the USA Games or sign up to volunteer here.

Creating a city of inclusion for our country’s Special Olympics athletes – Microsoft on the Issues

Special Olympics athlete Virginia Wade with her mother
Special Olympics athlete Virginia Wade, left, who is from Seattle, with her mother. Virginia was one of 22 skiers chosen to represent the U.S. women’s team in the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

On July 1, 4,000 athletes and coaches from across the country will arrive in Seattle to compete in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. Microsoft is proud to be the presenting sponsor of these games. It will be a special week for all of us – the athletes, the city of Seattle and our region, including Microsoft’s employees. As the honorary chairman of this year’s USA Games, I’m delighted to welcome athletes from near and far who are coming not just to compete, but to celebrate their well-earned achievements.

What began as a backyard summer camp in the 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of former President John F. Kennedy, Special Olympics has grown into the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Shriver recognized how sports brought communities together, encouraged teamwork, built social skills and instilled confidence. She also believed that everyone, no matter their ability, deserved an opportunity to grow, learn and experience joy through sports.

Fifty years after the first games, the Special Olympics boasts more than 5.7 million athletes in 172 countries and more than 1 million volunteers around the world. And while the organization has played a transformative role in the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities, it also became a global movement of acceptance and inclusion. Through sports, health, school and youth engagement, the organization brings people around the world together, with and without intellectual disabilities, to teach tolerance, unity and respect.

Special Olympics USA Games 2018 logo

For Microsoft, it’s an honor to sponsor this year’s milestone event that celebrates diversity and inclusion in a way no other organization has. “Diversity and inclusion” is a key component to how we understand and work toward our mission every day: To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. That’s why we’ve partnered with Special Olympics since 2014, using cloud-based data management to transform how the games are run and how athletes are cared for, while supporting the group’s efforts to build a more inclusive global community.

This year, athletes challenge Seattle to “Rise with Us” and make the 2018 games the most inclusive Special Olympics to date. Already, the games are well on that path with 39 percent of competitors participating in Unified Sports (teams of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities), youth-led leadership initiatives, thousands of volunteer opportunities, and the special events designed for the broader community to participate. And this summer’s games will be one of the largest sporting events ever to come to our city, with an expected 50,000 spectators.

As the Pacific Northwest prepares for the arrival of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, state and local leaders, businesses, organizations and individuals have an important role to play in creating a region that welcomes everyone. This summer’s games are about much more than sports. They’re about creating a city of inclusion where everyone is welcome and can contribute their talents and skills.

One of the best ways you can show the world this spirit of inclusion is to support the games. Attend the opening ceremonies, to be held on July 1 at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium. Cheer on athletes who will be competing in 14 sports at events across the region. Volunteer for one of the 10,000 positions needed to make these games a success.

This summer’s games offer the opportunity for each of us to ask important questions, challenge our biases, learn together and act collectively to create more inclusive communities. In other words, this year’s USA Games will require each and every one of us to rise to the occasion and show the world what the Special Olympics – and Seattle – stand for.

Tags: 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, Brad Smith, inclusion, Special Olympics