14-year-old Danik Soudakoff is looking to make competitive video gaming more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing players. In the recent stage two playoffs of the Overwatch League, Soudakoff was in attendance at the Burbank arena, and he is deaf.
While attending these games, an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter keeps him up to date on the comments made by the announcers. Soudakoff has recently been working towards the creation of new signs meant to assist communication among other ASL users who enjoy Overwatch. His hopes are that Blizzard will implement some improvements in accessibility for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, much in the same proactive manner that Fortnite has.
What is interesting in the case of Fortnite is that there are so many accessibility features already implemented into the game, but their origin was likely more associated with the challenges of porting their game for use with mobile devices, where unless one is either wearing headphones or in a quiet location, they are more prone to missing an audible warning.
In that game, there are various visual indicators for sounds such as weapon discharge of all types, approaching footsteps depending on if it is a run or a walk, and for chests. These visual additions make it possible for playing in loud, crowded areas, which is certainly a goal for mobile gaming, but it has the secondary effect of empowering deaf and hard of hearing players.
Attempting to fully grasp what happens in the non-stop action of a competitive Overwatch is already on another level. As most players will attest, there is a significant difference in playing casually with friends and then watching a team of six professional players execute a well-coordinated plan with precision and deadly effect. So too is watching a match without visual clues a complex affair, and so the casters become integral in gaining a better understanding of the action, which is where the interpreter comes in handy.
To help expand both awareness and accessibility for deaf or heard of hearing playing who enjoy Overwatch, Soudakoff has released videos of signs that he uses as they relate to the game. He is careful to point out that the signs are not "official" in any capacity, but in the comments of his Youtube video there are people stating that his signs are gaining traction within the community. Luckily, there is no need for his signs to be official, as language evolves almost purely by the long-term adoption and popular use of phrases.
It would be great to see Blizzard take the initiative towards a proactive change in this situation. As an industry leader with more than enough resources, there is no reason not to develop options in the game that can broaden the accessibility of their titles, and inclusion should always be a consideration when developing a game.