A passion for gaming is the only requirement to become a gamer… in theory. 

In practice, despite its claim to be "an accessible territory" for all manners of gamers and tech enthusiasts, the world of competitive esports proved to not be accessible to all gamers. 

Both during live gatherings and online sessions, there are many difficulties often already individuated by the industry (but never tackled and rarely discussed). 

That’s how Permastunned Gaming came to life. 

Founded in 2019 "from gamers with disabilities, for gamers with disabilities", Permastunned is officially the largest esports team for people with disabilities.

Dota2 Gameplay Screenshot forest

The collective was first imagined by Belgian gamer Alexander Nathan, aka “Cristal1337”.

"It had always bothered me that people with disabilities were underrepresented in the professional Dota2 scene," Alexander writes on the Permastunned Gaming website.

Alexander has Congenital Muscular Myopathy, and is an enthusiastic gamer who specializes in the online multiplayer battle arena Dota 2 (a 2013 sequel of Defense of the Ancient).

He founded Permastunned Gaming with three other gamers and streamers (“Yakobis”, “Shattovv” and “Adante”) in January 2019, with the initial goal to form the first-ever Dota 2 team composed solely of disabled players.

Find Permastunned Gaming at page 195 of the Guinness World Records 2023 book.

Much more than a competitive team, from the get-go Permastunned dedicated themselves to more than "just" participating in events or streaming content on Twitch and YouTube.

Every day, as part of their philosophy, they also promote more inclusive practices in the world of gaming.

They raise awareness regarding the structural impairments suffered by a big part of the community (Microsoft's Xbox estimated almost 400 million gamers with disabilities across the globe) and contribute to creating a better, more fairly levelled field for all.

Alexander Nathan with dog and certificate

Alexander started playing on his PlayStation 1 around 1994.

His muscular condition limited his sports options and, even though he played football, Alexander has spent a lifetime playing video games.

Then he founded Permastunned and, in three years, Alexander recalls that a relatively limited project snowballed "in the best way possible".

"People from all sorts of games joined the cause, making Permastunned Gaming the largest esports organisation by people with disabilities, for people with disabilities," said Alexander.

Alexander playing Dota 2 on his computer

The worldwide-collective grew and expanded, and today counts 33 members from all corners of the world. 

Each gamer in the team has their preferred field, from shooters (like Overwatch 2 or Call of Duty) to MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena games, such as League of Legends).

Dota 2Magic The Gathering ArenaOverwatch 2 and CS:GO are only some of the games that players at Permastunned Gaming excel at.

They also offer merch, and their roster of content creators comprises streamers and YouTubers.

Overwatch run gameplay

Even though on paper esports should be the epitome of accessibility, competitions, conventions and even games present some challenges that prevent inclusivity. 

One example among many is that most tournaments at the moment don’t allow equipment with adaptations. 

Although the concern is valid and prevents cheating, that raises an insurmountable barrier for players with disabilities. 

"I believe that society is a bigger hurdle than the esports ecosystem." - Alexander Nathan

The lack of alt text, subtitles and infrastructures in venues further prevents gamers from enjoying the gaming experience in full.

One of the major challenges is to have esports recognized as actual sports, as Alexander also said to Esports Insider: "[...] Most governments have not yet acknowledged the value of esports, and consequently there are rules and regulations that might hinder disabled gamers from advancing their esports career."

dota2 gameplay magic

And what does Alexander think about the future of esports?

"I would like to see more professional disabled esports athletes," Alexander says. 

A positive and more inclusive change that Alexander and Permastunned are certainly encouraging with their continous efforts in raising awareness and calling out for the necessity for more accessible venues and gaming platforms.

In that sense, being part of Permastunned was, all in all, an "eye-opening experience" for him.

“Permastunned gave me a sense of community, belonging and direction.” 

"For gaming, I became more focused, allowing me to improve my skill level faster," Alexander says. 

"Regarding my life, in general, advocacy for disabled people in esports has pushed me to become politically active. I've learned a lot about the philosophy of disability, sociology, accessible infrastructures and what it means to live with a disability across different cultures."

“While there is always room for improvement, I believe that we have reached a point where most people, regardless of disability, can find at least one or two games they can participate in without necessarily being considered an underdog,” he says. 

Overwatch cast pale background

Often, playing online also means finding a community of friends for life. 

In and out of the competitive environment, Alexander is extremely happy with his team, and he’s most proud of the world record and recognition they achieved.

"It proves to me that we are making a difference in the world," he said.

"I'm not sure if I'd try another record, but it would be awesome if we could get all of Permastunned Gaming involved."