As we’ve talked about in the past, disability and gaming are two things that are rarely mentioned in the same setting. Until recently, there haven’t been many game protagonists with disabilities, nor are disabled pro gamers really talked about in Esports circles. We’ve talked about a couple of these gamers in the past (speed-runner ‘HalfCoordinated’ in particular), but we hadn’t really seen a lot of disabled gamers who wow’ed the competitive gaming circuit as much…until now.
When you sit and watch Sven ‘BlindWarriorSven’ Van de Wege as he whoops up on people while playing Street Fighter, it’s easy to get lost in how adept he is at blocking combos, seamlessly pulling off cross-up attacks, and landing Critical Arts. Then you realize that this young man cannot see anything going on on-screen – at all.
Van de Wege lost his sight to cancer at the tender age of six years old, but that never put a damper on his love of gaming. While he’s only been playing the iconic fighting game franchise for about one year, he has become incredibly adept at listening for those tell-tale sound effects that exist in the Street Fighter games – the little calls made by the characters, the small grunts, and the shouts of “Hadouken” – then countering the moves made by his opponents.
Sven plays mainly with the character of Ken, and uses his almost encyclopedic knowledge of the moves in the game to swiftly punish just about any mistakes made by his opponents. His skill with the character puts Van de Wege on par with many sighted players, and makes him a joy to watch. The Dutch gamer has been gaming for most of his life (he says he began when he was a toddler), and began focusing on the sounds after losing his sight.
While he prefers to play Street Fighter, Van de Wege has also mentioned that he plays other games solely by listening for sounds. Among his other fighting game favorites are Mortal Kombat, Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, Street Fighter EX3, Killer Instinct, and others. However, the young gamer has also gotten tactical with titles such as Pokémon: Blue, Red, Yellow, Silver, Gold, Fire Red, Leaf Green, Soul Silver, Heart Gold, and Sun and Moon, as well as Pokémon Stadium and Super Mario RPG.
In a recent interview, Van de Wege stated that he began playing Street Fighter V back in August of 2016, and followed that up by playing the game online the following October. Aside from Ken, the competitive gamer lists his other favorite Street Fighter characters as Zangief, Ryu, Chun-Li, and the boxer Balrog. As new characters are added to the franchise’s roster, Sven states that he has to “learn their sounds”, which he does by training with them, then playing against the AI, and following that up by “playing online a lot”.
Even though Van de Wege has only been playing Street Fighter for one year, he’s certainly made a name for himself in the competitive gaming world. At the Sonic Boom tournament (a Street Fighter tourney held in Madrid, Spain every year), he made an impact by taking a few sets off of his early opponent. Going up against well-known gamer Musashi (who uses the character of Akuma), Van de Wege won the match 2-0 in a best-of-three, sending the crowd into an uproar of applause and cheers. Check out the match below:
Of his victory, Van de Wege stated, “I remember I was so happy when I won my first match. I couldn’t believe I did it. I know it was just one match, but it felt like I won the championship. I had no idea all the things that would happen after that victory. I was very nervous, but at the same time, I knew this was my chance to show everybody that gaming is possible even when you can’t see the screen.”
Winning the tournament has bolstered Van de Wege’s confidence about his passion for competitive gaming, and gaming as a whole. After proving that he has what it takes to compete in an arena against sighted players, the Dutch gamer also wants to use his notoriety and talent to help other blind gamers. He has mentioned that he would like to think about promotion and workshops in order to help others.
Van de Wege’s success in the Street Fighter circuit is definitely impressive. He has reached heights as a gamer that many of us aspire to hit, and he’s been doing it without the ability to see. If you’ll pardon the expression, dear readers, this is one gamer you’ll definitely want to keep your eyes on.