Fortnite is wildly popular, and you can count Falcons backup quarterback Kurt Benkert among its fans. Benkert is taking his Fortnite skills to another level, and he’s teaming up with Ewok, a well-known Twitch streamer, for the Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am at E3.
Ewok stands out among the competitors because she’s just 13 years old. She’s also deaf. That presents some challenges in competitive gaming, but she and Benkert are finding ways to work through it.
For starters, Benkert’s been working on learning American Sign Language.
“Hello, my name is Kurt. I Play football for the @AtlantaFalcons , my # is 6. I practice ASL (American Sign Language). Nice to meet everyone. ILY.” It has been truly inspiring to watch @EwokIts break through and pave a way for the deaf community in Esports. Grateful to know her pic.twitter.com/iXtrweZZ5Z— Kurt Benkert (@KurtBenkert) June 2, 2019
Ewok’s participation matters on a grander scale than just Fortnite and potentially winning money for charity. Ewok isn’t just making her way in the pro gaming scene as a young woman, which is difficult enough. She’s also providing important representation for the deaf community. A small facet of that impact can be seen in the replies to Benkert’s tweet.
As a hard of hearing woman raised in a deaf family, I love this so very much. PS your signing is really great— Jean Leggett (@JeanLeggett) June 2, 2019
As the child of deaf parents, I appreciate this more than you know.— Shirley Rhodes (@tweetingShirlz) June 2, 2019
Being a mother of a hearing impaired child, this is phenomenal to see. ❤️There needs to be more awareness brought to the Deaf Community. Let’s chat.— CKelly-Walls (@DrKelly11) June 3, 2019
Benkert took some time to speak with The Falcoholic about Fortnite, the upcoming Pro-Am, and working with Ewok. He got into the game on the recommendation of friends.
“I started playing Fortnite about a year and a half ago, and I had a few friends that told me I should check it out,” Benkert said. “I’ve always played video games but I wasn’t really heavy into anything in particular at that time, and it was a way to stay connected with friends that didn’t live close.”
I don’t play Fortnite and know very little about it, and Benkert was gracious enough to break down the details of this upcoming Celebrity Pro-Am for us.
“The Celebrity Pro-Am is an event where there are 50 teams of two. Each Duo has one celebrity/athlete and one pro gamer,” Benkert said. “Every team is competing to be the last alive. There are points are awarded for kills in the game and for higher placement in the game. There are four total games that will be played, and the prize money that is awarded to the winners goes to a charity of their choice. These range from $1 million to $20k.”
Benkert and Ewok were connected through another streamer about two months ago on the Twitch platform, which gamers use to live stream their gameplay. He said that learning ASL to communicate with Ewok has helped him grow as a person.
“Learning ASL to communicate with Ewok has been an extremely rewarding experience,” Benkert said. “It has helped me become aware of different challenges that people face and overcome on a daily basis.”
The game does have some features that make it possible for deaf players to enjoy and fully experience gameplay.
“Right now the game has few ways that make it accessible to those in the deaf community,” Benkert said. “There is an audio assistance HUD (heads-up display) that shows which direction shots are coming from or where people are walking from. The game doesn’t have a specific way for us to communicate, so that is why we decided to video chat and communicate through basic ASL.”
Benkert said that training for a Fortnite tournament is very different from what he’s experienced in the NFL. But his time in the NFL has still helped.
“Preparing in the NFL and for this tournament are a lot different, but making sure that I know what to expect when I get there and having a strategy when we play are two things that carry over for it,” Benkert said.
The tournament takes place on June 15 and 16 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Tickets start at $35 each, and they are available through Ticketmaster, and would give attendees access to the Fortnite Fan Festival, where you can meet characters and enjoy food items inspired by the game.
Benkert is not the only celebrity participating by far. Panic! at the Disco’s Brendan Urie and Joel McHale of The Soup and Community fame will be there. Marshawn Lynch, Joey Bosa, Taven Bryan, and JuJu Smith-Schuster are also participating. A stream will be available on the official Fortnite Twitch page.
Benkert is entering his second year with the Falcons after signing on as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia following the 2018 NFL Draft. This sounds like a fun endeavor to raise money for charity, and learning ASL and growing as a person along the way is a wonderful benefit. Our very best wishes to Benkert and Ewok in this year’s Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am.