Apr 25, 2012

Disabilities Are No Match for Competitive Gamer

By Efren Salinas
For Reporting Texas

HOUSTON — Sports has a long history of tales of overcoming adversity against astronomical odds; competitive video gaming is no different. Mike Begum, with almost no use of his arms and legs, competes professionally in video gaming events around Texas.

Begum, 24, was born with arthrogryposis, a rare disorder that encumbered the growth of his muscles, affecting his limbs and ultimately altering his bone structure. He moves around on a motorized bed designed by his father.

Despite having limited use of his arms and legs, Begum has thrived in competitive video gaming by playing with his face. He manipulates the controller with his cheek and presses the buttons with his tongue.

BrolyLegs, as he is known to his friends and rivals in the competitive scene, said that besides being a favorite pastime, gaming has forced others to take him more seriously.

Begum’s first forays into competitive gaming involved a wildly popular Nintendo fighting game, Super Smash Bros., that pits fan-favorite characters like Mario and Donkey Kong in an all-out battle royale.

Begum said that it took him about three years of consistently practicing before he felt he was tournament-ready. At first, his opponents dismissed him.

“Then they would see me actually play and get there rear ends kicked and say ‘What, how is this guy playing?’ ” Begum said. “I don’t think people underestimate me anymore.”

In fact, the salt that Begum keeps nearby is a reminder to competitors not to get “salty,” or upset with him, when they lose.

Adam “JewelMan” Jewel, who has been facing Begum in tournaments since 2009, remembers the massive crowds watching him compete early in his career.

“It was just amazing to me that this guy with all these setbacks could not only play the game, but also at such a high level,” Jewel said.

Texas Showdown, a major tournament held recently in the Houston area, featured professional players from California – the mecca of competitive gaming – and gave Begum a chance to test his skills against the heavyweights of the sport. The organizers of the tournament even flew in the John Madden of fighting game commentary, James Chen, to provide play-by-play analysis for the live stream of the tournament.

“I mean let’s face it, Begum has everything against him,” said Chen, “but he is the type of player that shows that you really have no excuses if you want to compete in this game.”

Begum finished in top eight for Street Fighter 4 and Street Fighter X Tekken.

“I play the game to compete, to play, to do well,” he said, “and that’s what I feel I am accomplishing.”

But when all of the games are over, Begum returns to a challenging life. He is dependent on his mother and siblings for the simple things like bathing and dressing himself — daily struggles that are depicted on his YouTube channel. One video shows Begum crawling on the floor for a full minute while only traveling about 10 feet. Aside from the occasional prize purse, Broly supports himself through Social Security and donations from fans.

“Hopefully people can see things through my eyes and witness things that I go through every day,” Begum said.

As long as he has fun, Begum said, he will continue to compete.

“We in the handicapped community don’t have a lot that we can do, but what we can excel at?” he said. “We have to go for it.”

The other competitors know that Begum doesn’t pull any punches.

“After watching him play, I know he doesn’t want me to take it easy on him and he doesn’t deserve anything but the best from me,” Jewel said. “Because if you don’t give him your best, you’re going to lose. It’s like facing any other great player — there really is no difference.”