The 23-year-old has visited seven countries in Europe and Asia in the last seven months but needs to raise an additional $40,000 to stay in Korea to finish the last four months of his year-long investigation into the disabled gaming community around the world.
“I am meeting these people face-to-face in order to learn more about what its like for someone with a disability to be a gamer in all of the different cultures I’ve visited, how gaming and technology has changed their lives, and the unique challenges that people with disabilities all over the world face,” he said.
Fink’s marathon StarCraft fund-raiser started at noon Central Time on Tuesday and is continuing until about 9 p.m. Thursday. Sixteen separate events were being held with world-class players from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Spain, France, Korea and Japan taking part.
About $1,000 had been pledged in advance by Monday evening, but Fink needs to raise around $15,000 in donations to cover his personal care assistants’ wages and flights alone.
“I have had a lot of expenses along the way, being a person with a disability, that an able-bodied person would not incur,” said Fink, who needs around 12 hours of personal assistance a day.
Subway stations with steps create the need for expensive taxi rides, “accessible” budget hotels located up three flights of stairs oblige last-minute accommodation changes, and short-term leased apartments must have large enough room for his motorized wheelchair. The chair also incurs its own maintenance costs for new batteries and tires.
But Fink was optimistic that the StarCraft community around the world would come to his aid. One contest over the three days will see pro competitors wear mittens to simulate Fink’s experience of playing as part of the fund-raising effort.
Fink, from Minnesota, was born with all four limbs, but missing a spleen. Because of this, when he contracted pneumococcal sepsis at 18 months old his body could not fight the bacterial infection in his blood. Doctors had to amputate all four of his limbs to save his life, and he now takes medication to ensure that he does not get sick again.
The StarCraft enthusiast said he enjoyed online gaming because it was one of the few competitive activities where he required no special equipment, such as artificial limbs.
“As a person who is disabled, I can easily compete with other people with disabilities, but the chance to compete with able bodied people without adaptations is really rare,” he explained. “StarCraft is cool because I don’t feel at a disadvantage at all. Once you get to a certain level it is not about how fast your fingers are but how fast your mind is. I just use a regular keyboard. There are logistical issues that I have overcome that most people don’t have, but I don’t think it is going to be actions per minute that is the main issue after playing for two years.”
His Watson Fellowship award has allowed him to travel to experience the international StarCraft II e-sports culture and to shoot at playing at a professional level.
But he called the daily five hours training he has managed during his trip “nothing close to enough,” especially with Korean pros clocking in for 10 hours a day, taking just one day off every two weeks.
“That’s the basic starting point,” said Fink. “If you are not able to do that then you may as well go home.”
For those with the talent and the staying power there is money to be made at the top ― but only a tiny fraction of the world’s gamers get access to the fabled hundreds of thousands of dollars prize pots. However, online gaming is still taken far more seriously here than it is in the U.S.
“In the U.S. if you told your mother or your grandmother: ‘I’m going to take time off from school to train at StarCraft,’ they might think that you had gone mad or tell you that you have no future. In Asia, it is considered to be a real profession and in the EU it’s getting to be that way,” Fink said, noting other big differences in the Western and Asian mindset during his travels too.
While Asian gamers focused more on perfecting techniques, Western players prioritize creativity.
“The Korean style (of coaching), at least what I discovered in my time there, was to break you down and get rid of your creativity and start building you up from the bottom with repetition,” he said.
“The hope is you can execute things flawlessly and once you have the fundamentals in place you can think about reintroducing creativity. It is such a different way of approaching things.”
As well as meeting some of Korea’s top gamers and taking part in the World Cyber Games championships in Busan, Fink also gave a talk at a school for disabled children here ― telling kids and parents about gaming and the importance of hobbies.
“People usually look at gaming as an anti-social activity but it is quite the opposite,” he said. “It is hyper social, you are connecting with a lot of people all over the world.”
After completing his year-long adventure, Fink will attend graduate school at George Washington University to study international health policy, which he has previously researched in China.
By Kirsty Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org