Social good

Finding new ways to play

With in-person events cancelled, and a lot of big changes happening in the world, Special Olympics athletes found a small but powerful way to connect, compete, and build community.

This year, Special Olympics is looking for innovative ways for athletes to nurture old friendships, build new ones, and have fun. So, their partners at Microsoft and Xbox tapped the latest gaming technology to help bring them together—even when they have to be apart.

The result was the 2020 Special Olympics Xbox Virtual Gaming Event featuring Forza Motorsport 7, a grassroots community effort that offered athletes a way to feel the joy of competing again during a challenging time.

Special Olympics athletes, who have overcome social isolation throughout their lives, are now navigating the challenges of physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Xbox Gaming Event provided a beacon of light for people with and without intellectual disabilities: a way to connect with one another, celebrate difference, and take part in joyful competition at a time when we need it the most.

Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International

Meet the athletes

For Ben, being part of an esports league was a “bucket list opportunity.” For Amber, gaming offered a chance to “be a hero!” These Special Olympics athletes, along with many others, had the opportunity to train with Microsoft employees, play Forza Motorsport 7, and celebrate each other in a custom Minecraft stadium for the medal ceremony.

Hear from the athletes themselves as they share what it meant to enjoy competing with old and new friends in this livestreamed event that gave their family and fans a chance to cheer them on virtually—and got over 100,000 views online!

“I love Xbox. I’m pretty good at it.”

- Jack
Home: Frankfurt, IL
Favorite Xbox GamesBasketball (NB2K20), Baseball (RBI Baseball 20), WWE, Parkour

“I’ve gotten scary good at gaming.”

- Ben
Home: Crawfordsville, IN
Favorite Xbox GamesCall of Duty, Sea of Thieves, Minecraft

“I can stand out in a crowd in a positive way.”

- Amber
Home: Farr West, UT
Favorite Xbox GameHalo

“It made me feel less lonely.”

- Stephanie
Home: Oak Lawn, IL
Favorite Xbox GameMinecraft

“It’s fun to show what we can do.”

- Colton
Home: Brighton, CO
Favorite Xbox Game: Forza - Horizon, Motorsport 

"Gaming helps me make new friends."

- Wesley
Home: Brandon, MS
Favorite Xbox Game: Madden and WWE 

Help us build inclusive communities

Donate your Microsoft Rewards points to Special Olympics and support inclusion on and off the field. Help advance a global movement of youth leaders to create a world where we all are included, regardless of ability.

Buckle up and see the action

What started as a simple plan for a few Special Olympics athletes in Washington state to play video games together gained momentum–it went full throttle. On May 30, 2020, athletes from all across the US and over 100,000 fans came together for the livestreamed 2020 Special Olympics Xbox Virtual Gaming Event featuring Forza Motorsport 7. See the energy and enthusiasm that brought the event to life.

This inclusion revolution is tech-powered, so everyone can play

When getting together face to face wasn’t possible, Microsoft and Special Olympics banded together to help the athletes connect and compete with each other—before, during, and after the event—and feel the love and support from their family, friends, and fans too.

Xbox and Forza believe that play is a fundamental human right and that gaming is for everyone—no matter their age, background, or ability. So their accessible controllers and other tools empowered the athletes to take full control of their fun in the driver’s seat.

Through Flipgrid, friends and fans from across the country were able to upload encouraging videos, wishing athletes good luck and showing their support in real time.

Collage of pictures of individuals who have posted video messages of encouragement for Special Olympics athletes on Flipgrid.
With Microsoft Teams, athletes could connect with each other before the event for Minecraft trainings with Microsoft employees so they were ready to hit the ground running on game day. Plus, they were able to share about their experience afterward during interviews on the Teams platform.

The Minecraft awards stadium was for many athletes an event highlight, and a labor of love by volunteers from the Microsoft Store team. They trained the athletes on the experience in advance and then gifted the Minecraft world to Special Olympics for future virtual events.

At Xbox, we are proud to support gaming tournaments as part of Special Olympics. We’re committed to making gaming a place where people of all abilities can have fun and feel included.

Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox
First-ever Xbox Gaming Tournament hosted at 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. Special Olympics Champion of Inclusion, Jenn Panattoni, is front row and fourth from the right.

Introducing Special Olympics’ Champions of Inclusion

From the pain of isolation to the joy of inclusion, Special Olympics celebrates all abilities through fitness, sports, and health. Now they’re giving everyone a chance to nominate Champions of Inclusion in their own communities. These are people who’ve been leading the charge for respecting and embracing all abilities in sports, in schools, at work, and beyond. 


We’re thrilled to announce that Microsoft’s Xbox event team, led by event producer Jenn Panattoni, has been designated as a Champion of Inclusion for helping Special Olympics athletes get the most out of the virtual gaming event. Who would you like to nominate?