Chris Scott was doing skydiving over Long Island, New York, when he realized that something was wrong. He was an experienced skydiving instructor with around 6,000 jumps behind him and that was supposed to be just another day at work. Strapped to Scott’s chest there was in tandem Gary Messina who every year celebrated his birthday with a jump. 50 meters from the ground the parachute that had slowed their descent he suddenly collapsed. It was most likely disturbed by an unpredictable little tornado which is the bane of skydivers, because it forms in the same clear weather conditions that are perfect for their sport.
Messina, an officer in the city prison, who was supposed to have turned 26 the next day, died on impact with the ground. Surprisingly, Scott survived, even though he passed out on impact. “I remember fixing the ground, and that’s it,” he later told reporters. When he woke up 11 days later, it was early August 2014 and the doctors told him he had broken his neck. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down and lucky to be alive. “I was on the verge of death,” he said. Scott went to a specialized rehabilitation center in Atlanta, Georgia before returning to New York to live in the same condo as his family. He has since used a mouth joystick to move his wheelchair and regularly went to East Harlem’s Mount Sinai Hospital to work on his rehabilitation. It was there that he met the Dr. David Putrino in March 2019. In his role as director of rehabilitation innovation at Mount Sinai, Putrino explored several ways to improve patients’ health. He used training methods typical of professional athletes and technological solutions such as virtual reality.
The couple met at a time when Scott was struggling with his new life. The he was missing being part of a team and he felt a lack of purpose in his daily life. “We sat staring at each other in silence for a while,” Putrino said. “And then I said, ‘So what do you like to do?”. Scott replied that he loved playing eSports. Putrino was surprised. “At that point I was naive,” he said, “because I had never seen competitive video games where someone as severely paralyzed as Chris competed.” The two then started NBA 2K on a PlayStation 4 in the hospital. Scott’s backpack was hanging from his wheelchair and he asked Putrino to reach out and take something from him. The device had a mouthpiece with a joystick and several sensors in which it was possible to blow or inhale. It was the QuadStick Scott’s a tool that helped him play video games using his mouth.
Putrino mounted the QuadStick to the wheelchair so that it was aligned with Scott’s mouth. Then they started playing. Scott moved the joystick with his lips. He could control the players by making them spin, jump and throw the ball. “He was really good,” Putrino said. “And suddenly made me the c #]or to NBA 2K“. Experience gave them an idea. They were both familiar with the growing esports industry; and if they could use Scott’s video game skills and Putrino’s experience in training athletes as a basis for an esports team with other quadriplegic players?
Scott sent a message to other patients of Mount Sinai to gauge interest. “That was the big test, because we weren’t sure anyone would accept,” Putrino said. But they didn’t have to wait long for an answer. “People contacted us immediately and they said: ‘We want to participate! ” Blake Hunt he was one of the first to get in touch. He had been playing video games since he was a child. “I remember playing Super Nintendo with my brothers,” he said. Whoever came in first place had the right to brag for the day. Hunt he was a talented American football player, when he was 17 broke his neck during a game for his high school team. “I couldn’t really find a way to be competitive when I got hurt,” he said. “So I struggled with my identity for a while.”
One of the first video games they played together online was League of Legends. It is a game that is based on teamwork and, while playing, the different styles of play and the characteristics of each team member emerged. Sergio Acevedo was a relaxed and calming personality, while Richard Jacobs was lively, often speaking in the third person while playing: “Nice work, Rich!” Sometimes Hunt could be heard singing at points of particular tension. Some members of the team played by pressing the pads with the side of their heads, while others manipulated the controllers with their arms. They found that playing together they were a formidable team. “Individually we would have had a hard time winning,” Hunt said. “But when we all got together, it was very difficult to fight.”
Often the people who challenged online – and beaten up – weren’t disabled. Sometimes their opponents didn’t know who they were playing with. “People don’t know,” Hunt said. “And it’s very liberating to beat them. It’s part of the fun ”. But as the popularity of the streaming platforms like Twitch, often players can see each other. Nyree Stevens, another mom on the team, paralyzed by a stray bullet, enjoys herself when her opponents can see her. “Many people would not think that the person on the other side of the avatar is tearing them up playing with his mouth“He said. “So it’s absolutely fantastic.” By the summer of 2019, the team was ready to start play in competitions where cash prizes and greater prestige would have been at stake. At the height of their first tournament in late July 2019, they held another team meeting.
Later, Putrino remembers being with Scott as he left Mount Sinai for the day. “He stopped his chair and looked over his shoulder to ask me, ‘Do you really think we can do this? Can we really do it? ‘”Putrino told him that to get as far as they had dared, they were already winning. Scott smiled and walked out of the hospital with his chair. A few days later, terrible news arrived. Scott had died of a chest infection. “Has been a shock to all of us, ”Hunt said. “It is still difficult to deal with. We don’t talk about it much ”. “It was a big blow,” Putrino said. But he adds that for many disabled people, health is fragile. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
The team got together and decided to continue what Scott had started. Their team name would be Quad Gods. “We are called the Quad Gods because in our mind we are all gods of our lifestyleHunt said. Each of them invented different alter egos. Hunt chose Shango. “He is an African god of thunder”. Richard Jacobs chose Zeus. Nyree Stevens chose SittinPrettii. In the first competitive tournament they played there were 99 teams and the Quad Gods were hoping to finish in the first half. They finished fourth. They started playing – and winning – multiple online tournaments, encountering a particularly successful especially with Fortnite.
As the stories about their team spread to the player community, the funding opportunities presented themselves. They received money to purchase equipment and to launch themselves as a legitimate esports team. The New Jersey Nets basketball team donated a play space. The Quad Gods began looking for a full-time coach. Their next goal is to finish high in a number of different esports world championships this year. The Olympic Committee is evaluating eSports for the 2024 Olympics and, by securing a place in the world rankings, the Quad Gods are hoping to qualify. For the team, the benefits of competitive play have been considerable. “When we do the things we like, it releases the stress,” Hunt said. “Stress is a killer in itself. In this way the game was therapeutic. I have been in a wheelchair since I was 17. I’m 31 now. In many ways, gambling saved my life“.
“None of us would be here if it weren’t for Chris who one day showed up at my lab and said ‘Hey, I have to do something, ”said Putrino, known affectionately as“ the Quadfather ”by the team. The Quad Gods logo was painted by Sergio Acevedo who paints with his mouth. It is a winged wheelchair. “Chris will always be our captain,” Hunt said. “He is our guardian angel and the wings represent him”.