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Falcons’ Kurt Benkert competing in Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am, but it’s about more than winning

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Didn't see this posted and thought it was pretty cool


Falcons’ Kurt Benkert competing in Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am, but it’s about more than winning

Benkert is learning American Sign Language to communicate with Ewok, his 13-year-old teammate, during the tournament


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.


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.




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.

Edited by MayorWest13
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Deaf Fortnite Pro-Am competitor Ewok makes mark on streaming scene

Soleil Wheeler's life changed during a Fortnite stream in March. The 13-year-old deaf Fortnite livestreamer, known as "Ewok," put her hands to her face as she gasped at what happened -- thousands of miles away from her home in the Midwest, popular gaming personality Timothy "TimTheTatman" John Betar had concluded his stream and hosted her channel, sending thousands of viewers her way.

In the three months since, Ewok has skyrocketed in popularity, amassing more than 100,000 followers on Twitch and becoming an icon to deaf or hard of hearing gamers across the world. On Sunday, Ewok will compete in the second-ever Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am at The Forum in Los Angeles, with Atlanta Falcons backup quarterback Kurt Benkert serving as her teammate.


Their opponents include popular livestreamers Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, Dennis "Cloakzy" Lepore, Imane "Pokimane" Anys, and entertainers such as Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie, former Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, comedian Hannibal Buress and Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart.

It will be Ewok's first time competing in an offline event, something she said is nerve-wracking but exciting at the same time.

"Some of [the streamers] have been my role models for a long time, and it's crazy to think that I would actually be meeting them in person, let alone play with them," Ewok said via email.

Ewok used to watch many of these players compete against one another online, hoping one day she'd be in their shoes. Then, in October, she got a gaming PC and began streaming to a mere two to three viewers.

Since her breakout stream, Ewok has played online with Ninja, Benjamin "DrLupo" Lupo and Ryan "Chap" Chaplo and began training with Benkert ahead of their time on the big stage.


Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kurt Benkert passes during mini camp at Falcons Training Complex on Wednesday in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Benkert will partner with Fortnite streamer Soleil "Ewok" Wheeler at the Fortnite Pro-Am this weekend in Los Angeles. Photo by Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

In the past few months, Ewok and Benkert have developed a friendship that started with gaming but has grown bigger than that. Benkert has taken up learning American Sign Language, and on Sunday, he and Ewok will communicate with each other that way via video chat while they compete at the pro-am.

Benkert first appeared in Ewok's Twitch chat on the day that TimTheTatman hosted her. The backup QB said he'd love to play some games together in the future. Later, Ewok's father, a high school ASL teacher, reached out asking if the quarterback would be interested in learning ASL.

"I thought it was a cool opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, learn something new and help her along the way," Benkert said. "And she helped me just as much. Her whole family has been really open to me. All of them, at least one of them, will talk to me nearly every single day almost. Her sister will reach out, her mom will say hi when we video chat, and it's been a really open and warming friendship with the whole family. It's been really enjoyable to get to know a family and learn what their life is like and the challenges they face."

Next week will present a new experience for both of the competitors. Benkert has only been to Los Angeles once, but the trip with be another first for Ewok.

"I have never been to the West. It is going to be a fantastic experience," she said. "It is going to be the biggest party I've ever gone to in my life!"

Being deaf doesn't put her at a disadvantage, Ewok said. Fortnite has an internal sound visualizer for players who have impaired hearing. She even thinks it may give her an edge in the game because of the overcompensation she puts in visually.

"The sound visualizer has been very helpful and it allows me to play on the same level, although there are a few sounds that are still missing in it," Ewok said. "Overall, it allows me to be just as good as other players, if not better. I compensate the inability to hear chat by texting in chats and signing in video chats. Fortnite has been very impressive in being inclusive to diverse communities. That is one of the biggest reasons I love Fortnite. The Twitch community has also been very supportive. It's amazing to see that. Twitch does feel like a family. Many of us look out for each other, raid and host each other. It's a beautiful thing. Some of the popular streamers knew I was deaf, so they waved on the screen and typed in chat to reply to me. Some of them even learned how to sign."

Ewok is among a new set of teenagers who are gaining popularity from Fortnite skills. For many, it's the first time they've ever found fame. Ewok said her parents and family are very supportive of her new career and that even kids at her school, the Indiana School for the Deaf, know what she does after classes end.

"I normally go to school during the weekdays, and when I get home I do a few errands and then stream for around four hours," Ewok said. "I stream for longer hours on the weekends. There was a point when I streamed too much, and I learned that I had to balance with other things in life."

Online, Ewok has received an outpouring of support, from Ninja to Benkert and other gamers who are deaf and see her as a role model. Being a participant in an online community has come with some criticism and toxicity, but Ewok and her family have appointed trustworthy moderators on her Twitch chat to keep it from getting out of control.

Moving forward, Ewok wants to continue to stream and grow her online presence, and after graduating from school, pursue a full-time career in gaming. What that looks like, she's unsure -- for now it's school during the day and Fortnite and streaming during the evening. But that feeling could change, as she'll get her first taste of offline event exposure on Sunday.

"I want to meet people that have been supportive of me, like TimTheTatman, Ninja, Dr. Lupo, SypherPK, Jordan Fisher, Lachlan and Aydan," she said. "I am not sure if this is possible, but it would be cool to meet LeBron James and BTS."

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