EMU alumnus builds nationwide charity through gaming

Founder of Gamers Outreach, Zach Wygal, speaks at 2017 Gamers For Giving, located at Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center.

Zach Wigal, Eastern Michigan University alumnus, transformed a gaming event he attempted in high school into a foundation that uses gaming to support a growing number of over 100,000 children per year.

A Saline, Michigan native, Wigal is the founder of Gamers Outreach, a nonprofit charity organization dedicated to facilitating a community where gamers use gaming to positively impact the world around them. Gamers Outreach provides equipment, technology, and software to help patients cope with treatment inside hospitals

In 2007, while Wigal was in high school, he and his friends attempted to throw a “Halo” gaming tournament. According to Wigal, the event was shut down by police due to the negative and violent image surrounding video games. The event being shut down coupled with Wigal’s love for gaming led him in a new direction.

“There are always negative stereotypes surrounding video games for whatever reason, so we decided to organize a new charity event to illustrate all the good that can happen and how positive it can really be when gamers get together for a cause,” said Wigal.

In 2008, Gamers Outreach hosted its first Gamers For Giving. The first event was to raise money for local organizations, prior to this event Wigal had never been involved with charity work.

“The opportunity to be involved had never been presented to me in a way that I connected with, but I knew my love for video games, so when I got the opportunity to see that video games are capable of making a difference in people's lives it was really exciting and inspiring,”said Wigal.

In 2009, Wigal and his team first approached Mott’s Children’s Hospital looking to donate video games, only to discover that the hospital didn’t have the capability to facilitate the gameplay, which led to Wigal and his team spending 6 months volunteering at Mott’s to better learn the healthcare environment.

Their time at Mott’s led to the creation of the GO Kart, a mobile gaming kiosk. According to Wigal, the startup designs did not work as efficiently as he would have liked, so they found a company that would let them re-purpose an existing medical cart. Gamers Outreach has now developed a design that allows easy access to gameplay. The karts are built in-house from molds purchased through a contracted manufacturer in Texas.

Today the foundation services majority children’s hospitals and has donated a GO Kart to a veterans hospital. Wigal hopes to continue to expand donations to adult hospitals and more children hospitals. According to Wigal, the foundation will have donated GO Karts to over 40 hospitals nationwide by summer 2017.

“As long as you don't stop what you’re doing you can't lose,” said Wigal, “The moment that you say you're done working on what you love working on is when it's over.”

Gamers For Giving now creates an avenue for Gamers Outreach to bring gamers together while raising donations to complete the foundation’s initiatives

“This event was an opportunity for us to show that kids are not training themselves to kill, and that this gaming event is not a hazard to public safety,” said Wigal, “We thought, let's get the gaming community together and do something good.”

Since it began, Gamers for Giving has been an annual event that has grown in attendance and online viewership, and as the dedication to the cause has grown, so has the support. The 2017 Gamers for Giving was a weekend long event sponsored by Chevy, 5 Hour Energy, and more. The event was streamed online during the weekend of April 1 from the main arena of the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center.

This year’s event raised almost $300,000 in donations, grossed over 1,500 physical attendees, and accumulated over 700,000 independent online viewers, which doesn’t include the viewership of all the streamers involved. The weekend featured appearances from online gamers that each have accumulated thousands of subscribers on their own, as well as activities and other various points of engagement.

Gamers For Giving is now one of largest competitive gaming tournaments and one of the largest independent LAN parties in the United States.

“I hope that we inspire people to realize that at any time they can make an impact by themselves on any cause they are passionate about. We have a lot of people that reach out and ask when is Gamers Outreach going to be in this hospital or that hospital, and I want to ask when are you going to start working in that hospital because it's about being the change you want to see,” said Wigal.

To donate or learn more about Gamers Outreach visit gamersoutreach.org

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