Army eSportsUpdated: July 8, 2020
What are Army eSports? From the day in 2018 when PC Gamer Magazine dropped a news story about how the United States Army was getting into competitive electronic sports, there has been a growing interest in how Army recruiting and competitive online gaming might intersect.
The United States Army views its participation in eSports similar to its recruiting efforts and public relations efforts such as the Golden Knights, the Army Marksmanship Unit, and other military awareness-raising campaigns.
That said, Army eSports is not populated by recruiters and is not considered an active recruitment drive. Instead the team is populated by Army Reservists and active duty soldiers with a shared goal to “create awareness about the Army and the opportunities it provides.”
How eSports Work
In 2018, CNN noted that 380 million people worldwide were noted as eSports viewers, with some 165 million repeat viewers–eSports fans–tuning in more than once. North Americans, South Koreans, and eSports fans in China make up the majority of the followers according to the CNN report.
Competitive video gaming, as eSports are often referred to, involves in-person and online participation (depending on the tournament, the game, gaming platform, etc.) that can be broadcast world-wide via the Internet, cable, and via streaming apps.
The same year the Army chose to endorse eSport participation in an organized way, CNN ran an article about the eSports industry and its billion dollar revenues.
The competitors may gather in a central location or compete remotely. College campuses have made much of the socially-distanced angle for eSports, noting that in times of community health crises and other uncertainty, the decentralized nature of the sport makes it ideal for those trying to manage in times of lockdown, enforced social distancing, etc.
What kinds of games were popular among competitive video games at the time of that 2018 article? A very small sampling includes:
- Magic: The Gathering
- League of Legends
- Call of Duty
- Madden NFL
Fans of these experiences (not the competitors themselves at game time) tune in to watch via Twitch or other streaming services. The games are broadcast or streamed in real time and popular competitive gamers grow fan bases and followings similar to YouTube celebrities.
Enter Army eSports
In 2018, it was announced that the Army would sponsor active duty and reserve personnel who wanted to compete as part of a PR effort at Fort Knox, Kentucky run by the Army Marketing and Engagement Team.
The Army was not directing this as a recruiting effort and the team members are, according to the U.S. Army official site, not recruiters. Instead, this team functions in a support capacity to help “young people see Soldiers in a different light and understand the many different roles people can have in the Army.”
This, Army.mil says, “will help the Army address the growing disconnect with society.”
Supply And Demand
The same Army.mil page adds a hint that this effort may be more grassroots than it appears to be initially. “Soldiers have expressed a strong desire” to take part in the program to represent Army values and to connect with a new generation of potential Army recruits.
How strong is the desire among the troops? A 2019 article posted on Army.mil boasts an interest from more than six thousand Army troops hoping to join the eSports team and accept a three-year military reassignment to Fort Knox in Kentucky to work for the Marketing and Engagement Brigade; Fort Knox is also where Army Recruiting Command is headquartered.
These soldiers were not meant to become military recruiters, but serve in a recruiter-adjacent capacity in the minds of some. They answer questions from potential recruits and participate in outreach such as eSports, functional fitness, and other efforts.
Those who took those assignments back in 2019 did not stop being soldiers, and not all played video games competitively. All Army fitness, education, and career standards still applied to those who accepted these jobs.
The Program Continues
The concept of eSports might sound faddish, and may seem like a flash-in-the-pan opportunity similar to other gaming and digital entertainment fads. But reports indicate Army eSports outreach efforts did not slow down in the early stages of the new decade in 2020.
An Army Recruiting article posted in April 2020 saw Army eSports doubling down on its efforts online with an eye toward easing the pain of travel restrictions and coronavirus lockdown measures by engaging troops online and providing more content and other pastimes to help.
Day-to-day work for Army eSports members during COVID-19 included “competitive training, creating content for social media, online gameplay streaming” and of course, the usual efforts to help the public better understand what it means to be a military professional and have a career as a soldier.
Joining Army eSports
The U.S. Army eSports team is quite small and openings are advertised on an as-needed basis only. The Army official page for eSports does not (at press time) have a section on how to apply but when vacancies are announced this is likely the first place such openings will show up outside the usual DoD assignment system for Army permanent change of station moves.
Viewing Army eSports
You can learn about the latest Army eSports events and competitions via the team’s official Army eSports Facebook page. At press time there is a post from 2019 at the top of the FB page–this is a sticky post designed to help newcomers; at press time the page is still regularly updated (just scroll past the first post to see the latest).
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News