Are professional video game playing soldiers the future of Army recruitment?

"The Army needs to find a new way to relate to a young generation"

Jack Murphy
October 15, 2019 - 11:03 am
Army esports team

Picture courtesy of DOD

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The U.S. Army has long maintained units that conduct civil outreach, reminding America about the Army in an era of an all-volunteer force with the Golden Knights who parachute into football stadiums and the Army Marksmanship Unit which participates in shooting competitions all over the world.  These units keep the Army story alive in the minds of the public and also serve as a recruiting initiative. 

"If we are going to be successful in recruiting, then we need to be where young people are -- and they are operating in the digital world," USAREC commander Maj. Gen. Frank Muth said in an Army press release. "There are already thousands of current Soldiers who are competitive online gamers. Now we are giving them a chance to use their talents to help us relate to and connect with other young gamers. They will have the ability to start a dialogue about what it is like to serve in our Army and see if they are interested in joining." 

To this end, the Army has started its own competitive esports team composed of active duty soldiers who will participate in the rapidly growing world of competitive video game events. They are expected to begin competing in their first esports events this summer.

To learn more, Connecting Vets reached out to an eSports performance manager. "I think it makes sense from a recruitment standpoint," said, Tom Hall, a former Army Ranger. "I don't imagine the purpose will be much more than recruitment. Obviously, the Army needs to find a new way to relate to a young generation. Showing them videos of people shooting guns isn't going to appeal to this generation. It is a way to talk to kids about maybe going to boot camp."

The notion that the Army would get involved in something like eSports will likely be scoffed at by many, but the facts speak for themselves. Last year, esports drew more viewers than the NFL and is expected to generate more than a billion dollars this year. 

While the Army esports team will be used as a recruiting initiative, it may also pay off in other ways down the line according to Hall. "It also plugs into how our military is going autonomous with drones and video game players are going to be the best people to man those," he told Connecting Vets.

Hall pointed out that in so many ways video games are a part of Army culture. Soldiers use them to decompress between combat operations or just from military life in general, something he witnessed first hand in Ranger Battalion. After introducing their platoon's senior NCO to video games for the first time on a combat deployment, Hall recalled, "I remember my platoon sergeant playing Rainbow Six for eight hours straight."

Some of the leadership abilities cultivated in traditional Army professional development, as well as traditional team-based sports, can also be achieved through coaching esports players Hall pointed out.

If the Army uses its pre-existing leadership and management abilities to build an esports team then the sky could be the limit. "The pipeline to professional esports may run through the military in the future," Hall said.

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