It often comes as a surprise to people outside the world of competitive gaming that there is one, and that the US military has professional teams competing. With millions of fans tuning in to watch their favorite teams and players compete in various video games, it is a great recruitment opportunity for a military desperately seeking to connect with today’s youth. These teams, formed by active-duty military personnel and veterans, are not only able to keep up in the competitive gaming scene but also stay in the rankings.
The Emergence of Military eSports Teams
The concept of military eSports teams began to gain traction in the mid-2010s, and not only in the United States. At home, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps all have their own teams, with members competing in Call of Duty, League of Legends, and Overwatch to name a few.
The United Kingdom, South Korea, and Russia have also formed military eSports teams, trying with some success to not let the US have all the fun. These teams often participate in both national and international tournaments, pitting their skills against civilian and military opponents alike.
Games of Halo and Call of Duty in the barracks is a given and accepted pastime outside of duty hours, but why would the Department of Defense spend money on professional service member gamers? As it turns out, it’s a decent return on investment.
Recruitment and Outreach
One of the primary reasons for the formation of military eSports teams is to aid in recruitment and outreach efforts. By participating in popular gaming events and streaming platforms, these teams can connect with potential recruits who may not have otherwise considered a career in the military. This approach allows the armed forces to engage with a younger, tech heavy audience and showcase the diverse opportunities available within the military. Civilians would be wise to manage expectations though, as slots on these teams are difficult to come by and are in extremely short supply.
Morale and Camaraderie
While it does seem cheesy to the more grizzled veterans among us, competitive gaming is one way to take service members and their fans and place them in a community they otherwise might not have. Where better to find like-minded individuals who will argue about League of Legends lore or Master Chief’s tactical decision making? Competitive gaming provides an outlet for stress relief and team building, allowing military personnel to bond over a shared interest. It also doesn’t hurt to be able to represent your branch and your country in a unique international arena.
Many studies have shown that video games improve resource management, reaction time, hand eye coordination and fine motor skills. Truly competitive gaming requires strong communication, teamwork, and strategic thinking as well, which is directly relatable to most military fields.
A secondary but not inconsiderable benefit is to those service members and veterans wounded in combat actions. Not only does it give personnel a place to stay in service to their country while they recuperate, but it also ensures that they are part of an active community who understands their struggle and has the time to provide the moral and emotional support they might need… Even if it’s just a friendly voice through some Razer headphones.
Challenges and Controversies
Despite the numerous benefits, military eSports teams have faced some challenges and controversies. Critics argue that the armed forces’ involvement in gaming may glamorize war and violence, potentially sending the wrong message to impressionable audiences. Additionally, some have raised concerns about the allocation of resources, questioning whether the funds spent on eSports initiatives could be better utilized elsewhere within the military.
The argument that video game violence creates or promotes real world violence has been a recurring theme amongst parents and special interest groups since the first commercial video game was released decades ago and has long since been proven untrue. I can personally say for certain that if a seven-foot tall Sangheili warrior comes at me with a plasma rifle, video games will not be the reason I locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. And as for the expense… With a defense budget bloated beyond reason while barracks rooms are still covered in mold, taking issue with the limited resources the eSports teams’ cost is a facile argument at best.
While challenges and controversies persist, the continued growth and success of these teams demonstrate the potential for a lasting and positive impact on both the military and eSports communities. Considering the alternative is to let other countries dominate because we didn’t show? That’s not the America I know and love.