When COVID-19 put the kibosh on the U.S. Army’s ability to do face-to-face recruitment, it came up with a new battle plan. This one involves an elite squad… of esports professionals. The new strategy plays out in (wait for it) Call of Duty tournaments.
(Of course it does).
According to WARC, the squad’s full-time job is to organize and take part in large-scale competitions involving the popular first-person shooter game that can go on for several weeks. The good news: It is working. In the first half of this year, the team generated a list of 13,000 potential recruits, defined as people who leave contact details and agree to be contacted by a recruiter.
In fact, recruiters are saying they have had more success in attracting prospective recruits through esports than by using more traditional recruitment methods – which up until now, have included having walk-in recruitment stations, doing presentations at schools and sponsoring booths at local fairs.
The Army Esports Team travels the country to compete full time in tournaments, The Wall Street Journal reports. Of course, the fact that the esports unit has an undeniable cool factor – one of its members is part of the elite Green Beret squadron – doesn’t hurt its recruiting ability.
According to an article on the U.S. Army’s website, the U.S. Army Esports team, based at Fort Knox, Kentucky, consists of 16 Soldiers from various military occupational specialties. Each team member specializes in a different video game. However, competing in various gaming tournaments across the country is not the team's only mission. They also serve as recruiting liaisons who tell their Army story and encourage people to consider Army service.
"The Army is not just about shooting weapons and going to war. It's a huge misconception that's out there, and we're here to share and tell others about the awesome opportunities," said Sgt. Nicole Ortiz, an Information Technology Specialist and one of the team members.
The Army’s goal – recruiting 70,000 new troops each year – was set to take a huge hit with so many walk-in businesses closed and so many in-person opportunities missed. But with esports being one of the few industries that are flourishing, the move was a natural transition.
The Army isn’t the first branch of the military to recognize the value of esports. The Navy, a longtime advertiser in the football space, pulled its money out of television advertising (this was very noticeable during the Super Bowl) and instead conducted its campaigns on YouTube and esports – where, it said, its target market could be found.
According to an article in The Esports Observer, the new strategy shouldn’t surprise anyone: an online campaign is undoubtedly the best means to reach those between the ages of 17 and 28. Research conducted by the Navy and published in USNI News shows that group doesn’t watch TV as much – and can usually be found in the digital arena.
The Air Force and the Marine Corps, like the Army and Navy, also have their own teams and, in fact, there is a Military Gaming League, made up of active duty service members and veterans. Its tagline is: “You’re already America’s heroes. Why not be a gaming legend too?”
Recruiters say gamers represent a good pool of people likely to suit the army’s requirements because video games are now so popular and are played by a wide cross-section of the public. This means gamers can potentially perform many of the very varied tasks in the army from mechanic to front-line infantry.
“We need to reach youth where they are, which is online, on social media, playing e-sports,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of the Army's recruiting command told a reporter at The Wall Street Journal.
The Army has increasingly made inroads into the esports space. This time last year, gamers and U.S. Army soldiers did a “trading places” style switch. The program kicked off at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on June 13, when representatives of Complexity Gaming spent three days living and training like U.S. Army soldiers. During an intensive boot camp, players participated in military-style drills alongside active-duty service members. Later on, participants returned to the GameStop Performance Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, for their own esports boot camp. The soldiers’ in-game training culminated in an esports tournament.
In 2014, according to WARC, the Navy was able to attract potential cryptologists by using a puzzle-solving game on social media. (The article notes, “The Navy found, as it had suspected, that the brightest cryptology minds could not resist trying to crack what appeared to be the impossible-to-solve puzzles in Project Architeuthis).