Last year, the U.S. Army announced a new battle plan for recruitment: one that played out in the esports arena. This year’s innovative strategy brings the Army to high school bass fishing tournaments. Youth anglers will get to interact with the U.S. Army’s Outdoors Team as a part of the organization’s new partnership with Major League Fishing.
The Army, now the title sponsor for the 2021 season of MLF High School Fishing presented by Favorite Fishing, is working to combat (heh) the notion that soldiers have no hobbies or interests (or time for them). The Outdoors Team (made up of soldiers from the Army Mission Support Battalion at Fort Knox, Kentucky), also includes members who participate in hunting (gun as well as bow and arrow) and skeet shooting.
“This partnership will allow the U.S. Army to connect with today’s outdoor enthusiasts across the United States,” said Sgt. 1st Class Andrew M. Benedict, Army Outdoor Team Leader. “We will share our experiences in the Army and demonstrate that you can serve your country while still pursuing your passions in the woods or on the water. We will also highlight how the U.S. Army assists soldiers in continuing the pursuit of their passions through programs such as Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) and others, where soldiers can rent equipment or book hunting expeditions around the world.”
The Army has been a model in game-changing recruitment tactics. In late 2020, the Army announced it was seeking soldiers interested in forming The U.S. Army’s Got Talent Team, an innovative recruiting outreach program. This would include individuals interested in joining two pre-existing U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) marquee programs, the U.S. Army eSports Team and the U.S. Army Warrior Fitness Team.
The U.S. Army’s Got Talent Team, it was noted, was seeking soldiers in multiple genres and with various talents, all with the end game of helping overcome the soldier stereotype. Examples USAREC cited were singers, musicians, obstacle course racers, “American Ninja Warrior” athletes, and others who participated in outdoor or fitness-based activities. Team members could be active-duty, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers.
The Warrior Fitness and eSports Teams expect to expand upon what have already become highly successful programs. Warrior Fitness members compete at the elite level in CrossFit, Strongman/women, and power/Olympic lifting competitions. Members of the esports team represent the U.S. Army both online and at events across the country.
The esports efforts are continuing; in fact, the organization presented an Esports Symposium at the late February virtual tournament presented by the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).
“The video game industry is expected to reach nearly $165 bllion in revenue in 2021,” noted a synopsis of the event. “As part of the first virtual CIAA Weekend experience, the US Army is hosting a series of panels to educate students and working professionals on the careers within gaming and esports. Come listen to active members in the US Army who are also a part of the Army's Esports Team and industry professionals as they share insights on what it takes to land a job within the esports industry.”
If the Army’s success with esports is a model, the Outdoors Team is poised for growth. According to WARC, the esport squad’s full-time job (organizing and taking part in large-scale competitions involving Call Of Duty, the popular first-person shooter game that can go on for several weeks) has had a good rate of return. In the first half of 2020, the Esports 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 said they’d had more success in attracting prospective recruits through esports than by using more traditional recruitment methods – which up until the pandemic, included having walk-in recruitment stations, doing presentations at schools and sponsoring booths at local fairs.
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 was flourishing, the move was a natural transition. (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?”)
And with outdoor pursuits (among these fishing, hunting and camping) being another sector that not only survived but thrived in quarantine, the Army has continued to increase its reach. (In fact, the Outdoors team has its own branded boat that it will take to events).
U.S. Army High School Fishing presented by Favorite Fishing tournaments are two-person (team) events for students in grades 7-12 and are open to any Student Angler Federation (SAF) affiliated high school team in the United States. The top 10 percent of each High School Open, TBF State Championship and The Bass Federation (TBF) Challenge tournament held prior to June 14, 2021, will advance to the final event, the 2021 U.S. Army High School Fishing presented by Favorite Fishing National Championship, held in conjunction with the High School Fishing World Finals June 30-July 3 on Lake Hartwell in Anderson, South Carolina. The World Final is the world’s largest open high school bass tournament, where student anglers compete for more than $3 million in scholarships and prizes.
Other branches of the military have also used new frontiers, as it were, for recruitment tactics. In 2014, WARC notes, 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).