The Air Force has officially moved into the digital battleground.
Service members will be livestreamed playing esports in a new tournament. An article in Stars and Stripes notes that the Pentagon increasingly looks to the gaming community as an outreach and retention tool.
On Saturday, September 26, the service launched Command Clash, a six-part esports series on Twitch that pits 29 airmen, male and female, across multiple bases in competition playing (what else?) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
The series will also feature celebrities such as NFL free agent Clay Matthews and former NFL running back Ahman Green. Jeff Leach, the voice actor for the Call of Duty character Ghost, does commentary on each match.
The Air Force partnered with Viper Gaming, Atomic Infotech, Convoke and Athletes Brand TV for the "Command Clash" series. Competitors from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; Davis-Monthan AirForce Base, Ariz.; Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
Unlike many esports tournaments, this one comes only with bragging rights; in the final episode, one base will be declared the champion.
Unlike the Army, the Air Force does not have big recruiting goals with esports as a core component, according to the Stars and Stripes article. They are also not in a hurry to mold gaming into a high-profile recreation or sport, such as Navy football, Army Combatives or the Marine Corps Band. Richard Cooper, a civilian spokesman for the Command Clash series, said the branch is putting its toes in the water.
“This is the future, gaming and esports are not going away anytime soon,” Cooper said. “The Air Force absolutely sees the potential of what this can be. This is us really dipping our toes in the kiddie pool of esports and gaming.”
Getting straight-out-of-high-school gamers to enlist in the Air Force, he added, is not the primary focus. "While each branch has its own objectives, we decided to focus our program on entertaining our Airmen and providing a place for them to connect. This is not a recruitment tool for us."
Good to know – although, Stars and Stripes points out, in one prerecorded two-hour episode shared with Stars and Stripes, there was a break in the Call of Duty matches to show a video of a pilot with the F-22 Raptor Demonstration team showing viewers the inside of the plane and aerial maneuvers.
The Air Force moved forward after a survey this year of more than 377,000 airmen — male and female — between the rank of E1-E6 and O1-O4 to gauge the branch’s interest in gaming and esports. Nearly 35,000 service members responded globally across all installations, marking one of the greatest response rates for any internal survey, according to an Air Force press release.
The survey also found that video games is a top hobby for Air Force men and women. Of those who participated in the survey, 98% said they spend at least three hours gaming per week, with more than 54% playing over 10 hours. Of that, 81% of men and women surveyed said they spend at least three hours a week watching gaming or esports content on Twitch and YouTube.
Side note: Wow.
The Air Force has already made its entry into the digital arena; over the summer, it recruited airmen who were gamers to participate in the 2020 Evolution Championship Series, in Las Vegas.
EVO 2020, an annual fighting game tournament, used titles including Street Fighter V: Champion Edition, Tekken 7, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Dragonball FighterZ and Soulcalibur VI. Selected Airmen attended a virtual trial and selection camp and a training camp.
Back in May, the Army announced the use of esports as a recruitment and branding opportunity. The Army's program, though, was stalled by online spammers commenting about war crimes, and an attempt by Congress to end the streaming efforts; it was later restarted. A Navy program was similarly paused for review but restarted.