The U.S. Army is creating esports teams from within its ranks for games such as Overwatch, Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and League of Legends — all part of its effort to recruit more soldiers.
The Army is now accepting applications from active duty troops, reserves, and veterans, to form teams that will compete in video game tournaments, reported Stars and Stripes. In addition to the aforementioned games, the online application form for the U.S. Army eSports Program also lists Call of Duty, Tekken, and sports franchises FIFA, Madden, and NBA 2K.
The decision to create esports teams comes after the Army’s failure to meet its recruitment target for fiscal year 2018 (plans to use lasers to keep drones aloft and Terminator-style “ribbon guns” apparently weren’t impressive enough). From the initial target of 80,000 recruits, the goal was lowered to 76,500 recruits. However, only 70,000 new soldiers signed up — the highest number since 2010, but still a miss from the Army’s recruitment target for the first time since 2005.
The plan for the esports initiative was to use video games in “furthering the Army’s brand,” said staff sergeant Ryan Meaux in an interview for a recruiting station in Slidell, Louisiana. The program will kick off in December with an internal Tekken 7 tournament, with the winner to represent the Army at PAX South in January next year.
The program will eventually look to roll out an Army esports trailer, which will travel to college campuses around the United States. The esports teams representing different colleges will then use the vehicle to remotely compete against the Army’s teams in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Soldiers want to represent the Army in competitive esports, believing that this will help address the growing disconnect with society, particularly with young people, according to Army Recruiting Command spokeswoman Kelli Bland. The initiative looks to make soldiers more visible and relatable, especially as traditional recruiting techniques such as phone calls have grown less effective in getting prospects to sign up.
Esports has slowly crept into the mainstream, with the Overwatch League one of the better examples. Blizzard and Disney announced earlier this year that the Overwatch League matches will be broadcast on ESPN, EPSN2, ABC, and Disney XD. The Army is likely looking to take advantage of the popularity of esports to get back on track with its recruitment efforts for the next fiscal year.