The U.S. Navy has begun a large-scale advertisement campaign, aimed at recruiting gamers. The Navy has come to the conclusion that many young adults, ages 17-24, are spending more time in online gaming environments rather than watching conventional television broadcasting.

The Navy plans to create an e-sports group, comprised of recruiters with a strong gaming background. These recruiters will be all over the country, attending videogame competitions and conventions, attempting to show this new generation of gamers how they could fit in, excel in the U.S. Navy.

The chief marketing officer for the Navy Recruiting Command, Capt. Matt Boren stated that “one thing the military really tries to do is show that we’re relatable. We want to show that the military is relatable to our target audience, which is predominantly 17 to 24 year-olds, and that these relatable people do relatable things.”

The Navy Recruiting Command plans to create 10 recruiting billets for the best of the best gamers in the fleet. These sailors will go through recruiter training and then work out of a dedicated gaming facility. The goal is for this “wargamer” team to stream content, play online, and recruit through mediums such as Twitch. (Twitch is an online portal where people are able to stream their games and watch others play, all the while chatting and communicating, making this an ideal tool for Navy recruitment.)

This team will participate in activities such as competing at gaming conferences, partaking in Navy Week, and visiting high schools.

Other Branches Are Joining in the Action

The Navy is not the first branch to create and implement an e-sports team. The Army created its own team of gaming recruiters in 2018.

The Army began its e-sports recruiting team after the sobering realization that conventional recruiting techniques were not working.

According to Lisa Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Recruiting Command, 70 percent of people, aged 21-30, spend up to nine hours a day watching and playing video games. She also pointed out that only about half of today’s younger generation knows anything about our country’s military forces.

Mark Deppe, the director of the e-sports program at the University at California at Irvine, said that online gaming is “a social environment. The gamers who inhabit it can gain valuable skills in building teams, resolving conflicts, communicating and strateg[izing], the sorts of habits that can be applied to making warfighters.” “All those things are things that employers and the military are probably really interested in,” he added.

Can Video Games Create Warfighters?

Playing video games
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Emmanuel Velazquez, from Carolina, Puerto Rico, plays a video game aboard the expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead, August 22, 2018. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Maria I. Alvarez/U.S. Navy)

Let me preface this with the fact that I’m not a gamer, never have been. My opinions stem from the fact that I spent my time in Special Operations and this article is written from a SOF point of view. I had plenty of friends in the special operations community who were big gamers, they were also beasts in the gym and badasses at their jobs.

I’m slightly traditional and a little old school, so it’s hard for me to accept the fact that the U.S. military is turning to video games in order to convince younger people to join the ranks.

There is no question that technology is constantly evolving. Many military occupations involve service members spending large amounts of time sitting behind high-tech computers and remotely operating vehicles from far distances. There is no question that having a video gaming background would prove to be a great foundation for these types of positions. There are many jobs in the military that could prove to be a great career segway for gamers.

But, when I hear that video games can create warfighters, I tend to strongly disagree. To me, a warfighter is someone that is physically fit. Somebody who has participated in and survived rigorous combat training. And an individual who knows how to handle himself/herself on the ground, in real-world stressful and dangerous situations.

When you get tired of playing or you’ve been killed too many times during an online videogame match, you can simply turn off the console and walk away. This is a 180 from the reality of what real warfighters have to go through during training and combat missions.

In a time that the Special Operations community is in desperate need of capable volunteers, and the rest of the military is experiencing an astounding rate of obesity and PT test failures, videogame recruiting concerns me.

This past September it was reported that 22 percent of Navy personnel were categorized as obese. The Army wasn’t too far behind, at 17 percent. Due to manning issues, the Army and Navy have been lax on PT test failures, granting amnesty to tens of thousands of service members who would’ve otherwise been discharged.

In my humble opinion, more effort needs to be put into targeting high school athletes and athletes in general and showing them the awesome opportunities that await them if they were to join one of America’s elite units. We should also make it a point to reinforce the fact that they can still earn a college degree while on active duty and then take full advantage of a badass scholarship, called the Post-911 GI Bill, after they get out.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with video games or those that enjoy spending their time waging war through a gaming console. But, regardless of how our world evolves, the military, and the special operations community specifically, still need people capable of meeting intense physical standards and being comfortable with being uncomfortable — spending large amounts of time in tough conditions, in austere environments.


This article was originally published in March 2020. It has been edited for republication.