The US Esports Team appear to be using guerrilla tactics to recruit new soldiers

19:00, 26 Jul 2020

The US army is known for many things. One of those is being the third-largest active military force in the world and another is their position as the second biggest employer in the US (the number one spot is held by Walmart). But, did you know they had an esports team and regularly stream on Twitch? 

The US Army Esports team mainly play and stream (unsurprisingly) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, among other popular titles such as Apex Legends, VALORANT and Overwatch, and to date have over 13k followers on their Twitch account. But the esports team stepped away from Twitch over two weeks ago, following controversies regarding their recruitment policy. 

A leaked “social media guide” given to the US Navy participants, shows the esports team were streaming with a view to “making connections between prospects and recruiters”, making their streaming presence potentially coercive – and therefore unlawful.

US Army Esports Recruitment

The document titled “Navy Recruiting Command – Twitch Guide for Streamers” gives its readers specific points to hit during their Twitch streams, which repeatedly mentions “recruitment.”

The NRC Twitch guide states it is merely providing “direction” for the “gamers” who stream from the account, but then goes on to encourage the streamers in question to “talk about where the Navy has taken you” and their experiences during their time in the Navy, as well as career paths. 

But why are they seemingly targeting gamers to recruit? Well, “gamers utilize skills every day while they compete, sometimes without even realizing it,” the document said. “Detail-oriented and working towards long term goals, problem solvers under time pressures, perseverance in the face of frustration and roadblocks.”

One could see this method as coercion, rather than recruitment, and the rule-breaking doesn’t end there. Viewers who asked for the US Army Esports streamers’ take on several “war crimes” were quickly silenced and blocked. In doing so, the Twitch account may have violated those users’ first amendment rights to free speech.

US Army Esports Recruitment

The above is a screenshot of the NRC Twitch Guide, stating they are not to engage with “negative content” and to “ban trolls.”

“Because the Army and Navy are using these Twitch channels to recruit young people, this issue is about much more than just esports,” said Meenakshi Krishnan, Legal Fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “Participants in these forums have a constitutional right to engage in speech critical of the military. The Army and Navy certainly have no legitimate interest in suppressing speech relating to war crimes.”

A Twitch account so closely linked with a government body, such as the US military, surely should not be violating any users’ first amendment rights in this way, and for that, they have come under fire from various people, including U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).

AOC filed a draft amendment to the House Appropriations bill on July 22 which would prevent the military from using funds appropriated by the bill to “maintain a presence on or any video game, e-sports, or live-streaming platform.”

AOC told Motherboard:

It’s incredibly irresponsible for the Army and the Navy to be recruiting impressionable young people and children via live streaming platforms. War is not a game.

There is plenty of evidence linking the Call of Duty gaming series to Army recruitment in the past, and up to the current day. 

In October 2019, at an esports venue in Denver, Colorado, the new title Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, was being shown off, with the US Army as the sponsors. The game was available to play for anyone who attended the release party, with one stipulation – you were required to speak to the Army recruiters. 

This is where the line between recruitment and coercion starts to blur. Is it right, or even lawful, to target young gamers, possibly even giving them the false idea that war is just like the game they are playing? Reportedly, 35 out of the 100 attendees garnered their interest in joining the army based on this one event, high on the adrenaline-fuelled gameplay of the new Call of Duty title. 

"This is the targeted demographic - these young men and women that came out here to play the esports," said army recruiter Sergeant Vincent Cruz, on the night in question. 

US Army Esports Recruitment

This isn’t to say that a large number of young people who choose to join the US military don’t do so willingly. The caveat here is that the temptation used via these video games, Twitch streams, and even the NRC guide, could be unlawful, and could be coercing young people into a career they don’t fully understand, based on pixelated excitement.  


Images via US Army Esports

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