While every sport is unique, there is a great deal of commonality as well. Sports share a competitive nature that drives individuals to overcome opposition and teams to work together towards a common goal. Most sports typically involve a physical space in which the action takes place, be it a field, court, track or arena. However, other competitions take place in the digital realm; in the world of esports gaming. Whether by console or computer, the players in these sports connect and interact virtually, competing in sports that span a spectrum as wide as that of “traditional” sports. As technology grows exponentially, so too does the opportunity to connect with little consideration of physical separation.
In order to tap into this growing community of competitors, the Marine Corps recently provided an opportunity for competitors of the popular “Call of Duty: Warzone” game to “Drop-In with the Marines” in an online tournament hosted by Esports Stadium Arlington, located in Arlington, Texas. Participants in the tournament logged in from across the nation for their chance to be joined by an active-duty Marine in the final day of competition and potentially earn great prizes sponsored by ESA. The participating Marines were volunteers drawn from the 8th Marine Corps District, a recruiting command which covers over a million square miles of the southwest United States.
Sgt. Warren Kelly, a recruiter with Recruiting Station Denver, was one of the recruiters who volunteered to compete in the tournament. His prior experience with gaming, led him to be immediately drawn to the tournament and its ability to connect players across a digital platform.
“Honestly, out of all the recruiting stories that I have heard and with me being a new recruiter myself, I’ve never heard of anyone doing this before,” said Kelly. “It was definitely a new concept and a new way to reach out to people. For instance, I met a lot of the people I know from playing video games.”
Sgt. Brian Kunst, a recruiter from Recruiting Station Salt Lake City, was another Marine who volunteered to participate in the tournament. Kunst ultimately helped lead his team to a first-place victory.
“I have been playing video games for a long time since I was about 10 years old and I haven’t stopped since then,” said Kunst. “Because of that, any event where I get to jump into a video game and play with anybody around the world I will absolutely do that.”
Both recruiters understand how this new way of engagement has the potential to benefit Marine recruiting in this new age where digital interaction is a vital means for communication.
“…I think there was a little bit of a stigma that the Marines are tough or difficult to approach. So it was just a great opportunity for them to get in front of the community and show that we’re all gamers and that’s a language that we all understand.” Johnathon Oh, Esports Stadium Arlington Events Director
“Video games is a huge thing,” said Kunst. “Especially with kids these days. Pretty much everybody that I have talked to is high school aged. From the 17 to 19 year olds, they all play some sort of video game. Whether it be with their friends or whether they’re alone. But I think with us playing video games, it kind of branches our opportunities to a different kind of market”.
“Overall the tournament was phenomenal,” said Kelly. “I just got the game pretty recently and I wasn’t great but overall the communication aspect was phenomenal. This young man and woman… asked me about my job and I told them about it. Overall I think it would be a great tool if used properly.”
Joe Lane, a videographer at Esports Stadium Arlington and avid Call of Duty Warzone player himself, further described how the Marines taking part and competing alongside gamers in the tournament provided a unique overall experience.
“It’s one of the things I said on the broadcast. Marines are good listeners, they know how to call out, they know strategy and I imagine they add a sense of cool head instead of being a hot head,” said Lane. “It’s normal to start tilting as a gamer when things aren’t going their way but having that Marine in there who has the ability to stay disciplined and stay focused was probably helping with that even if they might not have always had higher amount of kills but rather had their mental support for their teams.”
Despite the overall competitive nature of the tournament, the ability for Marines to compete with and alongside players in the gaming community allowed for more opportunities to build relationships through a digital medium.
“I wasn’t so involved in the origins of this tournament but I can say that once I heard about it I was very excited,” said Jonathan Oh, the Events Director at Esports Stadium Arlington who additionally provided a live-commentary during the tournament. “Just the opportunity for some of these players we’ve had in this community playing the Marines, I think there was a little bit of a stigma that the Marines are tough or difficult to approach. So it was just a great opportunity for them to get in front of the community and show that we’re all gamers and that’s a language that we all understand.”
The tournament provided a unique opportunity for the Marine Corps to introduce itself to the gaming community in a novel way and by authentic means. As the capabilities to digitally connect expand and as competitors leverage these new technologies, the Marine Corps can draw from experiences such as this tournament to refine the effort to recruit the next generation of high-quality, technology-savvy Marines. The Marines will likely look to “Drop-in” again.