Imagine joining the Army, going through boot camp, and being certified to use real world weapons, but your job in the military is actually to play video games. It sounds like fantasy, but is closer to the truth than one would think. Christopher Jones enlisted in the Army back in 2003; at the time, he purchased many game consoles to use in his off time. However, sixteen years later, he no longer plays games for recreation, but as his actual job in the military.
Now, Jones is part of the Army’s newest 21st century unit; the esports team. As a sergeant first class, Jones commands 16 other soldiers who play video games as their job during their three year rotation with other soldiers at Fort Knox.
Of course, you can be sure the Army isn’t paying these men for something they think is pointless. The idea is to bolster Army recruitment by showing gamers, of which many are in the 17-35 demographic, that they aren’t so different from the soldiers serving in their military.
“We’re showing the soldier behind the uniform,” said Jones. “This is that one avenue to tell that story. We hold these different positions. We have the same passion. We love gaming just as much as everyone else. The difference is we are in a different profession. We come from the infantry. We come from aviation, military police, all kinds of different professions within the Army. But we share the same passion.”
The team will be fully operational by October 1st, and attends many e-sports competitions and conventions, competing against avid gamers in many popular titles, such as Call of Duty and Fortnite.
Jones, now 34, was a recruiter in Hammond when it was decided that there would be a Street Fighter competition held in multiple installations. Due to his passion for video games, he was selected to be a commentator for the event that was so successful that Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commander of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, thought it could utilized as a valuable recruiting tool. Jones was selected to manage the Army program, which is the only branch that has a video game recruiting outreach.
Due to his own recruiting experience, Jones thinks this outreach is a great idea.
When I talk about my hobbies, we start the conversation: ‘I love video games,'” he said. “‘Wow! The Army lets you play video games?’ There’s a whole lot of misconceptions that were broken by boots-on-the-ground level having that conversation.”
On the other hand, many gamers don’t fit the stereotype of being unfit for active duty.
“One of the soldiers who participates in the program is actually a special forces operator. He was actually a semiprofessional gamer before he joined the Army, and now he’s special forces,” Jones said.
With esports becoming more popular in North America lately, there’s little doubt that this recruitment technique has some merit to it; but whether or not it will make a significant impact on military recruitment numbers remains to be seen.