Veterans are leveraging esports, with military precision

Regiment gaming
Image credit: Regiment Gaming

As it’s grown, the gaming and esports industry has birthed a variety of platforms and communities through which its audiences interact.

Organisations and companies have taken advantage of the multifaceted nature of esports, creating smaller communities — circles within circles — for people to connect based on common interests, beliefs and experiences. 

Many offer support to their members, providing them with a safe space or practical help with academic and career opportunities. Collegiate and high school esports organisations, for example, work to create opportunities for local communities and disadvantaged students, such as Cxmmunity’s HBCU Esports league.

Now, emerging military gaming organisations are looking to extend that support to military personnel. Their aim is to unite military service members and veterans on all fronts – not only providing common grounds for them to connect but also guiding them through various bureaucratic processes.

One such organisation, Regiment Gaming, says its explicit mission is to unite veterans and active service members of the U.S. Armed Forces, with a particular view to preventing veteran suicide — a serious and growing problem within the US military.

“I’ve had plenty of friends get out of the military before me and tell me how they feel lost, afraid, and that they don’t fit in, and that worried me,” said Chris ‘Entxurage’ Earl, Co-Founder and CEO of Regiment Gaming.

Earl saw gaming and esports as the fix. Video games and competitive play can assist with recovery from both physical and emotional trauma, according to a study by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The digital nature of gaming also allows veterans to stay in close contact with others from their time in service, alleviating the loneliness that Earl said haunts many in their adjustment to civilian life. 

A 2018 study in the journal Social Science & Medicine found, using a small sample of veterans suffering from mental health issues, that video games can help in overcoming issues such as PTSD and substance abuse disorders.

The study emphasises that gameplay, cooperatively or competitively, may allow players to ‘escape’ but can also provide them with benefits of confidence, social connection, personal growth and opportunities for employment or even leadership.

Some participants even said they played video games to distract themselves from overwhelming symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and drug or alcohol use.

Starting Regiment in 2020 was Earl’s way to not only help himself with the transition but thousands of other veterans as well. By 2021, Regiment Gaming had grown to more than 1,000 members. Six months later, in July of 2021, it had already reached 6,000 members.

AFG hosted the Armed Forces Sports Championship in May at FORCECON. Image credit: Air Force Gaming

Regiment Gaming offers free cash prize esports tournaments for veterans and service members to attend, a silver lining — if only a small one — for families that struggle financially when their service members are deployed or go away for training.

“That’s not all Regiment is about,” Earl added, claiming its fledgling purpose-built gaming and esports community offers bureaucratic support. “We also offer our members free assistance when navigating through the tedious Veterans Affairs (VA) process. We also have jobs posted in our Discord server that have led to several veterans landing real-life jobs.”

Military tournaments

Just a few months prior, Regiment Gaming teamed up with wartime veterans service organisation The American Legion to host a Call of Duty: Warzone trios tournament featuring a $6,000 (~£4,500) prize pool.

The event had 24 professional gamers, athletes and influencers play as team captains and drafted two veterans/service members to each captain’s team. They then competed in a private lobby tournament that ended up amassing over 25,000 viewers across all the streams. New York Subliners (NYSL)’s Aydan Conrad and his team managed to place first, taking home $3,000 (~£2,300).

“Everyone… loved the opportunity to be able to play with the big names in the gaming industry,” Earl said, adding that the success of the event made him excited for the future of what The American Legion and Regiment Gaming can do for veterans in the gaming space.

Since launching two years ago, Regiment Gaming has teamed up with major endemic names, including GFuel, XSET, and armed forces-focused nonprofit United Service Organizations (USO). By May 2022, Regiment Gaming has grown to 13,000 members and counting, a testament to the community’s support for each other — but also how desperately needed that support is.

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Air Force Gaming (AFG) is another organisation striving to support service members through competitive play. The community-focused organisation, a branch of the US Air Force’s Air Force Services Center, says it uses esports as a vehicle to bolster the mental health of its 25,000-strong community.

The organisation was founded in 2019 when the Department of the Air Force was suffering its worst suicide rates ever, the organisation told Esports Insider. Oliver Parsons founded the organisation, along with Mike Sullivan, after his struggles with severe depression and anxiety lead him to gaming and esports as a coping mechanism. AFG began in Parsons and Sullivan’s personal time while still working full-time in the military.

The organisation hosted an inter-military branch esports championship, the Armed Forces Sports Championship, in May — which it billed as the US’ first-ever federally sanctioned esports event. The championship took place during FORCECON, a two-day gaming and esports expo at San Antonio, Texas earlier this year. The event rallied the Department of Defense’s leadership around the benefits of gaming, Parsons said, and provided a tangible case study for those unfamiliar with esports. 

The event also showcased a ‘proof of concept’ that could be replicated by other military organisations around the world, Parsons added. “We also had a French Army representative attend to learn how we ran things, and to provide official reports of the success to the French government,” Parsons said. In addition, AFG plans to take the lessons learned and the success of FORCECON to the global and international stage later in 2022.

Working towards the same goal, Regiment Gaming has raised over $94,000 (~£76,600) for various military non-profit organisations and recently announced the Veteran Gaming League (VGL), which gives its members professional gaming opportunities through online and in-person events. 

Earlier this year, Regiment Gaming announced the VGL’s first Halo LAN event in collaboration with The American Legion and the American Red Cross. The event took place on Memorial Day Weekend (May 28th) in California and featured a $10,000 (~£7,600) prize pool for veteran and service member teams. Earl also revealed plans to host a Call of Duty LAN later this year, as it starts focusing more on in-person events.

As esports fetches wider and wider mainstream attention, new communities are reaping benefits previously secluded to esports’ core younger audience. Events and activations around veteran esports help demystify the military, showcasing service members as real people with interesting backgrounds who connect with their friends through games.

But most of all, as a trend, military esports is a testament to a strong community of veterans and military personnel coming together for each other as they adapt to ordinary civilian life.

Radina Koutsafti
Radina has been a Freelance Journalist for Esports Insider since 2021. When not playing Apex Legends, she enjoys writing about tech, equality and education in esports.