Army recruiters are having a challenging time convincing Americans born between 1995 and 2005 to sign up and serve. The situation is so dire that Army Recruiting Command has turned to e-Sports video game tournaments.
“It is incredible, the amount of coverage that you get and the amount of the Z Gens that are watching these games,” Gen. Frank Muth, the head of Army Recruiting Command, told NPR.
Sponsoring video game tournaments is an effort to boost recruitment after the Army fell short of its 76,500 recruitment goal by 6,500 people last year.
“Calling the Z generation on the phone doesn’t work anymore,” Gen. Muth told NPR. “We’re really giving the power back to our recruiters to go on Twitter, to go on Twitch, to go on Instagram, and use that as a venue to start a dialogue with the Z generation.”
NPR noted that a recent e-Sports tournament featured an Army recruiter as an announcer and went viral with more than 2 million views, adding that "Half [the views] were from people aged 17 to 24."
To further implement the strategy, the Army is now screening more than 4,000 applications from soldiers who want to play video games.
Army Recruiting Command will select 30 of the service's top gamers to be on the new Army e-Sports Team to compete in national gaming tournaments.
Generation Z soldiers are part of this subculture, according to Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, a noncommissioned officer overseeing the Army e-sports Team.
"Soldiers are showing a want and desire to not only play gaming ... but also be in competitive gaming, and we understand that is a really good connection to our target market," he said.
"These soldiers will actually be hand-selected, so what we are doing is grouping them together and -- based upon the title and platform that they wish to compete in -- having them scrimmage within those groups to find out who are the best we have."
Part of the screening process will include ensuring that candidates also meet Army physical fitness, height, and weight standards.
"Those soldiers will be screened from there to make sure that not only can they compete, but [they] are the top-quality soldier that we are looking for in order to move here to Knox to compete," Sgt. Jones said.
"We want those soldiers, when they go to these events, to be able to articulate to the public."
The team of Army gamers will serve on 36-month rotations at Fort Knox and travel to tournaments around the country, supporting the Army's recruitment efforts at gaming events.
Gen. Muth is not sure that the Army can hit its recruitment goals for 2019. He told NPR, the e-Sports strategy could be the key to unlocking a new wave of future soldiers.
However, there is a problem: "Health-Risk Correlates of Video-Game Playing Among Adults" study shows that video gamers in America are overweight and depressed. It seems that the Army's strategy in recruiting the younger generation at gaming events could backfire.