US Army Responds to Backlash From Gamer Around Twitch Recruitment Tactics

by in Entertainment | Jul, 23rd 2020

To say that gamers in the United States generally aren’t fans of the military, particularly the US Army, being on Twitch probably isn’t a controversial statement at this point. While some support exists for the military in gaming, you wouldn’t be able to tell based on the recent news coverage.

Gamers have taken umbarage with the recruitment tactics of the US Military, specifically the Army and Navy esports teams, which recently began streaming on Twitch. This was escalated when folks started asking about the numerous war crimes that the U.S. Military has been involved in. Of course, as these representatives are not authorized nor would they have knowledge of the incidents involved, these requests were met with confusion and even low-key irritation by the streamers involved.

This led to the streamers issuing bans in the Twitch chat of these channels. Of course, folks took this not as the streamers using a feature of Twitch, but instead one of a first amendment issue where folks protesting the Army’s methods were being silenced. This led to widespread media coverage, lawyers getting involved, and most recently Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introducing an amendment to the appropriations bill that could ban the military from using Twitch altogether.

In response the military has retreated from the limelight, according to a report from Kotaku and Rod “Slasher” Breslau.

The Military Responds to the Allegations of Censorship

Of course, the US Military denied accusations that they were looking to silence critics, instead saying that they were being harassed by online trolls during their efforts to educate the Twitch audience about the careers the military offers.

“The U.S. Army esports Team follows the guidelines and policies set by Twitch, and they did ban a user from their account,” Shauna Clark, Public Affairs Specialist for the US Army said. “Team members are very clear when talking with potential applicants that a game does not reflect a real Army experience. They discuss their career experiences in real terms with factual events. Team members ensure people understand what the Army offers through a realistic lens and not through the lens of a game meant for entertainment. This user’s question was an attempt to shift the conversation to imply that Soldiers commit war crimes based on an optional weapon in a game, and we felt that violated Twitch’s harassment policy. The U.S. Army offers youth more than 150 different careers, and ultimately the goal of the Army eSports Team is to accurately portray that range of opportunities to interested youth.”

The US Military has long recruited prospective members from schools around the country, by hosting events at high schools, and offering programs like the ROTC, JROTC, and other military inspired programs to interested youth. This has long faced protest from the more liberal citizens in the United States, who say that young people should not be targeted before they are 18 and are able to make adult decisions about their futures. The same argument is being used here in this Twitch case, perhaps more insidiously by offering things like giveaways that were tied to recruitment pages for video games, and by not disclosing the sort of activity a given recruit would have to undertake just to be able to try out for the US Army esports team.

Of course, whether or not the military was actively censoring people from sharing their opinion is a matter of perspective. While the US Army did indeed use a Twitch function to ban users from their chat, the alternative could have been simply ignoring these concerned citizens. Of course, Twitch culture also has a tendency to copypasta something a streamer isn’t addressing, especially if the thing in question is controversial – something war crimes definitely qualify as.

Getting Political

 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has always been a huge gamer. Widely known as one of the few congressional representatives who actively games, she plays League of Legends actively, and even made it to Silver 3 recently. This makes her uniquely positioned to be understanding of gamer culture, and even protective of it.

After Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute said that the Army may have violated the US Constitution by deleting those awkward questions about war crimes and banning users who persisted in asking them, in contravention of the First Amendment, AOC took action in HR 7617 which states:

“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used by any of the Armed Forces to maintain a presence on or any videogames, esports, or livestreaming platform.”

This would actively kill off the US Army, Navy, and any armed forces involvement in esports, Twitch streaming, and video games altogether. While this may come as a blow to the esports industry as a whole (as the Army/Navy are a big sponsor in general,) many fans might look at this as a moral victory to get so called “blood money” out of the scene.

What Do Gamers Who Used to Serve Think?

Of course, it wouldn’t be fair of us to not get the other perspective, particularly of someone who actively served in the military, and has been involved in esports for nearly a decade. We sat down with Tracy Peterson, former US Army Specialist, Utility Helicopter Crewchief who went on to work for the IGN Pro League, Blizzard Entertainment, and is now a freelance esports producer who has worked on the Gears of War circuit and other events more recently about his thoughts on the debacle on Twitch.

Dustin Steiner, Esports Talk: What do you think of the backlash that the Armed Forces are facing on Twitch and Twitter?

Peterson: As a veteran and professional in esports, I think there are multiple levels to the backlash that the military is seeing. The military has always had backlash whenever they try to do any recruiting advertising effort. There’s a loud group of people who absolutely do not want any recruiting to be around youth, which is the primary source of new soldiers and military members for the US armed services.

 That’s always going to be there for every effort they’re going to do. I think the Army, just like every other sponsor, there’s no difference between someone trying to sell you a Monster energy drink or trying to get you to be interested in joining the military. If you weren’t going to join the military before, you aren’t going to join it now, and they don’t really care about those people in the first place. The same people are making fun of Mountain Dew and Doritos with Geoff Keighly.

Steiner: What do you say to critics that think the military is targeting games generally marketed to players under the age of 18, like Fortnite?

Peterson: They always have done that. The recruiting effort generally starts at 15 or 16 years old. They get people interested in things through events at schools. In California they actually banned recruiting in high schools to prevent people from making these decisions early on, like when they’re teenagers.

But when the military needs them, in order to get someone who can be physically strong throughout their entire career in the military, they need to start them when they are 18 years old, just getting out of high school for the most rigorous combat duty positions. But later they can also go to Officer training school and if they excel, they can then start at higher ranks. I think that it’s true that it’s part of the plan, if you can join at 18, they want you to start thinking about joining at 15/16.

I think that there’s always a bit of mystery and magic and glory parts that they emphasize in the recruitment efforts, and they don’t really talk about the hard work and struggle and challenges that you face as a military member. That’s where you want to sell them, because that’s your prime group of candidates.

Steiner: Do you think that critics have a point at all, or can you see where they’re coming from?

Peterson: Absolutely. I understand where they’re coming from. As an individual that’s served in the military, I’d love to see the military’s budget be reduced and spent somewhere much more useful, like feeding hungry americans, or putting kids through schools. Health care. COVID response. All of that would be much better used than in some foreign country with people we’ve never seen before. We’re losing people to starvation now in America at a rate that’s comparable to the amount of people who died in 9/11. We should worry about that. We aren’t paying attention to the issues we need to while we’re still sending the military out.

We’re five times bigger than the next two militaries combined, so there’s obvious reasons to believe that we could do better than to have a massive shit-stomping military around the world. But the thing is, we do need a military to protect what’s still the largest economy in the world. We have a lot of enemies and we’re not doing a whole lot right now to make a whole lot of peace in the world. We do need those things to defend our nation right now.

 I do think that military service is a noble thing. I don’t think that, in general, the military has been used for corrupt purposes and poor ends, but the people who serve in the military are a great group of people who are trying to do better for the world and their country. The people who are generally aligned to that, who were boy scouts when they were younger for instance, are good candidates for being in the military anyway, those are the people who will be attracted to that. Someone who’s got their head set on Art school and is dedicated to a life of creative efforts and everything else might not be even beginning to go into the military. So they’re also going to be the loudest voices against it. I think it’s for some people and not for others, but I understand their point.

It’s the same argument as addictive substances or indoctrinating kids into church or religion, but I think there’s also a lot of negative mystique that’s not true, like that people in the military are inherently violent  or they become a certain thing after they’ve been in the military, I don’t think that’s fair.

Steiner: What do you think the positives are of the military being involved in esports?

Peterson: Like any other sponsor, it’s money flowing into the scene. I think that the groups in esports, the teams and esports event organizers, are very low discipline. And the military just like any other sponsor, is someone who demands accountability for people that they sponsor. I think that any time that we ask for our players, teams, executives and others to maintain accountability for their behavior and behave in a professional way is good for all of esports.


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