Internal US Army documents have revealed that the military is still focusing a lot of its recruitment efforts on the worlds of gaming and esports. According to the documents, the army poured millions into sponsoring high-profile esports tournaments, streamers, and gaming events in an effort to shore up its Gen Z recruitment.
These documents, which were obtained by Vice, show that the US Army is still heavily invested in the gaming sphere. Said documents point to a $1 million investment on the Army's behalf to sponsor the Twitch stream of the HBCU Showdown esports event, in an effort to "focus on the growth of females, Black & Hispanics".
In addition, Call of Duty was specifically referred to as a useful recruitment tool for the Army. $750,000 was earmarked for sponsorship of the Call of Duty League, as well as the Halo TV show and it's home Paramount+. The Army apparently also had plans to sponsor Call of Duty Mobile to the tune of $200,000, but, well, it should be fairly obvious what scuppered those particular plans.
In August 2021, an internal Army email supposedly revealed that the Army would back down on the Call of Duty sponsorships due to "serious allegations of sexual harassment" at Activision Blizzard. The documents obtained by Vice also say that continued Army sponsorship of Activision events could result in a "brand reputation issue".
It's worth saying here that this doesn't appear to have stopped the Army from going forward with subsequent Activision Blizzard event sponsorships and partnerships. The US Army Esports team is still streaming Overwatch 2 and engaging with Call of Duty events, even going so far as to offer content to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II players who are serving or have served in the military.
Other spending earmarked for gaming and esports by the US Army includes $150,000 for streamer Stonemountain64, who streams Warzone, and an undefined amount for streamers Swagg and Alex Zedra, both of whom are Call of Duty players (and, in the latter case, provided a likeness for a Call of Duty game as well). An additional $300,000 was allocated for esports team OpTic Chicago, described by the military as having a Gen Z "audience alignment" and being a good tool for familiarizing Gen Z fans with "Army values and opportunities".
When asked by Vice about these documents, the Army responded by giving the following statement.
Army Marketing’s goal for sponsorship is similar to all our advertising purchases which is to reach a specific market in support of Army recruiting. Ad recall and favorability are important as they are both industry accepted measures of effectiveness of the advertising and sponsorships we purchase. In Army marketing, we must meet the youth where they are and that is online.
It's fair to say that many people, including politicians and other public figures, use streaming to reach younger and more diverse audiences. However, there are still ethical questions about whether the Army doing so is acceptable. Furthermore, past Army stream behavior, including misleading participants during a competition and banning commenters asking certain questions, has made some people less than optimistic about the Army's future in streaming.