Move over intramural football, a new generation of service members wants to bring esports to the military.
Air Force Senior Airman Sean Tindle said he first gained interest in esports about four or five years ago. He started with Halo 3 but became truly involved when League of Legends started to get popular. He started pushing for esports competitions at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia, after talking to a co-worker in April 2015.
“We were talking about games that we play on the weekends, how cool it would be if we had competitions on base similar to how they hold world tournaments for League of Legends,” said Tindle, who’s a budget analyst in the 23rd Wing. “We ended up having a meeting, and about 25-30 people showed up.”
But Tindle and his colleagues faced an uphill fight for the next four months.
“We didn’t see much of a change. It was hard to get the word out,” Tindle said. “We went to a couple of senior noncommissioned officers and higher-ups and we were told, ‘I don’t want to see something like that be a part of my Air Force.’”
Tindle attributes the resistance to a generation gap within the military. The older generation largely wants things carried out a certain way, “with no ifs, ands or buts,” Tindle said. The younger generation tends to question the status quo. In the middle are the officers and NCOs who try to make sure the younger airmen have a voice.
One of those officers, 2nd Lt. Simon Pena, took the idea to Maj. Brandon Wengert. Wengert commands the 23rd Force Support Squadron, which oversees food, fitness, recreation and quality of life for the service members at Moody and their families. He’s also a gamer.
“I’m a competitive person by nature and have played video games my whole life. I can remember literally wanting to punch my friends in the face because I was losing at NBA Jams as a teen,” joked Wengert, who still owns a Super Nintendo and an N64. “But my video game competitiveness has decreased over time as the games have become more complex and the number of buttons on the controllers has become unmanageable.”
Wengert said he was glad to give Tindle and his co-workers the support they needed.
“Airmen who enjoy video games are a silent majority in the Air Force, and until we started conducting video game night, this demographic wasn’t really catered to,” Wengert said. “Video game night … directly reached out to this silent majority and brought them a series of events that they specifically enjoy.”
Tindle and some friends threw together a local area network at the Moody Field Club with Super Smash Bros., Halo Anniversary Edition and a couple of other games. Roughly 45 people turned out for the event, Tindle said.
“We teamed with airmen to turn our bar into a giant video game room and put our marketing engine behind the concept to generate interest,” Wengert said. “Imagine being able to turn Buffalo Wild Wings into your own video game room for a night.”
That number grew to over 50 for the second event, and Tindle said he hopes to have an even larger head count for the third event, scheduled for this week.
Wengert said the events have been good, not just for gamers, but for the club’s bottom line as well.
“The Wing Nights that correspond with the video game competitions have seen dramatically increased sales,” the major said. “However, the biggest benefit was one that marked a great increase in community buy-in: mug sales have shot up at the club, meaning that gamers are now directly becoming more invested in the community that we foster.”
Tindle said the Moody Field Club will have better Internet access in the next couple of months, and that future game nights will have more systems and more games. He said he’d like to see the idea expand to more bases and hold cross-base tournaments.
“Say there’s 10 bases,” Tindle said. “We want to get one base to get as many teams as they can for, say, Halo 5. The top two teams will go against the top two teams from a different base. Then we’d get a bracket set up for 20 of those teams, have a tournament, have it spectated and set up through Twitch.”