Army Recruitment Today Is Less ‘Be All You Can Be’ And More ‘Call Of Duty’
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / December 5, 2019
Speaker 1: 00:00 As the army works to reach its recruiting goals. It's found that video games are one of the best ways to attract new soldiers. Increasingly, the military is holding East sports events and it's finding they're often more effective than traditional recruiting methods like visiting high schools or sending out brochures from Denver Taylor Allen reports for the American Homefront project.
Speaker 2: 00:23 Call of duty. Modern warfare is one of the most anticipated video game releases of the fall of engagement have changed. The game leads players through military missions in combat, if you call, identify the target, so it makes sense that army recruiters pick this game to be the centerpiece of a recent recruiting event at an East sports arena in Lakewood, a suburb outside of Denver. It's a dark room. The size of a warehouse led mainly by the glow from rows and rows of computer screens. The people playing wear headphones. You hear the excited chatter of players and controllers clicking
Speaker 3: 01:06 [inaudible].
Speaker 2: 01:06 Anyone who came to the game's release party was able to play the new game as long as they also spoke to army recruiters.
Speaker 4: 01:12 This is the targeted demographic. You know these young men and women that come out here to play the East sports
Speaker 2: 01:19 Sergeant Vincent Cruz is a recruiter. He says video games are a way for the army to connect with more people and even started a professional e-sports team, which has become part of his pitch.
Speaker 4: 01:29 Reach out to these men and women and showing the actually, Hey, you can actually do this. The men get paid. By the way,
Speaker 2: 01:34 the army has been struggling to attract new soldiers. Last year it fell 6,000 troops short of its national recruiting goal. This year the army set a lower goal and met it, but crew says the old ways to attract potential recruits just aren't working the way they used to.
Speaker 4: 01:50 Phone calls and text messages is not the way to go. Traditionally. That's how we've been been trying to reach out to the population, uh, for here is very difficult. You know what I mean? So now it's more like the Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat.
Speaker 2: 02:05 The army says it's open 44 virtual recruiting stations that are trying to reach potential soldiers through social media techs. And it calls its e-sports efforts. Some of the highest lead generating events in the history of the all volunteer force
Speaker 3: 02:23 [inaudible]
Speaker 2: 02:23 across the gaming arena. 17 year old Gavin gains is sitting at one of the computers staring at the bright screen. How was he doing so far?
Speaker 4: 02:31 I've died like four times three missions. Well not gonna say greatest
Speaker 2: 02:37 Gaines says he isn't ready for college yet and he's about 95% sure he wants to go to the military. A big reason for him is community.
Speaker 4: 02:44 It's always just kinda been a big motivator for me is just kind of like having somewhere where I belong. I like the military cause it's like, I mean not even necessarily like everyone, but it's like you know they have your back type of it.
Speaker 2: 02:56 Out of about 110 people that attended the e-sports, the
Speaker 5: 03:00 military says it gained 35 leads. Michelle Alcantara is also 17 and a brand new recruit. She'll graduate in December and by the summer she's off to bootcamp in Oklahoma. She got into video games through her brother-in-law who's also in the army. Call of duty is a favorite. Both gaming and the military are stereotypically guy things, but she's [inaudible]
Speaker 2: 03:21 be a woman doing both of them. To me it's really a special because not a lot of women I feel like are represented in the army and I feel like it's such a power move for women just cause like we can do the same thing men can and we're finally allowed to do that after. I know that years that we couldn't, I'll Qatar also ended up winning a raffle that night. She went home with a copy of the [inaudible]
Speaker 5: 03:42 game for Xbox, but she didn't say whether she'll take it to boot camp. With her.
Speaker 1: 03:48 Joining me is reporter Taylor Allen with Colorado public radio. Tell her welcome. Thank you for having me. What was this military e-sports event like? What was it like to be there?
Speaker 5: 04:00 Well, you walk in, right and it's just a huge warehouse. It's a really big arena and all you see your screens and it's black and it's just a lot of like blue light coming from everywhere. But it's surprisingly a little silent because everyone has headphones in. And so you just hear so much clicking on the controllers and there's just so many people just like whispering to each other. And sometimes there's some yelling, you know, someone did it, shoot someone when they wanted to. And so like there's teams, it's just a very interesting event because it's an arena, but it's just video games. And so it's a very surreal, very different thing that I've ever encountered.
Speaker 1: 04:38 Was there a lot of army recruiting presence? A lot of army recruiting talk going on?
Speaker 5: 04:43 Yeah, absolutely. Um, what the arena that I was in, uh, the, the local host, Serena and Lakewood, a suburb outside of Denver, uh, there's actually a whole lot of different tournament's going on. And so on one section was just the military, right? And that's where they had their little table. And there's stuff that says, go army Colorado, and you talk to them. They have all their, you know, their swag, their, um, totes and water bottles, and you have to talk to them before you can play this new call of duty game. So there's a lot of discussion, a lot of recruitment, a lot of like, I bet you didn't know that we were into video games. You know, a lot of that kind of element. And then also the recruiters are all in their uniform. They were also playing the games too. So it was very interesting seeing people like in full uniform playing call of duty.
Speaker 1: 05:33 Why are the old recruiting methods like visiting high schools, why are they not working as well for the army anymore?
Speaker 5: 05:40 Well if you think about the old methods like stuff that goes in the mail, right? Or going to high schools, kids just aren't that interested in those methods anymore. Just cause they're not there anymore. Right. Like when's the last time you received a letter and also in high schools? Yeah, they're there, they're there and it's kinda like everyone kind of knows why you're there and some people just like are just not thinking about it twice. And you have to like convince this 17 six this 17 year old that you have something in common with this adult. Right. And I think that's a problem that everyone has when you're trying to get to teenagers because the average teenager is probably like we have nothing in common and you're in the school settings that most of the time in high school people don't really want to be in any way. So the army in general, on a national level, it's just like, okay, this isn't working. They are not coming to us. So we have to meet them where they're at. And that's how certain things like Snapchat and Instagram and, Oh you like video games. Okay, well then we'll just go to the places where you're going to do that activity. They're just really changing on how they're meeting. Gen Z is how they call them generation Z.
Speaker 1: 06:43 Now let's talk about the video game recruiting from your report. One of the recruiters tells the video game players that quote, you can do this in the army and get paid for it. So is playing video games a big part of army life?
Speaker 5: 06:55 Uh, well it's very new. So it's kinda hard to say. It's a big part of the East sports team. Like their actual team that they uh, compete with other universities and other entities. Like that's very, very new like within the last year. So saying that it's a big part, there's very much still in like the prototype phase and very much still, I'm just like trying it out, but they very much are pushing it a lot. And a big part of the army for 17 year olds when they're trying to recruit to them is, has always been education. So on top of that they're like, Hey, you like video games, we can offer that to you, you can get paid for this. And we know one of our big pitches is education and did you know, 122 colleges are offering scholarships for this. So they're like really trying to just get you in the door. That's really what this is all about. It's about getting you in the door, getting you introduced, just so you can even start to listen to them about their pitch.
Speaker 1: 07:50 Now you met a couple of teenagers at this army e-sport event. What is the age requirement to sign up for the military?
Speaker 5: 07:58 The earliest you could sign up is 17 with parental consent and you do still need to get some kind of a form signed from your parents.
Speaker 1: 08:07 Has there been any criticism of this method of using video games to get teenagers interested in joining the service?
Speaker 5: 08:13 I definitely heard a lot of people like what I talked about doing this. There's definitely been a few people who had a few eyebrow raises. One cause it's a little odd, right? You don't think about video games and the military, right? It's just not two things that you associate with each other, but there were a few people with reservations like I don't know how I feel about someone playing a game, right? That is about killing people. Call of duty is a combat game to recruit for a potential job that you might have to do that in real life. That is a criticism that I've heard across the board whenever I was talking about this story, but what seems to calm people down is when I try to explain that they're not necessarily to say, Oh, you like doing this in the virtual world. You will like to do this in real life.
Speaker 5: 08:59 That's not exactly what they're doing. They're very much using video games is how you would use Snapchat and Instagram of just getting you in the door. Also, it's very difficult to actually get on the sports team, right? There's only a limited amount of slots. Um, although re recruiting has gone down in the last few years, you know, in 2018 nationally, they recruited 68,000 people, right? You can't have six to 8,000 people playing these games, uh, for the professional team at least. So even if that is the reason that you wanted to, that you are initially wanted to join or initially wanted to just see what it was about, it's a long shot for the average person to join this e-sports team. I have been speaking with a reporter, Taylor Allen with Colorado public radio. Taylor. Thank you. Oh, thank you so much. This story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.
The Army has embraced esports as a recruiting tool to reach young adults, who are drawn to the fast-paced action of military-themed games.