MAY 12, 2020 – As I approached the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., it was instantly apparent why the Navy chose the first Southern California Dreamhack gaming festival to debut its eSports team. The event’s parking overflowed into Disneyland parking lots and the line to enter seemed to slither through hallways and courtyards endlessly. I entered the dimly lit, two-story convention center teaming with thousands of people from all walks of life and gaming paraphernalia in every direction. Thinking about Dreamhack’s origin from a Swedish basement in the early 1990s, to the largest convention center on the west coast makes this feat quite impressive.
The Navy eSports booth was in eyeshot upon entry. The Navy team, “Goats and Glory,” was already hard at work spreading awareness of the newest naval sports team and battling any civilians willing to put their gaming skills to the test.
Stages were set for tournaments throughout the weekend. Players competed for over $580,000 in prize money. Witnessing the anticipation, excitement and defeat of the people in the crowd made me realize this online gaming community is a lot bigger than I originally thought.
But why does the Navy have an eSports team?
According to the Navy administrative message to the Fleet, NAVADMIN 048/20, “The Navy eSports Team will add to the multi-faceted outreach campaign of Commander, Navy Recruiting Command by engaging with prospective Sailors online and at gaming venues. Centennials are moving into digital spaces for most of their content consumption and social interactions, and the eSports domain is one of the most popular and vibrant online arenas to date. Connecting with future Sailors requires the Navy to be in the same spaces where those future Sailors reside.”
“With this next generation, gaming is the future,” said Lt. Aaron Jones, a member of the team. “Gaming is a passion for them and it’s a passion for us.”
Coming from an aircraft carrier, I’ve seen how much video games can bring a shop or unit together. From in-house to command wide gaming tournaments with prize pools, these competitions always had diverse audiences connecting and cheering together.
“It’s about trying to connect and be relatable to show people that in the Navy we all have our hobbies and passions and esports is one of them,” said Cryptologic Technician Networks 2nd Class Riley Bufford, another team member of Goats and Glory.
Not only does this expand recruiting opportunities for the Navy, it also allows us to compete with other branches of service.
“I think a couple other doors that having a Navy eSports team has is it allows us to be on par with some of the other services,” said Rear Adm. Robert C. Nowakowski, deputy commander of Navy Recruiting Command. “The other services actually have an esports team and they’ve had it for a couple of years. We want to make sure we’re on a level playing field.”
As I made my way downstairs to take a look at the Navy’s custom gaming computer, I was met with much more than expected. The lower level of the expo seemed to be only illuminated by the thousands of computers and televisions being used for various smaller tournaments.
I observed as bystanders passed by the monster of a machine the Navy had built. Children and adults were stopping by asking questions about the computer, the Navy and Navy eSports. Others around us had been fixated to their computers, playing, laughing and joking with those around them in the Bring Your Own Computer event section that the Navy had sponsored. Row upon row of colorful and exotic gaming computers had filled the lower venue.
“There’s been a lot of traffic there too,” said Jones. “People wanting to see what can the Navy build. ‘Do they really know computers?’ When you first sit down, it’s gorgeous, but when you actually get to play with it, you’ll see these are some top of the line specs. Between the two we’ve had a ton of people just really enamored by the Navy being here and by being able to play with us.”
Throughout the entire weekend, I had been thinking about when I was going to get my next computer and try out for the team. The Navy chose one of my favorite games to begin their competitive eSports journey. Now it’s just a matter of dusting off the old keyboard and mouse and putting in the hours to tryout.
After a long, exciting, fun-filled day, I left the event proud of the Navy for making strides in reaching new demographics and with high hopes of maybe becoming one of the lucky few to call themselves a part of “Goats and Glory.”
Tryouts for the team are closed for now. Further details can be viewed at the CNRC website here: https://www.cnrc.navy.mil/ESPORTS/index-esports.htm.
Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Leon Wong
AFN Broadcast Center