Over 86% of Airmen between the ages of 18-34 identify as gamers, according to the official website of Air Force Gaming, and their mission states that they serve as “an initiative to help Airmen and Guardians of all ages, ranks, and backgrounds find common ground through video games, while also promoting mental acuity, fine motor coordination, and competitive excellence”.
A number of branches of the Military, within the United States and from around the world, have ventured into the realm of esports, and AFG has already made an impact, showing that military streamers, gamers, and military esports teams are a force within the esports industry.
“The Air Force Gaming (AFG) mission was founded on the idea of bringing service members together via video games. Established under the Air Force Services Center, AFG strives to bolster morale, strengthen mental health, and create an all inclusive space on our unified platform” Ian Pierce, Competitive Esports Advisor to the Air Force Services Center, said in an exclusive interview with Gamactica.
“Strengthening digital literacy among our Gen Z/Gen A servicemembers, AFG is deemed important in the force because it opens an opportunity for current leaders to better understand the people they lead. This allows leaders to tap in at a deeper than surface level and better prepare our future leaders for tomorrow’s fight.”
“I am the esports advisor to the Air Force Services Center” Pierce says of his role. “I advise our team on competition opportunities, and formatting for our own Dept. of the Air Force Gaming League. I assist our tournament admins on creating the rules, brackets, and moderating play as the league goes on. Outside of our league, I look to the future and see the opportunity games have. I help push our competitive teams into those arenas and assist players getting comfortable in the realm of esports. I also coach for teams that may be stepping into the realm of competitive gameplay, and I love casting games live for an audience.”
Pierce has seen the success of the AFG sector first hand, and has been along for the journey towards a number of milestones.
“Our success with AFG can be seen not in monetary value or trophy count, but in time, growth and acceptance” Pierce said. “Since our inception in late 2019, AFG has become a rapidly expanding population. What started as a small Discord of Airmen and Guardians has grown into the official HUB for gaming and esports for the Dept. of the Air Force. We have expanded outreach to all regions, and have garnered over 23.6K members across all social medias.”
“Our efforts to host tournaments in various games has developed into the program attending conferences such as the inter-service/industry training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) or the Logistics Officers Association (LOA) to teach leaders about digital literacy and shed light on the world of gamification.”
Pierce notes some of the impressive benchmarks.
“Some of our other benchmarks for us that are notable are our 2020 international championship from the Call of Duty Endowment charity event. (USSF Champs) We have established our own Armed Forces Esports event and league with over 500 teams to date participating”
Pierce also notices the profound impact they have had, hearing first hand from service members, and the benefits that have blossomed..
“We have multiple service members coming forward and saying “AFG has changed my life”. “AFG was there when I was mentally in a dark place”.
“Mental health 100%” says Pierce. “We have seen so many friendships begin and build through our platform. Another benefit of opening our discord up is that it brings to light just how big the gaming world is. What once started as a simple hobby for some, has now become the primary stress reliever for many. Gaming has brought people together and allowed them to connect and collaborate no matter where they are in the world. Our platform transcends the traditional chain of engagement, removes barriers, and empowers our Airmen to develop sooner.
Bringing esports to active duty and veteran service members has not only given them an open space to be themselves, but it has really shown our current leaders how strong and quick to adapt to the gaming world can be.
Training and development, as a way to use a platform Airmen and Guardians are comfortable with and expanding the capabilities beyond entertainment. I think any google search will show you all of the programs that benefit AD Military and veterans. (C.O.D.E for example) from providing jobs, to application procedures, to financial assistance.”
AFG has amassed over 10,000 members on Discord, and is something that Pierce says is an important part of their community, and their process.
“Discord has been a staple of the global gaming community since its launch” said Pierce. “Similarly its popularity with this generation of up and coming Airmen and Guardians makes it the obvious choice for communication. We have categories and channels for resources and reading material. We are able to cater to our community almost instantly with the platform and attract more users this way as well.”
“The only cons I can see with Discord are that some military personnel don’t know we operate out of Discord. If they did, it would only bring more innovation and ingenuity to the program. The other con is that Discord is not accessible on gov’t computers. The only way to access our community is at home, or on mobile if someone is at work. Our website is accessible from the work center, so that is a step in the right direction.”
AFG has big plans for the remainder of 2022, and Pierce outlined those goals in detail.
“Growing internal international competitive leagues to three seasons each with international championships” Pierce explains. “Establish a new league system that is inclusive to a wider scope of populations that are affiliated to the DAF.
“Exploring new partnership and sponsorship opportunities with traditional esports industry giants and names known to the defense industry who may not have branched out into the esports realm yet. Continue to support and empower our Airmen and Guardians globally. We know there are innovators, maintainers, defenders, and a diverse community of gamers out there. Our mission will always remain bringing them together for a shared ideology of gaming, but the byproduct of that can be beneficial.”
It’s an exciting time for Air Force Gaming, and other communities of military content creators and gamers, and AFG is just scratching the surface on a very promising and impactful future.