The United States Air Force put the call out to Airmen – active duty and Reserve (on orders) – to represent the service in the 2020 Evolution Championship Series (EVO), which will be held in Las Vegas from July 21 to August 2 – depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. This competition requires a different set of skills than what one might expect, as this for the 2020 Air Force Esports team – as in video gamers.

Those who think they have the skills, including hand/eye coordination, can apply and take part in a virtual trial and selection camp that is scheduled to take places from May 26 to June 5. Those who are selected can take part in a training camp from July 20-29. Applications can be submitted via the sports application tracking system. APPTRAC replaced the Air Force Form 303 request for specialized sports training for all-Air Force sports and Headquarters Air Command programs.

EVO is an annual fighting game tournament, and it is currently the largest and longest-running such esports event focused on this type of video games. This year’s championship games include: Street Fighter V: Champion Edition, Tekken 7, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Dragonball FighterZ and Soulcalibur VI.

Games and the Military

The U.S. military has long seen video games as both a tool for training and recruiting. These past efforts have included America’s Army, a series of first-person shooter (FPS) games that were similar to the popular Call of Duty franchise.

A total of 41 versions of the game, which were financed by the U.S. government, were released using the Unreal Engine from 2002 to 2014. These were distributed by free download for the PC, Xbox, PlayStation and even mobile platforms. It has been used to provide a virtual military experience at air shows and sporting events.

In 2018, the USAF also announced plans to release a new video game app that could evaluate players’ skills and potentially offer them a place in the service.

More recently the shift has been away from the military creating games, and instead seeking out video gamers who would like to play for the military.

The U.S. Army created the first military-branded esports team to enter into video game competitions back in late 2018, and it was populated with a mix of active personnel, reservists and even veterans. All that was required to apply was some skill in FPS video games such as Call of Duty, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and the breakout hit Fortnite.

Growing Market

Video games have been seen by the military as a way to reach Generation Z, and this comes as the audience for esports is expected to grow globally to 495 million this year. Esports is expected to reach revenues of $1.1 billion in 2020, and over the past five years competitions have been presented not only via online streaming services, but increasingly on cable and broadcast networks.

Competitions have become major television events on ESPN2, DisneyXD, The NFL Network, TBS, CW and even CBS. In July of 2017, CBS had televised a Candy Crush Saga tournament in prime time and it averaged four million viewers.

Sponsorship has become a major revenue stream for teams as well as individual players, in part because much like other sports that branding is seen by the global audience. With that in mind it is easy to see what the Air Force and Army alike would like to get in the spotlight in these competitions.

And unlike past efforts to merely sponsor a team – as the U.S. Army did with NASCAR for several years – esports also highlights the skills of its servicemembers.

“This makes a ton more sense than NASCAR if the goal is to attract young people to the service,” said technology industry analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.

“NASCAR has very little to do with the military but, depending on the game, many are military simulations,” Enderle told ClearanceJobs.

“It makes the service sound fun and, if they chose the right games, they could showcase how military training – strategy/tactics – can make for a superior player making studies like ROTC far more interesting,” added Enderle. “Of the services, the Air Force enjoys the image of the most progressive, most advanced, and arguably the most fun.  This move should build on that image if done correctly, and attract more people to consider this service as a potential career option though, I expect, a lot of the folks it will attract will want to be on the Air Force gaming team.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.