Army E-Sports Welcomes Civilian Gamers As Engagement Evolves

More than 1,000 members of the general public have joined the Army's eSports Lions League platforms during the COVID pandemic.

The head of Army eSports says gaming during COVID lockdown is reshaping civilian engagement after its official league was opened to public players.

While furlough schemes, work from home and school closures have seen many fill their spare time in virtual worlds, the launch of the Lions League in April 2020 gave a competitive platform to soldiers.

In its latest season, personnel are now sharing their lobbies with civilians, with many soldiers competing for prizes while supporting the UK's pandemic response during their day jobs.

"It's an eye-opener," said Major Tim Elliott, who oversees British Army eSports.

"Over the last year we have seen the virtual environment explode in terms of our ability to connect with the general public.

"Don't get me wrong, it's an amazingly cost-effective way of doing it, and it also allows you to be a bit more interactive with somebody – rather than standing at a fete or doing face-to-face.

Maj Elliot said one of the positive lessons learned from the pandemic is that "virtual engagement and physical engagement should be running in parallel".

"Once COVID is under control, I very much doubt that you will see virtual engagement disappear. What they call 'hybrid engagement' is the way ahead."

While Maj Elliott insists the shift is not a recruitment strategy, the service is happy to point inspired civilians from the Lions League toward informative pages.

One of those players who has become more open to a forces career is Tom Taylor, 18, who also commentates on many games streamed live on the host platform Ayozat.

He said: "It's been lovely to see people cheering on our boys, not just in their field of work but in the field of eSports.

Major Tim Elliott says a successful year for virtual engagement during COVID could change the way the service approaches future civilian interaction.

"I was in the Cadets for five years before moving school. Having interacted with the Army – it's given me a newfound possibility of maybe doing something in terms of a military career in the future."

The in-game conversations can range from a common interest in gaming to the strategies personnel plan to implement at eSports competitions – without disclosing any classified tactics, of course.

"When you get into those heat-of-the-moment situations a little bit of military spark comes out," explained Mr Taylor, who joked that "you can tell the drill sergeant from the 14-year-old gamer".

"It's not done in a ruthless way, it's more encouraging words," he added.

The Army's calendar year ahead is full of scheduled events which could capitalise on the progress made through the Lions League.

The month of May should see the virtual launch of the Omega Games, the military's own take on public gaming festivals such as Insomnia, which it has previously attended.

Also this year, civilian gamers currently scattered throughout the Lions League lobby will be able to form teams and take on the forces.

Maj Elliott said the Army is "looking internally" to potentially raise its game with eSports arenas within larger garrisons and barracks.

"Fingers crossed we do all right. Some of the civilian teams are very, very professional and very good at what they do," he said.