What does the military see in gamers?

Forces News sent a reporter inside the gaming world to meet potential recruits with a passion for defence.

Gaming has become a go-to leisure activity for many in recent years, with the coronavirus lockdown only boosting online numbers further.

Military personnel, all coming from a 'civvy street' of their own, have been no exception – logging on while off-duty more and more as games develop.

However, those behind official strategy are also taking notice of the virtual phenomenon.

The British military has continued to step up its engagement with the general public at gaming festivals and online.

Competing, interacting and informing, personnel have appeared at massive, open events such as Insomnia, training on base to raise their profile.

For gamers, the UK Armed Forces offers the chance to operate and develop increasingly futuristic systems – getting hands-on with the kit they have only seen through screens.

But what does the military gain from this new wave of recruits, and how can they turn what a recruitment campaign labelled 'binge gamers' into the personnel of the future?

In 2020, Forces News spoke to Major Tim Elliott, Head of Army E-sports.

He believes the gaming community has subconsciously developed skills desired in numerous service roles – not just cyber-related.

"They are constantly analysing the situation as it’s being flashed up and the game is changing," Maj Elliott said.

“In the infantry, you have to be tech-savvy. You’ve got drones you’re operating, you’re operating thermal night sights, you’re operating laser range-finders – and if you’re playing a 'Call of Duty'-type game, you’re doing it for real."

The British Army have hosted engagements events to interact with younger audiences as technology continues to drive defence (Picture: British Army).

While the American military has put its full weight behind gaming as a recruitment tool, offering state-of-the-art facilities to dedicated staff, the UK is also making efforts in the area.

An online clubhouse enables troops to get together and play games when off-duty, this year forming military leagues in addition to their public performances.

US and UK Armed Forces teams competed in a 'Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War' tournament this month.

However, competitive games may not be the only place to look when seeking to capture the attention of those interested in defence.

Online hangout platforms such as Roblox are among the largest in the virtual world, and enable recruitment-age players to replicate real military environments and units.

With no time limits, rules or scoreboards, a Roblox military community sees hundreds gather for exercises and ceremonies – weeks of commitment and structure proving a passion for the forces.

Speaking to Forces News inside the game, one player said they "meet nearly every day" to train "fieldcraft ability".

"The platform has allowed me to develop my communicative and administrative skills significantly," said another player, one of many to have taken preliminary steps toward a military career.

Forces News' Tom Sables stepped inside the world of 'Roblox', to see if players in online hangout platforms shared military potential (Picture: Roblox Corporation).

The Armed Forces has addressed concerns felt by potential recruits over joining an organisation with basic fitness standards.

"Anybody who’s concerned about their fitness, the Army can assist there," said Maj Elliott.

"If you’ve got the determination to do something and you can channel that determination, we can get you fit."

While new threats are emerging, such as that posed to the UK by drones, the Army, Navy and RAF are developing systems to stay one step ahead.

Complex Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) offer new capabilities in combating these unmanned aircraft, but this kind of technology requires Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) candidates to operate. 

The British military is the UK's largest employer of engineers, and Maj Elliott is embracing the responsibility of attracting young, technical minds to lead the charge.

"You’ve almost got a gaming handset within a Challenger 2 tank, so we need to gain recruits who understand the workings of technical ideas," he said, adding that virtual recruitment centres could potentially be used to turn PC prodigies into soldiers of the future.

Cover image: The Roblox gaming community celebrates its Armed Forces Day 2020 (Picture: Tim Ruarc / © 2020 Roblox Corporation. ROBLOX is a registered trademark of Roblox Corporation. All Rights Reserved.). hosted the launch of the military's Lions League gaming competition in April 2020.