RAF Opens E-Sports Centre As Military Gaming Takes Off

RAF Odiham has opened its first station gaming room, with PCs and consoles paid for by the RAF Central Fund.

RAF Odiham has opened its first station gaming room, with PCs and consoles paid for by the RAF Central Fund.

The RAF Association helped the base kickstart its e-sports club, complete with a fit for purpose local-area network (LAN) room, which it hopes will improve social cohesion within the RAF gaming community.

The gaming trend is on the rise in the military, with the RAF Video Gaming and E-sports Association (RAF VGEA) forming earlier this year.

Teams train and compete, representing the RAF in e-sports competitions such as Insomnia - the UK's biggest gaming festival, held at the Birmingham NEC this year.

The Chairman of the Association, Wing Commander Dan Penter, sees it as an opportunity to flip the stigma attached to gaming, encouraging personnel to come together to play:

"We see the gaming association as a community and welfare benefit for our members."

The RAF Association’s social media presence, the RAF Gamers Network [RGN], now boasts 1.5% of the Royal Air Force as members and covers 38 bases, including RAF Odiham.

Watch: military gamers battle it out at Insomnia 65 - but which service was victorious?

Through the Gamers Association, members can access a rank-less environment that encourages communication and collaboration. Wing Commander Penter says:

"It will draw them out of their bedrooms and into a social space, even if only in a virtual environment, so they form friendships and bonds with other RAF members across the country."

Whilst competitive gaming takes place on popular platforms, a new RAF-wide gaming clan will also help those who play niche games to find like-minded colleagues.

The benefits of engaging with the gaming community are beginning to surface for the RAF, especially given a recent drive for science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) ability within the service.

Those who specialise in STEM fields are in high demand, given the modern battle landscapes and the RAF's heavy involvement in cyber-defence.

With emerging threats, the appeal to technical and computer literate individuals to join is more important than ever.

One competitive gamer took to Twitter to express how his experience helped him on his career path.

Gaming tweet zoom 300819 Credit @jayjay23a3_0.JPG
Gaming is being used as a recruitment tool throughout the RAF.

Gaming has been known to aid coordination, problem-solving skills, memory, concentration levels, multi-tasking and brain speed – similar cognitive elements to those required to operate RAF aircraft like the Lightning jet and the Reaper drone.

As causal and competitive video gaming continues to grow, the RAF has been looking to use these e-sports platforms to increase the service's recruitment pool.

At Insomnia 2019, children were able to test their flight skills in virtual environment simulators.

While it will require a few more years of training until they can pilot real F18 jets, the demonstration showed that the RAF trying to bridge the gap.

Recruitment strategies such as the are of increasing value to the UK Armed Forces, who continue to see a fall in numbers.

MOD data showed the RAF total stood at 29,930 of the workforce requirement - 31,840.

Whilst gaming may present an opportunity to reach out to new demographics, controversial recruitment campaigning by the Army to recruit "snowflakes" was criticised in the House of Lords.

Army recruitment posters comp 1
Army recruitment billboards, targeting 'binge gamers' (Picture British Army).

Representatives of the Association under the team name eSquadron 404, a nod to the 'Error 404" display on broken webpages, now compete against the UK's best gaming teams.

Meanwhile, competition now exists within the military; the RAF recently beating the British Army at 'Overwatch' in the first Interservice e-sports match.

With their incoming, state-of-the-art facilities, the Air Force will hope to build on their success, while community members build and maintain relationships.