FORT MEADE, Md. –
Over 6,500 Soldiers are already hoping to be part of a new Army esports team that will compete in video game tournaments nationwide in an effort to attract potential recruits.
"It's essentially connecting America to its Army through the passion of the gaming community," said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, NCO-in-charge of the budding team.
About 30 Soldiers are expected to be picked for the team and some of the first positions could be filled this summer. Only active-duty and Reserve Soldiers are currently allowed to apply.
Those chosen will be assigned to the Marketing and Engagement Brigade for three years at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where the Army Recruiting Command is headquartered.
While they will not become recruiters, team members will receive a crash course on Army enlistment programs to answer questions from those interested in learning about the service.
Once built up, the team will fall under an outreach company that will also include an Army rock band and a functional fitness team.
Not everyone on the team will compete. Those who will may train up to six hours per day on video games, Jones said, adding that gameplay sessions would be live streamed or recorded for spectators to watch.
Esports has ballooned in popularity in recent years with millions of followers.
In August, the Washington Post reported that esports could generate about $345 million in revenue this year in North America. In 2017, a major esports tournament in China also drew a peak of more than 106 million viewers -- roughly the same number of those who watched last year's Super Bowl.
"It's something really new and it's been gaining a lot of steam," Jones said.
While on the team, Soldiers will still conduct physical training, weapons qualifications and other responsibilities that come with being a Soldier. They will also have to maintain certifications in their military occupational specialty.
"Outside of that, there will be esports training," Jones said. "So whatever game they're playing in, they'll not only be playing it, but be coached in it to get better."
The team, he said, shares a similar concept to that of other Army competitive teams that continually train, such as the Golden Knights parachute team, World Class Athlete Program and Army Marksmanship Unit.
"Esports is like traditional sports," he said. "Nobody can just walk in and expect to play at a competitive level."
The Army, he said, already has talented gamers out there who can compete in events.
Last weekend, a few Soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community.
In one of the events, a Street Fighter V tournament, two Soldiers placed first and second.
"This is the perfect opportunity to showcase not only to the Army, but to the civilian populace and the esports industry that we also have what it takes," Jones said of the events.
Recruiters from the San Antonio Recruiting Battalion also joined them and were able to generate some leads with potential recruits, he added.
There are plans to do the same at the PAX East exposition in Boston in late March.
As a gamer and a recruiter himself, Jones said the team can help bridge the civilian-military gap by breaking down misconceptions some young people may have about the Army.
Being able to play their favorite video games with others who share the same passion is also a bonus.
"For a lot of Soldiers, to include myself, it's like a dream come true," Jones said. "This is just one of those ways we can start the conversation."