For Staff Sgt. Nicholas Mackay, gaming isn’t just a hobby – it’s a way of life.
Since he developed an intense passion for gaming at the age of 14, Mackay has taken it to levels he never thought possible, culminating in his selection for the new U.S. Army Esports team in 2019.
As a recruiter for Casa Grande Recruiting Station, Mackay is in a perfect position to fulfill his gaming ambitions and use his talent to recruit the next generation of Soldiers for the Army.
His journey to the world of professional gaming began in 2009, when Mackay took an avid interest in video games, after having watched his older brother play them for years.
“I grew up watching my older brother play games but didn’t get my own game system until I was 14,” Mackay said. “I was excited because I would finally get the chance to play online with my friend, who told me I needed to get the game Call of Duty. As soon as I got it I was hooked. I spent on average 30-40 hours a week playing, trying to get as good as possible at the game.”
When Mackay discovered the world of competitive gaming however, his devotion to succeed was taken up a notch.
“At first it was mainly for bragging rights among my friends at school, but eventually I found out that you could compete versus other people in tournaments and actually make money doing it,” he said. “So I spent the majority of my after school time practicing and playing in online tournaments and competitions up until pretty much the day I left for Basic Training.”
Mackay had always considered military service, having grown up amidst the heights of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, although he said the Army wasn’t his first choice.
“I wanted to be a part of a team and serve for something larger than myself. At first my parents didn’t believe me,” Mackay said. “So when I got called by a Marine recruiter the summer before my senior year of high school, they were surprised when I asked for a ride to the recruiting station. Unfortunately the Marines weren’t there, but the Army was. And the rest is history.”
Mackay enlisted as a radio telephone operator and was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he attended Air Assault School and deployed to Jordan and Iraq. It was during his five years stationed at Fort Bliss that he began competing in gaming tournaments again.
After being assigned to the Phoenix Recruiting Battalion in 2019, Mackay decided to apply for the new Army Esports team, a competitive gaming team designed to represent the Army in gaming competitions across the country.
“Becoming a member of US Army eSports was a challenge. I first found out about the Army’s Esports team when I became a recruiter in early 2019,” Mackay explained. “At that point I was not aware that they had a Call of Duty team, so I followed them on social media and waited to see if they would announce tryouts for one.”
Soon enough Mackay had his opportunity, as tryouts were announced for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in Nov. 2019, attracting over 6500 applicants for only 16 slots.
“The tryouts were competitive, but very straightforward. We were pitted against each other in random teams of five, playing several matches until the top ten out of over 150 had been identified as having the most skill, best communication, and most knowledge,” Mackay added. “I was placed in the top five fortunately, so I made the main team; the other five were to be our substitutes in the event one of the main five couldn’t play.”
Mackay’s experiences on the team thus far have been amazing, he said, competing in two events to date.
“So far, I’ve traveled to Los Angeles twice to compete in two different competitions. The first one I took part in was called the Call of Duty Endowment Bowl,” Mackay explained. “Eight professional video game streamers acted as team ‘captains,’ with each playing with two Army team members in a series of games. My team, with team captain Jack Dunlop, won.”
“The second event I played in with the team was Call of Duty League (CDL) Los Angeles Challengers,” he continued. “While the team didn’t place well in the main event, my teammate (Capt.) Ulises Miranda and myself placed top 2 in a side tournament with over 200 competitors called the CDL City Circuit.”
With competitive gaming continuing to grow, Mackay said he considers gaming an effective way to draw new Future Soldiers.
“I think gaming is a great way for the Army to showcase our talent and relatability in the same way our World Class Athlete Program does,” Mackay stated. “Over 60 percent of Americans play video games daily. A large portion of that percentage is comprised of 17-24 year olds, a key audience the Army is trying to reach and potentially recruit from.”
Certain elements of video gaming also tie into the Army methodology, Mackay said.
“There are ties with playing video games and skills like teamwork, quick decision-making, hand-eye coordination, problem solving, and strategic thinking,” he said. “All of these skills are easily transferable and desired in the Army. When coupled with our current recruiting efforts primarily taking place online, video games have cemented themselves at the forefront of the recruiting landscape.”
Mackay is thankful for the opportunities the Army has provided him and hopes to continue his career further into the future.
“The Army has provided me with countless opportunities. Some of these opportunities have been for personal growth, while others have been for some of the greatest experiences in my life,” Mackay said. “I’m extremely grateful to the Army and my leadership throughout my career ... I’m excited for what my future holds in the Army.”