FORT LEE, Va. -- An Ordnance School Soldier and lifelong video game enthusiast has accomplished the improbable.
Staff Sgt. Michael Showes, a wheeled vehicle recovery instructor here, earned a coveted spot on the fledgling Army ESports Team in December after only two months of competitive experience. He was surprised, to say the least.
"Yeah!" he exclaimed in reference to his online qualifying tournament win Dec. 4. "I was thinking, OK, we've got people from all over the world who love to play and fully engage competitively as well … I figured I'd do well, but I didn't think I'd win."
The Army ESports Team is a Recruiting Command endeavor meant to establish connections with prospective enlistees through the emerging-yet-popular esports community and its competitive events.
"If we are going to be successful in recruiting, then we need to be where young people are -- and they are operating in the digital world," said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commanding general for the Army Recruiting Command.
Thousands of currently serving Soldiers are competitive online gamers, Muth noted. "Now we are giving them a chance to use their talents to help us relate to and connect with other young gamers. They will have the ability to start a dialogue about what it is like to serve in our Army and see if those contacts are interested in joining."
The 35-year-old Showes, who goes by the username "Showmatic," is an enthusiast of the hand-to-hand combat game Tekken 7. He is among the first members of the ESports team, all of whom are specific game specialists. More than 6,500 hundred active duty and Reserve Soldiers responded to a call for additional team members late last year.
The Army ESports Team is expected to number 30 by the summer. Those individuals will supplement the work of Army recruiters. Team members will be committed to USAREC for three years, according to the command's nomination instructions.
A video game enthusiast most of his life, Showes has played Tekken on a leisurely basis for years. In September of last year, he decided to take the plunge into tournament play, competing in several competitions over the course of a few weeks.
"I love the environment and energy there," he said, noting the experiences allowed him to raise his game. "The more I went, the more I was motivated -- you know, 'What did I do wrong, so I can fix things the next time?'"
Showes said he improved his competitive edge against top players by researching his opponents' games online, studying their moves and habits.
"I had some people shook," he said, chuckling while describing his performance in the Army tournament and trying his best to downplay the achievement.
It all paid off. He went undefeated in the PlayStation 4-formatted AET qualifier that included more than 100 entrants. He obviously has the skills to compete at higher levels, but that is a fact lost amongst his Generation Z students who are incredulous to someone in uniform getting paid to play video games, said Showes.
"Believe it or not, most of those I tell don't think (the AET) exists. They assume I'm joking; or think the Army was considering it but it hasn't happened yet," he said. "Nonethess, it's a full-blown program that's off to a good start."
On Jan. 18, the AET participated with Army recruiters at the PAX South gaming event in San Antonio. Another gaming event is scheduled for March, said Showes.
In the meantime, Showes said he is still competing independently and has a few tournaments lined up. His wife, Sinyoung Park, his supervisors and command team all have been supportive of his pursuits.
"Who wouldn't want to pursue their passions or hobbies for fun, get paid to do it and have the support of the Army to do it?" questioned Showes. "I'm really blessed to be a part of it."
The Washington Post reported last year the esports industry would generate more than $300 million in revenue for 2018.
For more information about the Army Esports Team, visit https://recruiting.army.mil/army_esports/.