A new cadet club at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point engages in electronic sports, also called eSports, and offers the same sense of competition and accomplishment playing a physical game does.
According to Newzoo, eSports is a way to describe online competitive video gaming and is an industry predicted to surpass $1 billion in revenue by the end of 2023. Over 380 million people tune into televised professional tournaments hosted in arenas filled with crowds clapping and cheering on their favorite teams.
The setting is like a traditional sporting event, but in the gaming competition world, live multiplayer action is projected onto screens for the audience to watch as opposing teams are immersed in virtual reality while battling one another.
The Army West Point eSports Club was recognized as an official club Jan. 23. Deputy Director of the West Point Simulation Center Victor Castro helped cadets build their gaming environment infrastructure, which currently accommodates them with top of the line PC software and game-play technology.
Castro said although they are currently just a club, the group of eight cadets has plans to take it from a recreational activity to a professional-gaming level.
"The U.S. Army Recruiting Command already has their own eSports team. They've learned how to live stream and already built all those mechanics. What we plan to do is leverage them and say let's compete with you, but you host it," Castro said. "Some people on their team have fans and get 5,000 viewers. So, we will create a demand that recognizes the Army Black Knights have an eSports team and will give them the supply as the demand increases. Our focus now is slowly introducing the academy as to what this is all about."
Club members have the option to play "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege" and "Hell Let Loose" that requires internet, a computer, mouse and keyboard to play. They are first-person shooter games and were chosen based on war-themes. In the West Point Simulation Center, there are 50 practice stations and 10 competition systems.
The Army West Point eSports Club's mission is to enhance the cadet experience through interactions with competitive gaming while providing them an opportunity to develop themselves within the four pillars of the academy's leadership objectives: military, physical, academic and character.
According to faculty researchers at West Point, from an academic pillar-building perspective, gaming has proven cognitive benefits such as increased memory and the ability to concentrate and focus more deeply during a performance.
From a military pillar stand point, their research has found other benefits such as developing communication and leadership skills as well as enhanced lethality of a Soldier. Members play within a team-oriented environment that is comparable to real war scenarios due to the tactical nature of the games.
The club's participation requirements include meeting all academic and fitness standards. One aim of the club is to help cadets enjoy their hobby in an organized environment to reduce a cadet's personal time spent gaming outside of practice to avoid academic issues. They are also working on recruiting talented gamers in order to build professional competitive teams.
So far, there are over 20 national colleges to include Big Ten and Ivy League schools that recognize eSports and recruit players to join their teams through scholarship programs. The U.S. Air Force Academy also has an eSports team that travels to national conferences with other universities to compete.
The Army West Point eSports Club has goals of becoming recognized as a sport by the academy and will host open club tryouts to build professional competitive teams, but as of now, the club is still growing as West Point leadership becomes familiar with the gaming industry.
"It's going to take a lot for the Army to recognize that eSports is the next big thing," Class of 2020 Cadet Nick Basile, captain of the Army West Point eSports Club, said. "For a lot of them, they just see it as playing video games and we must show them that, yes, there is just playing video games, but there's also a competitive side to it. It is being recognized at a collegiate level.
"Some people laugh or chuckle at eSports, but we have to show them it's a very real thing and there's very talented people here," Basile added. "It's a chance for people to compete in something they are very good at but does not necessarily have the same light as football. Making an eSports team will showcase an example of our winning culture at West Point."