ARLINGTON, Va. -- Army recruiting plans to create a small cyber team to expand its esports program, which has already helped attract thousands of potential recruits, amid a larger push into the digital realm.
Similar to the regular esports team, which was formed last year, the three-person cyber team will compete in events across the country, showing a different side of the service to Generation Z youth.
In the competitions, Soldiers will write code to conduct offensive and defensive cyber operations through a video game, said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commander of U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
“We need cyber-interested Soldiers,” he said. “The intent is to get out there and engage the cyber world doing cyber esports, and then use that as a tool to recruit.”
The command sees the esports arena, where millions play video games or watch other gamers, as an emerging method to reach out to youth compared to traditional ways.
In its first nine months after being stood up last fiscal year, the esports team generated about 4,000 leads as its Soldiers competed online or during live events. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the team doubled that number with 8,000 leads.
The team expects to see 24,000 leads by Sept. 30.
“That’s been awesome,” Muth said June 23 during a discussion for the Association of the U.S. Army’s Noon Report series.
Other recruiters have taken advantage of the rapid growth of esports, which, according to Forbes magazine, had audiences of more than 443 million across the world last year -- a following greater than American football and rugby combined.
Recruiting stations have even created their own esports tournaments to prospect for recruits.
The Syracuse Recruiting Battalion, for instance, recently ran a Call of Duty tournament. The effort cost only $2,000 and had two recruiters each working just eight hours total for the weeklong event.
In comparison, the battalion typically rents a booth at the New York State Fair for $15,000 to engage with people for three weeks, 15 hours a day using up to a dozen recruiters.
The best year they had at the state fair was nearly 1,300 leads. The esports tournament had almost 1,500 leads with much less funds and manpower.
“Think about the time, energy, cost that was associated with getting that many more leads just utilizing esports,” Muth said.
A new concept of “autonomous recruiting operations” is also being developed, following lessons learned during the pandemic that forced the command to temporarily reduce the use of its brick-and-mortar recruiting stations and go entirely virtual.
The operations aim to increase the mobility of recruiters by relying on technology and social media platforms.
In the future, Muth said the Army will institute a test for non-commissioned officers to not only gauge their aptitude for being a recruiter in the future, but also their knowledge of technology.
If the test determines the NCO is better suited as a recruiter than a drill sergeant, the Soldier could then be placed in a specific tech or social media recruiting operation.
The command has even changed its curriculum, spending more time on creative methods to engage potential recruits on social media, Muth said.
After requests from recruiters about paying to “boost” content on social media to reach larger audiences, the command has also changed how they can use their stipend.
Each month, recruiters receive $75 that usually covers some incidental out-of-pocket costs associated with prospecting. Now, recruiters can use that stipend to boost their social media posts.
“We are changing the way we recruit,” Muth said. “We’re changing the way we’re going to bring in recruiters and how we train them and then how we get them out there in the environment recruiting.”
The general believes as recruiters become more mobile and interactive in the virtual space, the Army may require less physical space for recruiting stations. A 1,200-square-foot office with 18 recruiters, for example, may be reduced to a 200-square-foot office. Or, even a kiosk where recruiters huddle like at a patrol base before they go out to conduct their mission.
“It’s very exciting times for recruiting and we’ve learned a lot,” he said.