FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – U.S. Army Esports has been training Soldiers to succeed in national competitive gaming events since 2018, but Fort Campbell is prepared to go toe-to-toe with them without looking beyond the installation’s gates for players.
Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, or BOSS, launched Fort Campbell Esports this spring to boost morale and connect Soldiers from across the installation through gaming, and with 450 members and counting the initiative has proven successful.
“I think it helps morale in a huge way,” said BOSS president Sgt. Russell Lovelace, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). “I’ve been in Alaska, Germany, Japan and Korea and that was the biggest disconnect. The command team was awesome and you could have the best job ever, but at the end of the day if you’re sitting alone and not talking to anybody, especially during COVID-19, that has a huge impact. Now we’re forming bonds between Soldiers and encouraging them to make those bonds stronger as well.”
Fort Campbell Esports currently hosts online tournaments for a variety of games 8 p.m. every other Friday through Discord, a digital platform that allows users to communicate through voice and video calls, text messages, images and other media. In-person tournaments focused on fighting games are hosted 4 p.m. every other Wednesday at the Warrior Zone, but are currently on hold while the facility is being remodeled.
“The tournaments are very relaxed,” said Spc. Kevyn White, 584th Support Maintenance Company, 101st Division Sustainment Brigade, 101st Abn. Div. “I managed to meet a good couple of guys through them, one of whom I’m hoping to be a good practice partner with. There’s even a few Soldiers I met at a tournament off-base and found out they’re stationed here, and I keep in touch with them when I get the chance.”
Soldiers can use Fort Campbell Esports’ Discord server to stay connected with practice partners, find others who enjoy their favorite games and set up casual play sessions during their downtime. Anyone is welcome, including married Soldiers, civilian employees and veterans.
“We’ve made it so that any flyer or calendar we put out has a QR code for the Fort Campbell Esports Discord,” said Lovelace, adding that the code is also available on BOSS’ social media platforms. “Once they scan it, they need to message us with their military email, then we’ll verify it and get them on the server.”
That registration process helps keep the community friendly, welcoming and inclusive, which Lovelace said is unique compared to many other online gaming groups.
“The biggest reason we ask for emails is so everyone has accountability,” he said. “Let’s say someone was to make a derogatory remark. We’d tell them to cut it out, and if they do it again, we’ll contact their entire chain of command. Since we implemented that we’ve had no issues, not a single one.”
Discord doubles as a way for BOSS to push out information about its upcoming events, and Lovelace said participation has increased by nearly 300% since Fort Campbell Esports started its server.
“The reason I got into the Discord is because I get information quicker when events are coming along,” said Pfc. Dustin Guin, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div. “Apart from that, you can play video games with these guys when you’re bored, find groups for specific games and sign up for tournaments. It gives people the opportunity to get away from the company for a bit, bond with somebody else and raise their morale instead of just going to work every day and being in the barracks.”
Lovelace said Discord’s chatroom elements help engage younger Soldiers, so they’re more likely to ask questions about events than they would be on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
“Now we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve had five volunteer events in a week and only one of them didn’t have the number of people we wanted,” he said. “Our recent skydiving event sold out in under 30 minutes ... there was a long time that BOSS was actually on the chopping block because of COVID-19 and the need to cut funding, so being a part of the team that’s helping it bounce back is absolutely crazy.”
As Fort Campbell Esports continues growing, Lovelace said the next step is building a team of Soldiers strong enough to take on U.S. Army Esports in games like Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, Call of Duty: Warzone, Valorant and Apex Legends.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie in video games and we’ve had a lot of success as a whole in hosting events,” he said. “The biggest thing has been making friendships. There are a lot of people that talk to me on a daily basis, and whether it’s because of COVID-19 or not having people that play games in their unit, they don’t have anyone to talk to about gaming, and this community we’re building is giving them that opportunity.”