BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
The comradery that may come with joining the military is unlike any other bond, and sometimes this connection can be forged by means of activities outside the stereotypical work setting.
For a newcomer arriving on base, the transition can be difficult as Airmen must work to establish a new community of friends and grow comfortable in a setting often different from their previous base. This is where the inspiration for the esports program at Barksdale originated from.
“I know when I first got here to base, it took me a while to meet friends,” said 1st Lt Connor Hoff, 2nd Force Support Squadron food service officer. “One of the things that got me through it was playing video games with my friends from home.”
One of the best examples many bases are mirroring their new esports programs after, is the one at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, which has been one of the front runners in establishing an esports community on an Air Force installation.
Hoff reached out to members of the Dyess program, and together, the two bases began preparing for a “base off” virtual gaming competition on April 26, 2020. However, the competition evolved when word spread to other Air Force bases.
“Originally the tournament was supposed to be just Dyess versus Barksdale,” Hoff said. “But all you need is a gaming station or a PC. So the esports coordinators of Dyess reached out to a bunch of their contacts, and that’s how [other bases] all flooded in.”
In one night, seven additional bases joined the competition from all over and one Reserve Officer Training Corps detachment. These teams included Fairchild AFB, Wa.; Whiteman AFB, Mo.; Scott AFB, Ill.; F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.; Dover AFB, Del.; Malmstrom AFB, Mont; and Anderson AFB, Guam.
“One team was in a different time zone,” said Airman 1st Class Joseph Smith, 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron pest management apprentice. “A team from Guam woke up at four in the morning to play.”
Smith, along with three other players, made up the four-person team that competed in what ended up being a six-hour competition. The competition was organized into a bracket style tournament, allowing teams to advance who continued to win.
Smith and his team made it to the final round where they played Dyess and ended up sweeping the tournament in the final match.
“You have to love the game you’re playing,” Smith said. “I treat this like a sport, like football or basketball. Even when you’re down or you get injured, you can’t give up. You just got to believe in yourself, trust in your team and just have fun.”
Although the Air Force has a wide variety of physical intramural sports for Airmen to get involved, this type of socialization is not for everyone. For those who are not passionate about playing basketball or football, esports establishes an alternative way to have fun and connect with others.
“[Barksdale] focuses a lot on the physical aspect of warrior lethality, intramural sports for example are big,” Hoff said. “But [esports] focuses on the mental aspect. And there are a lot of benefits to esports in regards to mental capacities: it improves your capacity to learn, focus, multi-task and prepares you to make fast decisions. It also strengthens mental fortitude and resilience.”
And for those who transition to a new base, having an esports program might be just what they need to make moving somewhere new a little easier.
“I’m new [to Barksdale], and I don’t have many friends,” Smith said. “But I just met a group of people that I can hit up and do something we’re all passionate about.”
Looking into the future, Hoff along with interested gamers such as Smith and his team, are enthusiastic about the evolution of the new esports program.
If Barksdale can win against nine teams in the first Inter-Base Championship Tournament, then this could predict a long trail of accolades to come, as the Air Force embraces a new kind of sport that focuses not on the physicality of an Airman, but instead of their strategic mental ability to outcompete their opponents virtually.
To get involved in the next flash tournament sign up at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040844AAAC2DA6F85-rocket. To learn more about esports at Barksdale, email 1st Lt. Connor Hoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.