BY DEAN SIEMON
Remember when your parents would walk in on a round or seven on the Nintendo to send you out into the “real world?” They likely said something along the lines of, “You can’t make real money playing video games.”
Well, the times have certainly changed, and they were wrong. With the emergence of electronic sports, better known as esports, competitive video game tournaments have grown in popularity over the years, including those hosted at United States military installations.
Saturday, Joint Base Lewis-McChord was one of 10 installations to participate in Alienware’s Branch Battle with the video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive at the Warrior Zone.
Each installation championship team of four, or five with an alternate, will receive $1,000 before advancing for the $5,000 grand prize. It’s an opportunity that service members and retired military service members were happy to take advantage of — even during last Saturday’s warm-ups before the real competition begins Saturday.
“When it comes to next week’s tournament, I’m hoping there is a pretty decent competitive scene,” said Spc. Dan Sportello, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 508th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade, who goes by the gamer nickname “Prod1gy.” “Where I come from, there’s not a lot of resources like this.”
The other military installations participating are Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Benning, Ga.; Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field, Fla.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; and Naval Base San Diego, Calif. The competition starts Saturday with the finals scheduled for July 22.
While not a traditional sport that would involve the concept of “physical activity,” teams have competed all over the world for championships.
Many titles come with purses of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
For example, the Electronic Sports League Pro League’s Season Five Counter Strike: GO champions — G2 esports — took the top prize of $1 million in May. Tournament finals are regularly aired on television stations like ESPN and TBS.
The finals of the Branch Battle Counter Strike: GO competition will be aired online on Alienware’s Twitch.tv page.
“People are watching,” said Bill Strock, recreation specialist for the JBLM Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. “It’s like any sporting event where you have to condition yourself a certain way.”
Video game competitions have taken place at JBLM since 1999 at the Nelson Recreation Center. Those early installation matches with teams involved the first Counter Strike title.
Over the years, the titles have changed, and the size of the grand prizes to the last gamer standing have increased. A similar event last year had a Madden NFL division where a JBLM gamer took home $250 for winning the JBLM competition, a new Xbox for the Army competition and another $1,000 for the entire event.
Based on the success of other bases’ tournaments, including the registration for this year’s Battle Branch, Strock said he expects more sponsors will want to help create additional events to have people seeing and utilizing their gaming gear.
“It’s worth it to a sponsor because that’s going to get (at least) six or seven posts,” Strock said. “That’s a lot of people to see the products. If that’s the group you want, this is where you want it.”
In addition to the prizes and the bragging rights up for grabs, competitions like this often build camaraderie among the service members. Jon Williams, a retired Marine sergeant, has played with Sportello in the past.
He’s also part of the Voltage gaming team that competes in various leagues under the nickname “Triggernometry.” He said he was intrigued to compete in a competition between 10 military installations.
“Most gamers are like hermits, so it’s nice to get out and meet others who have similar experiences,” Williams said.