In some ways, the world of the Army and the world of video games are very closely entwined. After all, millions of gamers play games like Call of Duty every year. And these games often glorify war and combat, serving as valuable recruitment tools.
In June, the U.S. Army took things to the next level on Twitch and started streaming live broadcasts. They hoped streaming would serve as a solid recruitment and PR opportunity. But after a barrage of criticism for their tactics in recent weeks, they have stopped streaming entirely. The announcement was made by an Army spokesperson on July 22.
“The team has paused streaming to review internal policies and procedures, as well as all platform-specific policies, to ensure those participating in the space are clear before streaming resumes,” the spokesperson said.
What was this about, and where did it all go wrong? Here’s everything you need to know about the Army’s failed experiment to recruit gamers via Twitch.
Some gamers were opposed to the Army’s Twitch presence from the very beginning. They saw this as the digital equivalent of the military trying to recruit young people on a high school campus.
To these critics, this is wrong because the Army is effectively preying on young people and capitalizing on their love of video games. And it doesn’t help that the military has a long history of using simulators to effectively dehumanize enemy forces.
Because of these early critics, pushback to the Army’s recruitment efforts was inevitable. But nobody would predict how quickly everything would go off the rails.
Cheeky users visited the Twitch chat to ask the recruiter questions such as “what’s your favorite U.S. war crime?” While some of these users were surely trolls, others saw themselves as introducing the grim realities of warfare and international policy to would-be recruits.
The recruiter responded by quickly banning anyone who asked such questions. This was an attempt to quickly solve the problem, but it soon led to other issues.
According to the Knight First Amendment Institute, the Army banning people for simply asking uncomfortable questions is actually unconstitutional. It is the equivalent to the government opening up a public forum and then yanking the microphone from anyone who asks a question that the Army doesn’t wish to answer.
These potentially-unconstitutional bans have opened the door to further legal action. And this is one of the primary reasons the Army stopped streaming.
Recently, the Army unbanned the users who they previously targeted. This is likely an attempt to deflect from further potential legal challenges.
A different kind of speedrun
Gamers love a good speedrun. In fact, many Twitch users tune in specifically to see their favorite streamers play through a game as quickly as possible.
Once word spread that the Army was banning people on Twitch, a new game was born. Users ended up competing with each other to see how quickly they could get banned for asking simple questions.
In some cases, this required creatively bypassing chat filters and even waiting a minimum time before they could chat. Needless to say, these gamers were up for the challenge and quickly spread tales about their “speedrun” to social media.
Banning people for asking questions was already a bad look. However, the Army was soon in hot water for what was apparently fake giveaways via Twitch.
Numerous players reported attempts to enter these Army giveaways to win an Xbox Elite Series 2 controller. They claimed that when they tried to enter the contest, they just ended up on an Army recruitment page with no information about the giveaway.
Later, the Army claimed that these users were still entered into some form of giveaway. This may or may not be true, but Twitch wasted no time shutting these dubious giveaways down.
Eventually, the Army could see the writing on the wall. After a few weeks of Twitch recruitment, they stopped streaming on July 22.
What, then, finally ended this online recruitment effort? While the bans and fake giveaways were bad enough, the simple fact was that all of the controversies were generating negative PR for the military.
The whole point of recruiting on Twitch was to connect with young players and make the Army look good. But it took no time at all for the Army’s shady and potentially-illegal behavior to dominate the narrative.
The controversy became so big that legislation was even introduced into the House of Representatives in an attempt to ban the Army from Twitch.
Legislation to ban the Army from Twitch fails
With the talk of unconstitutional actions, you might expect the government to get involved. And this is where U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes in.
In late July, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez filed a measure to permanently end these digital recruitment efforts through a proposed amendment to the House Committee on Appropriations bill, which sets the Pentagon’s annual budget.
The measure aimed to keep the military from using taxpayer dollars to “maintain a presence on Twitch.com or any video game, e-sports, or live-streaming platform.”
The House of Representatives voted on the measure on July 30. But it failed to pass, with 126 votes in favor and 292 votes against it.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez bemoaned the decision, tweeting, “Imagine trying to explain to your colleagues who are members of Congress what Twitch is.”
Right now, the Army’s attempts at recruiting gamers is at a standstill. They are not currently streaming on Twitch, and the U.S. Army eSports Team is not currently active on social media. (Their last tweet is from July 1.)
Nonetheless, the Army intends to resume its Twitch efforts, and rumors are saying this could happen as early as Spring 2021. Perhaps the Army hopes that this will provide enough time for the controversy to blow over.
The good news is that on August 5, the U.S. Army eSports Team announced in an email to Motherboard that it is “reinstating access for accounts previously banned for harassing and degrading behavior on its Twitch stream.”
Furthermore, it is “reviewing and clarifying its policies and procedures for the stream and will provide all who have been banned the opportunity to participate in the space as long as they follow the team’s guidelines.”
As for returning to Twitch itself, the U.S. Army eSports Team said it “will resume streaming on Twitch in the near future, but a specific date has not been set at this time.”