By Danielle DeSimone
To some, it might look like just a game – the flashing lights, the rapid clicks of buttons on a controller, the enthusiastic shouts of the participants whose eyes are glued to the screen that emits nonstop sound effects.
But to these service members, it’s so much more than a game. It’s a test of skill, teamwork and perseverance – not to mention, a fun opportunity to claim the championship in competition between the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Space Force.
On May 13, 2023, all six U.S. military branches sent their best Rocket League gaming teams of three service members each to compete in the 3rd Annual USO Commanders Cup, presented in partnership with Boeing and Mutual of Omaha Mortgage, at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Service members from across the country participated in a pre-event team media and interview day, as well as group meals and activities, before competing in the 3v3 tournament of Rocket League, a game that is described as “a hybrid of arcade-style soccer and vehicular mayhem.”
Eglin Air Force Base Commander Brig. Gen. Jeff Geraghty kicked off the event with opening remarks, and the tournament started with a round-robin bracket that resulted in seeding for the afternoon double-elimination bracket.
Air Force Gaming defeated two-time defending champion U.S. Army Esports in the Grand Finals to claim the Commanders Cup and bragging rights as “the best military Rocket League team.” The Air Force Gaming team included A1C Alex “tut” Tuttle, A1C Logan “Lohtek” LeJeune, and A1C William “William” Lacy.
“It was a great series, very intense… I told everyone that there isn’t a single universe we don’t win this [gaming event] and look forward to the next one,” said A1C Logan “Lohtek” LeJeune.
“This event is a unique opportunity for the USO and the military branches to demonstrate the opportunities around gaming,” said Callum Fletcher, USO Director of Global Gaming Operations. “While everyone gathered at Eglin Air Force Base for a spirited competition, what really makes this event special are the community, camaraderie, and ability for the service members and their families to step back and enjoy their time together.”
Want to see more? Watch a story about the event from WMBB News 13 here.
The USO and gaming teams across the Armed Forces are already preparing for the 2024 USO Commanders Cup.
Benefits of Gaming Among Military Service Members
Playing video games is in fact so much more than just “playing.” For many service members, it’s their escape from the stressful and high-stakes nature of their jobs. Research has also shown that gaming can have very real, positive effects on military mental health.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has conducted research which shows that video games can help service members relieve stress – especially as they decompress after deployment. In fact, about half of military and veteran video gamers specifically play video games in order to deal with military-related stress.
This can be incredibly helpful for service members’ mental health – something that is crucial not only for our troops’ health and success, but also our entire nation’s operational readiness. Studies also show that gaming can help veterans cope with combat-induced trauma, as well as to alleviate tension and, significantly, to help them socialize and bond with others.
This camaraderie is crucial both in video gaming competitions and out in the field as service members, as playing video games on teams can improve teamwork in life both on and off the screen.
It is because of these health benefits of gaming that the USO has developed and continued to expand its USO Gaming programming. USO Gaming events, gaming centers and dedicated spaces within existing USO centers across the globe provide the military community with access to ever-expanding spaces in which to unwind and connect. Even forward-deployed troops are getting to participate, as the USO regularly sends USO Rapid Response Gaming Kits to the front lines of Eastern Europe, Africa, Central America and beyond.
Gaming has become an important tool for the USO to support and strengthen service members as they carry out their missions. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, our organization is able to provide troops with these connections to one another and to home at USO Gaming centers and events, ensuring that they have places to turn to in times of stress – and so that they always know the American people have their backs.
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