For many gamers, EA Sports™ Madden NFL holds legendary status. It’s been their go-to game throughout their childhoods, into their teenage years and now as adults.
U.S. Army Spc. Trevor Bethke said he’s been playing Madden NFL for as long as he can remember.
For U.S. Space Force member Ryan Cabase, his memories of growing up with Madden NFL are clear in his mind.
“My dad is the one who got me into Madden. He put a controller in my hand, and I’ve held onto it ever since,” Ryan said. “He’d whoop my butt in Madden back in the day.”
Today, Ryan and Trevor are two of eight finalists in the USO-NFL Salute to Service Showdown, competing for two tickets each and paid travel to Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas in February 2024. The two top players will win this coveted prize.
“It honestly just feels like a dream,” Trevor said. “I didn’t expect to go so far in this tournament … and to be a part of something sponsored by the NFL and Madden is really cool.”
About the NFL Salute to Service
Salute to Service is the league’s year-round effort to honor, empower and connect with our nation’s service members, veterans and their families.
Throughout the month of November, the collective NFL family, including all 32 clubs and their players, will reinforce continued support and gratitude to those who have and continue to serve. Salute to Service will be highlighted specifically in-game during Weeks 9 to 11 and included throughout additional special events led by the league and its clubs.
The USO Gaming Program
The Salute to Service Showdown has been an annual highlight of the USO Gaming program for three years, and it’s just one aspect of the USO’s support of gaming.
Throughout the year and around the world, service members can utilize the USO Gaming program to access top-of-the-line screens, computers and consoles, plus secure and reliable Wi-Fi access, in USO Centers and Mobile USO vehicles.
The USO supports service members through gaming not only for the fun it provides, but also because of the activity’s many benefits.
Reducing Stress and Improving Mood
Gaming has been proven to release stress, which is critical for the people who serve our nation day in and day out, often in remote locations and high-intensity environments. When your mind intently focuses on a single activity, it quiets your other thoughts. Being fully present in the moment can lead to a “flow state,” much like meditation, which has clearly been shown to reduce stress and lessen anxiety.
“I heavily lean on gaming to de-stress. It’s like secondhand nature to me,” Ryan explained. “Whenever I just kind of want to let go of everything that’s going on around me and just have fun without worrying about anything else, you’ll always find me on my setup, playing games with all my close friends.”
Gaming can improve mental health as well. When we experience enjoyment, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, known as the “feel good” hormone. Gaming also creates the opportunity for small victories. When goals are achieved, they create feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction. The brain perceives those victories, although small, as a reason to celebrate.
Connecting with Loved Ones
Spending time with friends and family strengthens all of us. We share experiences and positive emotions, and we can encourage one another.
Many service members report being away from loved ones as a leading drawback of life in the military.
“I’m not the greatest at keeping in touch with family with phone calls or texts. So, I think it’s important to keep that bond strong with them in any way possible. And gaming just makes it so easy,” Ryan said.
He uses the opportunity to connect with several of his cousins, who also serve in the military.
Trevor serves with the 18th Military Police Company and is currently stationed in Hohenfels, Germany, at USAG Bavaria, which is his first duty station in his three years of service so far. During this time, USO Gaming has been a meaningful bridge to loved ones, especially his brothers. One is in college, and the other is doing a rotation in Kuwait.
“It’s hard being away from my family for so long, but it feels like I’m at home when I’m on the games with my brothers or friends,” Trevor explained.
Building Bonds with Other Service Members
One of our most fundamental human needs is to feel connected to others. Shared experiences allow us to do just that.
Trevor shared how gaming can be a path to friendship.
“For those who stay in the barracks and have nothing to do, we start out with some video games … and one thing leads to the next and we usually just hang out,” Trevor said.
Living in another country can be stressful in its own right, regardless of military service. Trevor explained that being around other people from back home has helped.
Ryan games regularly with his squadron, and he has participated in two other tournaments for service members.
“I represented Space Force when I played Halo at a competitive level, and I came out of it meeting three other Space Force people … and two of them happened to be stationed at the same base I was. We’ve been friends ever since,” Ryan said. Now, they get together regularly.
The USO Gaming program also provides an online community and content through its USO Discord and Twitch channels. This allows service members to build relationships with other gamers beyond their base or mission location. Tournaments expand that reach even more, when U.S. service members are brought together from every branch and around the world for some friendly competition.
Next Level: The Big Game
Ryan’s relationship with the USO and gaming has uniquely come full circle. Growing up as a military child with his father stationed in Okinawa, he recalled visiting USO airport Centers frequently, as early as fourth or fifth grade — and using their game consoles.
“I still visit USO airport Centers whenever I travel,” he said.
Perhaps that will be the case for Ryan, Trevor and the six other competitors when they travel to Dallas to face off in person at the New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys Salute to Service game on November 12, 2023. They will compete in the USO-NFL Gaming Trailer, which has allowed the Gaming program to benefit service members even further by providing internet connectivity on the go and in remote locations.
“I’d like to say thanks to the USO for providing us with video games and events … something where soldiers can get out of their rooms and have something to do,” Trevor shared, and Ryan expressed his gratitude to the NFL.
“I’m so appreciative for the Salute to Service and the NFL in putting all their effort towards this. The Super Bowl is a prestigious event,” Ryan said. “Anybody is lucky to make it to one in their lifetime.”
The Lasting USO-NFL Partnership
The USO and the NFL have partnered for more than half a century to express gratitude to the people who serve in the U.S. military and to bring communities of fans and supporters together to give more than thanks to the military. Leveraging American football as the cornerstone of the partnership, the USO and NFL honor, empower and connect service members and military families. Through support of USO Center expansions, holiday programming and a variety of other events and activations, the NFL helps to deliver sports, entertainment and gaming to service members across the world. Since 2007, NFL players and coaches have traveled on USO Tours to 28 countries to meet and thank more than 110,000 service members.
The finals will air on the USO Twitch channel at Twitch.tv/theUSO.
Follow USO Gaming on Twitter (@USOgg) to learn more about program updates and events.
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