The U.S. Army Esports Twitch channel has allegedly been using fake giveaways to attract viewers into filling out military recruitment forms, according to a report by Jordan Uhl for The Nation.
The U.S. Army, Navy, and other branches of the military run Twitch channels that feature recruiters playing military-style arcade shooters, like Call of Duty and Apex Legends, all in the hopes of convincing their viewers that the military is a solid career option. And it appears they may be using shady tactics to do it.
The Army's alleged fake giveaways
Uhl said that, in his experience watching the U.S. Army’s Twitch channel, he was repeatedly presented with chat prompts touting a chance to win an Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller, which cost around $200. When Uhl clicked on the prompt, however, the link redirected him to recruitment forms that were completely unrelated to any giveaway.
The forms reportedly provided no other information about the giveaway, such as the odds, the opening and closing dates, or any follow through on the actual prizes. If these claims are true, the Army is not only engaging in unethical behavior, it may also be breaking U.S. laws and FTC guidelines regarding sweepstakes promotions.
Laws in the U.S. are clear about the rules of sweepstakes competitions. The Army is allegedly breaking at least the following regulations:
- Official rules must be posted on your website and be known to anyone who enters the contest.
- You must issue the prize in accordance with sweepstakes rules.
- Alternative forms of entry must be available and no purchase should be required.
- You must state that the sweepstakes is void where prohibited.
- The contest must have beginning and ending dates.
- The contest odds should be provided to entrants.
The U.S. Army’s reported fake giveaway violates all of these rules. But even if we step past the legality of the situation, the forms viewers were directed to allows children as young as 12 years old to sign up, though with the caveat that a recruiter can only contact viewers who are over the age of 16. The U.S. military appears to be recruiting minors into the military via Twitch.
The U.S. military's ongoing use of video games to recruit
The U.S. military’s attempt to use video games as a recruiting tool isn't new. In 2002, the U.S. Army released a game called America’s Army, which was a round-based tactical shooter designed to attract gamers into considering a career in the military. To download that game, players had to provide personal details, including their contact information and home address. Some players who downloaded that game reported receiving unprompted house calls from military recruiters after playing the game, despite many of them being in high school.
More recently, the military has been sponsoring teams and events in the esports space in hopes of recruiting avid esports fans into a military career. ESL North America was partly sponsored by the U.S. military, the U.S Army and U.S. Air Force sponsor the Call of Duty League, and U.S. military branches sport their own esports teams.
But Twitch channels are perhaps the most aggressive of its video game recruitment strategies. Military-style shooters can be fun games to play, but they're not accurate depictions of what the U.S. military does. Nonetheless, recruiters take advantage of attractive and exciting video game designs to hype up viewers into considering a career in the actual military. Recruiters are able to build a rapport with their viewers, answering questions about the military and giving their sales pitch, all while playing video games.
Further complicating the matter, these military recruitment channels also ban any users who criticize the U.S. military, according to Uhl, which creates an echo chamber ripe for the manipulation of viewers who are often as young as 12 years old. Viewers are watching a propaganda pitch, even if they don't realize it.
And since these games are designed to be fun and entertaining, they end up papering over the trauma, violence, and human cost of war. In many ways, Call of Duty and games like it can be used as propaganda by presenting America’s military forces as a protagonist in an unstable world that needs U.S. intervention.
The U.S. has been using video games to recruit soldiers for nearly 20 years. But using fake giveaways to trick people into giving up personal information is clearly inappropriate—and likely illegal.