For as long as video games have existed, there have been fed-up mothers yelling at their kids to put down the controller and get back to their homework. As mom loves to remind us, "no one will ever pay you to play video games!" Well, we hate to disappoint you, ma, but for the last decade or so, there have been plenty of gamers who make a living enjoying their hobby.
As foreign as it may sound to some, there are people who are so good at video games that others will tune in (and even pay) regularly to see them compete, just like a traditional sports player. Today, we refer to this competitive gaming as "eSports." This concept is slowly gaining traction, but just like any other idea, it's been met with criticism from people who don't understand that if enough are willing to pay money for something, it's a feasible business model.
Now, the world of eSports may have just gotten the validation it needs from a brand people trust. Cloud9's Counter Strike: Global Operations team has been officially sponsored by the United States Air Force.
Video game tournaments are nothing new. Way back in 1972, students at Stanford University competed to see who could get the highest score at Spacewar. In the 90s, Quake tournaments gained recognition around the world and, by 2015, a League of Legends tournament drew in 27 million viewers — seven million more than the highest viewership average of the NBA finals.
But, in a big way, there's one thing missing from eSports: sponsorship from outside the gaming world. The biggest sponsors of eSports have always been AMD, Intel, and, typical, the company responsible for whichever game is being played. Occasionally, you'd find a sponsor from outside the hardware/software realm, including soft-drink companies, a certain adult-entertainment company, and even Audi — but these are typically outliers.
Red Bull has made a huge impact in the eSports world. Seeing as nearly every gamer is addicted to energy drinks, that's an easy win.
This pattern makes good sense in a way. It's easy for sponsors to use gaming events to promote products that are directly applicable to eSports. Do you want to play like these guys? Buy this mouse and keyboard. Do you want to enhance your reaction times? Buy these goofy, yellow-tinted glasses. Do you want to practice late into the night? Chug some of this energy drink.
The sponsors have almost always directly related to gaming — not to a generally huge audience. That is, until the recent sponsorship deal of the Los Angeles-based Cloud9 by the United States Air Force.
"By developing a dynamic partnership with the Air Force, we will be able to deliver extraordinary content that will show fans a totally different side of the team. No one else in the world can put our team into a jet and let our fans watch the sheer thrill come over their faces. It's going to be amazing." says Cloud9 owner and CEO, Jack Etienne.
Starting this week, at the ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier 2018, the Cloud9 uniforms will now proudly sport the U.S. Air Force logo.
The details of the partnership aren't known — but it can be assumed that the USAF has spent more money on getting branded pens dumped into cups at recruitment centers than they did in putting the USAF logo on the t-shirt sleeves of four gamers. Money aside, this is huge news. This means that the United States Air Force has recognized the recruitment possibility in getting exposure in a new, emerging venue.
This offers legitimacy to the world of eSports. This means that a branch of the United States Armed Forces sees the possibility to attract potential recruits out of the pool of people watching eSports events. All jokes about the Air Force aside, younger, nerdy adults are kind of the Air Force's target demographic — and they have been looking into many different avenues to meet recruitment numbers.
Since the Air Force has been pushing heavily for the cyber fields, this partnership makes absolute sense.
"Join the Air Force! Do all the awesome stuff you see in the video games! Totally!"
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)
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