US army recruiters, prevented from face-to-face contact with prospective soldiers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, have deployed a new specialist squad to take the recruitment process online – by fighting in Call Of Duty (COD) tournaments.

The squad’s full-time job is to organize and take part in large-scale competitions involving the popular first-person shooter video game that can go on for several weeks.

And recruiters say they’ve had more success in attracting prospective recruits than by using more traditional recruitment methods, such as going into schools and attending fairs.

The pandemic put a stop to face-to-face contact between recruitment officers and those interested in signing up, and this has led to the army falling behind in its annual target of 70,000 new recruits.

The army hopes its gaming squad will go some way to make up the numbers. The squad is made up of serving soldiers, and even includes a member of the elite Green Berets. The troops make up the new Army Esports Team, which travels the country to compete full time in tournaments, The Wall Street Journal reports. Other similar units have been formed within the Navy and Air Force.

In the first half of this year, the team generated a list of 13,000 potential recruits, defined as people who leave contact details and agree to be contacted by a recruiter.

Recruiters say gamers represent a good pool of people likely to suit the army’s requirements because video games are now so popular and are played by a wide cross-section of the public. This means gamers can potentially perform many of the very varied tasks in the army from mechanic to front-line infantry.

“We need to reach youth where they are, which is online, on social media, playing e-sports,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of the Army's recruiting command told The Journal.

It’s not the first time US forces have gone online to attract recruits. In 2014, the US Navy, faced with a decreased recruitment budget, launched a highly successful puzzle-solving game on social media to attract potential cryptologists, a particularly niche pool.

The Navy found, as it had suspected, that the brightest cryptology minds could not resist trying to crack what appeared to be the impossible-to-solve puzzles in Project Architeuthis.

Back in 2018, Manpower, the global employment agency, also leveraged younger generations’ love of gaming when, in Norway, it treated gaming skills as desirable transferable skills for employers. 

Sourced from The Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff