After six months offline, the U.S. Navy has returned to streaming video games. On March 1, the Navy’s Twitch page streamed for a little more than an hour and it was a different kind of video than it had produced in the past. Emotes were allowed but chat was blocked, the feed was slickly produced and hosted by non-Navy personnel, and the team was all women.
The Navy called the stream a bootcamp for its forthcoming “America’s Navy Invitational: Women of Warzone Boot Camp,” which will air on March 8. During the upcoming invitational all female teams will compete for a $10,000 prize pool. The stream had a different feel than the Navy’s previous efforts. Only one of the participants was a Sailor—a Petty Officer Third Class that the stream billed as a new member of Goats and Glory, the Navy’s official esports team.
The stream was a Call of Duty: Warzone training session where the Petty Officer and streamers Holly and erinasimon did basic drops and chatted with a host who managed the show. At the end of the hour long session, the host interviewed Holly, erinasimon and the Petty Officer about Warzone and, in the case of the Sailor, life in the Navy.
The streamers didn’t interact with the audience. Chat was shut down, but emotes were allowed and the chat filled up with salt emojis, horrified faces, and “CurseLit” and “TwitchRaid” emotes which resemble fire and bombs. “We temporarily are allowing only emotes until all our moderators are fully trained, and then we will return to normal chat protocols and enforcing the rules for open chat,” a Navy spokesperson told Motherboard in an email.
The Navy told Motherboard that it’s sticking to small invitationals right now, but will return to “semi-regular streaming within the next few months.
Keeping the chat to emotes only allowed the Navy to avoid the tremendous shitstorm it created last time the military tried to use Twitch to reach gamers. Last year, the U.S. Navy banned a user who jumped into its chat to ask what the Navy streamer about U.S war crimes. The ban got the attention of lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, who wrote in a letter addressed to senior military officials. Following the controversy,
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) even proposed legislation that would ban the U.S. Military from using its funds to stream online. The measure failed during a House vote.
The Navy stopped streaming in September, 2020 when one of the members of Goats and Glory played Among Us with friends and dropped references to a racial slur and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the game. The Sailor was removed from the team, but kept on active duty. At the time, the Navy said it had “paused streaming and are re-evaluating how we vet users who are allowed to play with us on stream in an effort to ensure that this does not happen again.”
The Navy took a break from streaming, but continued to push into the esports space. In the months after it took a break from Twitch, it published a series of YouTube videos where members of Goats and Glory discussed strategy with the esports team Evil Geniuses. The Navy published the last of these on October 21, 2020, more than a month after the incident on Twitch.
For its latest efforts, the Navy has hired the Wiki company Fandom to help manage its tournaments and streams as well as hire outside players like Holly and erinasimon. According to the Navy, Fandom is handling “various digital media advertising,” it said. “Any tournaments, custom content development, or access to esports influencers was included as added value in that paid media purchase. Any compensation for non-Sailor gamers is negotiated between Fandom and those gamers.”
The Boot Camp stream began and ended with the host talking up the event. “March 8 is international women's day,” she said at the end. “For the America’s Navy invitational we’re going to see how this team fits in among the competition. It’s full of pro-female gamers, celebrities and—of course—the members of America’s Navy.”
Correction: This article originally stated that the prize pool was $100,00. That was incorrect, it’s $10,000. Motherboard regrets this error.