The U.S. Navy has new guidance for sailors streaming on Twitch aimed at deflecting criticisms from audience members, characterizing questions about U.S. war crimes as "personal attacks."
When a streamer is asked “what’s your favorite U.S. war crime,” the Navy encourages sailors to avoid the question. “I’m here to play games,” new documentation from the Navy suggested sailors say. “I have no interest in engaging in personal attacks.”
The suggested response is part of a presentation on “Maximizing Esports Streams.” Motherboard asked the Navy for a copy of the training materials after On the Media reporter Micah Loewinger posted excerpts on Twitter. The 18 slide presentation is full of advice for Goats & Glory, the Navy’s esports team, on how to deal with problem audience members while it streams.
“Divisive comments and personal attacks have increased during live esports streams," the presentation states. "The offensive rhetoric is frustrating, painful, and impacting the team’s ability to engage positively with fellow gamers. We commend our team members for their efforts to deal with these challenging situations. Need to take a collective look at the techniques developed to help navigate these types of disruptions and violations.”
Facing dwindling recruitment numbers amid COVID-19, the Pentagon has increasingly moved its recruiting efforts online. The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard all stream on Twitch and it’s not going well.
The trouble for Goats & Glory started when activists and trolls began watching their streams and asking Sailors uncomfortable questions about where they work. “What’s your favorite U.S. war crime?” became a favorite question to ask. At first, the Navy responded by banning anyone who asked the question, a possible violation of the first amendment.
Now, the Navy’s advice to its streaming Sailors is to ignore it and keep playing. “While difficult, the best approach is to simply ignore disrepute individuals,” the slides said. “Situation will escalate if you engage with someone who is there only to disrupt…control your reaction and convey a sense of Navy calm.”
According to the slides, Sailors should learn to draw attention away from chat and back to the game. “Reference anything relatable/ funny/ engaging that will pull attention away from the chat and back on you,” the slides said. “Create a go-to list of topics to pull from when you see something in the chat that frustrates or angers you: movies, which consoles you prefer, pop culture, etc. Create a relationship with your viewers based on your own experience and personality.”
The Navy understands that sometimes, a streaming Sailor is going to respond to the criticism. “If you must respond, attempt to use one of these four general responses,” the slides said. The suggested responses include:
“I am here to hang out with people like me who love gaming. If you want to know more about my life in the Navy, I am happy to discuss. But I will not speak on behalf of others.”
“I understand that some people here oppose the military and have no interest in a Navy career. But for those who are curious about what it’s like to serve, let’s talk.”
“If you have concerns about Navy policies or actions, I suggest you contact the Federal Elected Officials from your state.”
“I’m here to play games. I have no interest in engaging in personal attacks.”
The presentation emphasized making the stream as personal as possible. It advises Sailors to transition any conversation to a discussion of Navy life. “Esports provides a compelling way for the Navy to connect with Gen Z and make Sailors and Navy life more relatable,” the slides said.
According to the Navy, the slides were developed in July this year and presented to its streaming sailors by its “Esports Officer in Charge” or VMLY&R, the marketing agency the assisting the Navy in developing its esports team.
The Navy also provided Motherboard an updated copy of its “Twitch Guide for Streamers,” a training document from the Navy’s Recruiting Command that outlines the basic goals of the program and best practices for streaming Sailors. This updated version, like its original, contains the line “everything done on social media should be aimed at making connections between prospects and recruiters.”
”It's all very pathetic, really, and demonstrates what a colossal waste of resources the U.S. military is”
Motherboard asked the Navy, once again, if Goats & Glory is a recruiting effort. “The purpose of the Navy’s esports team is designed for outreach and awareness, and our team members are Navy Sailors,” Bollinger said in an email. “Everything we do at Navy Recruiting Command is in support of maintaining an all-volunteer force. While these Sailors are not recruiting, their efforts are designed to increase awareness of Navy opportunities, which we hope will help our recruiting efforts.”
“It's all very pathetic, really, and demonstrates what a colossal waste of resources the U.S. military is,” Jordan Uhl, a progressive activist who popularized asking about war crimes, told Motherboard in a Twitter DM. “They keep doubling-down on this failed experiment and creating more problems for themselves. From fake giveaways to violating users' First Amendment rights to racist jokes on stream, the entire effort has been an unbelievably pathetic carnival act. Instead of just changing course, they stubbornly charge forward and somehow expect different results.”
Goats & Glory hasn’t streamed in over a month, after one of its Sailors streamed Among Us with friends who joked about the nuclear bombing of Japan and used a racial epithet as their screen name in mid-September.
“We have 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,” Command Lara Bollinger of the U.S. Navy Public Affairs Office told Motherboard after the event. The Navy has not returned to streaming since.
The Pentagon’s venture into esports was a public relations disaster long before the Navy took a break from streaming. The Navy maintains its not recruiting on Twitch, but it’s handbook—including an updated version the Navy sent Motherboard—seems to tell a different story. Both the Army and the Navy have skirted legal trouble for banning problem viewers from its Twitch chat, a possible violation of the first amendment. And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attempted to pass legislation that would prevent the Pentagon from spending money to stream on Twitch.