The American military is getting big into esports. The U.S. Army has launched its own Twitch channel where members of its team stream Call of Duty: Warzone and interact with users on the site. The channel has videos going back two months, but things got spicy in the chat on Wednesday night when viewers started asking questions about U.S. war crimes.
The U.S. Army esports team’s Twitch channel maintains its own chat rules that go beyond Twitch’s terms of service and community guidelines. Those rules don’t specifically mention asking about war crimes. Regardless, the moderator in the U.S. Army's channel quickly banned anyone who brought up, say, the My Lai Massacre or the Kunduz hospital airstrike.
The game being played, Call of Duty: Warzone, is a tactical military shooter in which highly skilled players can use the weapon white phosphorus (which the U.S. has admitted to using) against opponents as they outrun deadly gas on a modern battlefield.
A video posted to Twitter by esports personality Rod Breslau shows them attempting to ask, "What's your favorite U.S. war crime?" in the Twitch chat before receiving a notification saying their message couldn't be sent due to the channel moderation settings. They changed their question to: “what’s your favorite u.s. w4r cr1me?”
"Have a nice time getting banned, my dude," replied Green Beret Joshua “Strotnium” David, the Army esports member and 12-year veteran on camera.
The U.S. Army esports team became the target of trolling on Twitter on June 30 when its official twitter account used “UwU”—an emoji that symbolizes overwhelming cuteness—and heart emojis when replying to Discord’s twitter account. Seeing a symbol of overwhelming military force act like a teenage anime fan online spurred trolls to turn it into a meme, mock the U.S. esports Army account, and make a game of seeing how fast they could get banned from the team's Discord server.
During the stream, David characterized the viewers reminding others of documented U.S. atrocities as "internet keyboard monsters" and said, "I'm bigger than you."
“I think every post that I do from now on is going to say UwU in it just to flex,” David said on Twitch. “Ya’ll are gonna talk all that crap to my angels on the esports team, the nicest person in the entire world, you little internet keyboard monsters. No, I won’t stand for that. I’m bigger than you.”
Shortly after the exchange, the stream stopped. When it returned, only viewers who’d been following the U.S. Army esports channel for at least 24 hours could post in chat. In a statement, the U.S. Army esports team said that it felt viewers' comments violated Twitch's policies against harassment. "The U.S. Army eSports Team follows the guidelines and policies set by Twitch, and they did ban a user from their account," a representative of the U.S. Army esports team said in a statement. "Team members are very clear when talking with potential applicants that a game does not reflect a real Army experience. They discuss their career experiences in real terms with factual events. Team members ensure people understand what the Army offers through a realistic lens and not through the lens of a game meant for entertainment. This user's question was an attempt to shift the conversation to imply that Soldiers commit war crimes based on an optional weapon in a game, and we felt that violated Twitch's harassment policy. The U.S. Army offers youth more than 150 different careers, and ultimately the goal of the Army eSports Team is to accurately portray that range of opportunities to interested youth."
“This is due in part to the belief that the brand and issues associated with combat are too serious to be 'gamified' in a responsible manner,” Marine Corps Recruiting Command wrote in a document submitted to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services dated January 27, 2020.
VICE reached out to Twitch, but did not immediately hear back.
Update: This article was updated with comment form the U.S. Army esports team.