During a recent stream of Escape from Tarkov in the U.S. Navy’s official Twitch Channel, Machinist's mate First Class Andrew “Saltysn1pe” Crosswhite answered a question from the audience about why the Navy was streaming video games. “We’re here to show that we play video games, literally,” Crosswhite said. “We’re not here to recruit. That is not the point of this.”
According to Navy documents viewed by Motherboard, that’s not true. The explicit point of Goats & Glory, the official esports team of the U.S. Navy is to recruit new Sailors. “Everything done on social media should be aimed at making connections between prospects and recruiters,” the Navy Recruiting Command (NRC) Twitch Guide for Streamers said. The NRC uploaded a PDF copy of the guide to its website and later removed it. Motherboard accessed the document by viewing a cached copy.
“The purpose of the Navy’s esports team is outreach and awareness, as well as to connect young people who may be interested in joining the Navy with a recruiter,” the U.S. Navy told Motherboard in an email.
The U.S. military has stepped on a few rakes lately in the world of video games and streaming specifically. In July, the U.S. Army esports team was streaming on Twitch and started banning users who entered the chat to ask about U.S. war crimes, a decision that the ACLU and other legal experts may have violated the First Amendment. Last week, the U.S. Navy esports team did the exact same thing. In both cases, the U.S. military is trying to tap into spaces where the young Americans it needs to recruit spend their time, but the plan backfires on a platform where users can jump in and speak their mind. The Navy pretends that it's not getting into video games just to recruit people, but its own guide for streamers says otherwise.
“NRC’s established Twitch channel is an established nationally managed social media property, meant to generate awareness of and interest in the Navy and in Navy content,” the NRC Twitch Guide for Streamers said. “This guide provides direction for how designated esports gamers should stream from this national social media account.”
The U.S. Navy’s esports team is run through Navy Recruiting Command and it’s guide for Sailors on Twitch repeatedly mentions recruitment. The document encouraged streaming Sailors to “talk about the excitement of your Navy career. Where has the Navy taken you? What have you experienced because you joined the Navy?”
The Navy’s Twitch guide directs Sailors to talk to viewers about career paths in the Navy. “Gamers utilize skills every day while they compete, sometimes without even realizing it,” the document said. “Detail-oriented and working towards long term goals, problem solvers under time pressures, perseverance in the face of frustration and roadblocks.”
“These are the same skillsets used in fields in nuclear engineering, aviation, special warfare, cryptology and counterintelligence,” the guide said. “The Navy invests in their people. We want them to excel and consider their skills and how that will help create the best possible Sailor. America’s Navy offers the NUKE program [a career path for working on nuclear submarines] —one of the most prestigious careers in the world and only offered when you dive into a career in the Navy.”
In an email to Motherboard, the Navy insisted it wasn’t using Twitch to recruit. “While we do not actively recruit on Twitch or through such streaming platforms, the esports team members are there to answer questions about their experiences in the Navy. If a user specifically asks an esports team member about joining the Navy, that team member will move that conversation to a private message to first find out if the interested user is over 17, and if that user is over 17 then the recruiter will thank them for their interest and refer them to Navy.com where they can talk to a recruiter.”
The Navy’s Twitch guide also comes with specific rules of engagement. It tells streaming Sailors not to engage with content that trashes another individual, celebrity, or brand; content that involves illegal activities; users that appear to be spam, robots, or people trying to sell something; content that is highly political in nature or negative; and “minors or anyone under the age of 13.”
Motherboard asked the Navy how its Sailors could determine the age of an anonymous chatter on Twitch. “It is difficult to determine the age of those that we engage with via online media, such as a Twitch chat room,” it said, then pointed out that Twitch’s terms of service requires users to be 13 to log on. According to the Navy, if a Sailor discovers they’re talking to a minor, they must politely disengage from the conversation. “We must take the user at their word, and if they disclose they are any age under 17 our team members kindly encourage them to stay in school and work hard, and if they are still interested in Navy careers when they are an appropriate age they can ask again.”
When it comes to trolls, the Navy is clear. “Ban trolls,” the guide said. The Navy did not respond to Motherboard’s request for its definition of a troll. Along with trolls, the U.S. Navy is banning anyone who asks about war crimes in its Twitch channel, a possible violation of the first amendment.
Goats & Glory is new to streaming and the U.S. military is new to using Twitch as a recruitment tool. An unclassified Navy memo released on February 26, 2020 announced the creation of the Navy esports team.
“The Navy Esports Team will add to the multi-faceted outreach campaign of [the Commander of NRC] by engaging with prospective Sailors online and at gaming venues,” the memo said. “Centennials [mil-speak for zoomer] are moving into digital spaces for most of their content consumption and social interactions, and the Esports domain is one of the most popular and vibrant online arenas to date. Connecting with future Sailors requires the Navy to be in the same spaces where those future Sailors reside.”
The same day the memo went out, Reuters reported that the U.S. Navy has signed partnerships with Twitch, tournament organizer ESL, esports news site DBLTAP, and esports team Evil Geniuses. “Twitch will develop a six-episode miniseries showing how sailors use skills similar to ones used by professional gamers,” Reuters said.
According to the Navy’s Twitch training documents, “America’s Navy is partnering with the Evil Geniuses’ Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team to help us find more Sailors who can compete in esports.”
A March 25, 2020 press release from Evil Geniuses gave a more detailed account of the team’s partnership with the U.S. Navy. “Following a program that kicked off on March 15, they’ll help field and train a group of highly-skilled Sailors with the help of Evil Geniuses’ world-championship CS:GO squad,” the press release said. “In addition to helping recruit and train new players, a content series will feature the Evil Geniuses’ team immersed in the world of the Navy.”
“The collaboration doesn’t stop there,” the press release said. “Over the next few months, Evil Geniuses and Goats & Glory will team up at September’s TwitchCon event in San Diego. In addition to appearing at the Navy activation space, Evil Geniuses’ team members will play with fans throughout the event, adding Sailors to their squad and broadcasting special Squad Streams live from the event.”
Twitch cancelled TwitchCon due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the planned Navy event won’t go forward. Motherboard reached out to Twitch for comment about the nature of its relationship with the U.S. Navy and the use of its platform as a recruiting tool for the military, but did not hear back.
“Evil Geniuses' partnership with the Navy is best outlined in the press release issued in March,” Evil Geniuses told Motherboard in an email. “Essentially, EG will provide guidance on the formation of the Navy's Goats & Glory roster and content will be produced around that process. Due to COVID-19 the production timeline on that content remains fluid. Per company policy, EG does not disclose partnership terms.”
The NRC Twitch Guide for Streamers includes advice for filling uncomfortable silence. “Feel like you’ve run out of things to say?” it said. “Ask the chat about what they’re interested in learning about the Navy.”