Video games and virtual recruiting stations helping Army meet 2020 troop goals

After revamping the way it recruits young people over the past couple years, the Army said it is ahead of schedule to bring in the number of soldiers needed for 2020.

Army Recruiting Command leader Maj. Gen. Frank Muth said the service is more than 2,000 contracts ahead of where it was this time last year.

He attributed that success to the way the Army is adapting to Generation Z — by setting up virtual recruiting stations and pushing advertising heavily in the esports arena. Esports are watchable competitive video game events. The contests’ viewership boasts an audience of 380 million worldwide, according to Newzoo’s esports market report.

Muth told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday the Army is seeing returns on its push to recruit in nontraditional areas like big cities and in the Northeast. He said “from Richmond north” the Army is hitting its goals, with the occasional exception of Boston.

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The Army hit its goal of 68,000 troops in 2019. Eugene Wardynski, Army assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, said the current pace of recruiting is a positive sign for this year’s numbers. The Army does not yet know what its goal will be for 2020 because it has to take into account attrition rates, however, the active duty force is supposed to grow to 485,000 by the end of the fiscal year. The total number the Army needs to recruit won’t be known until the summer.

Muth said if the Army can continue to stay ahead of its goals then it can stagger accessions into 2021 to help with that year’s numbers.

In 2018, the Army fell short of what it called an aggressive recruiting goal of 76,500. The service only managed 70,000 new soldiers that year. However, it caused to Army to pause and rethink the way it is reaching out to 17- to-24-year-olds.

The Army realized playing ads on NFL games, where the average watching age is 55, was not reaching the audience it wanted.

The Army made the push into esports, setting up booths and mobile fencing conferences to text message people in the area about joining.

Muth said the booths have everything from Call of Duty to Fortnite and pit Army soldiers against video gamers in virtual battles.

Muth recounted one soldier who was unbeatable, until a 9-year-old boy challenged him and won. While the Army isn’t in the business of recruiting 9-year-olds, the experience left an impression.

Going to different Army recruiting Facebook sites, visitors have a chance to win video game consoles by texting their information.

The service started reaching out to its soldiers to create YouTube videos that would appeal to younger audiences.

The service also abolished the Army Marketing and Research Group and replaced it with a new organization called Army Enterprise Marketing. Instead of a Pentagon headquarters, the new group is based in the same city as DDB Chicago — the firm that won a $4 billion, ten-year contract in November 2018 to handle the Army’s advertising.

Brig. Gen. Alex Fink, leader of Army Enterprise Marketing, said it’s working with a $160 million advertising budget, but that’s only about 60% of where it needs to be.

Wardynski said the Army is considering moving funds from bonus programs and the size of the recruiting force to boost the ad budget.

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