Controversial Marketing on Twitch: the US Military
October 13th, 2021
By: A.J. Gastelum
The United States Military is one of the most controversial members of Twitch. Their professional esports teams stream live gaming content played by active recruits. Internal documents report that the military’s criteria for such a position are nearly identical to that of other official recruiter positions, and additional financial resources have been pushed towards live streaming programs as recruitment levels decrease. Members of the US Military have said that this presence is part of the bigger picture marketing they do in targeting the 17-24-year-old male demographic that see the bulk of US military recruitment efforts. The US Army Twitch account has linked donation requests and fake giveaways to recruitment forms, resulting in temporary pauses on streaming due to backlash. All US Military channels play first-person shooters nearly exclusively, a POV style of shooting game. This has been alarming to fellow streamers, advocacy groups, and members of Congress, who have cautioned greater care from Twitch in preventing “predatory” recruitment behavior toward younger children.
Twitch Interactive was bought by Amazon in 2014 for $970 Million USD and was merged with several other streaming platforms to roll it out as the Amazon subsidiary it is today. It has always been a gaming dominant streaming platform, with popular streamers playing games with a face camera as they talk to their chat. Each channel is individually responsible for audience attraction and retention, and thus streaming is a unique individual “product.” The US Army, Airforce, Navy, and National Guard have all had Twitch channels, although the US Airforce has since left Twitch.
Growth and Controversy
The Military has fended off questions from multiple news organizations, saying that they are not trying to recruit young people, but rather trying to be relatable. The Airforce explained that they were catering to existing recruits who were interested in esports and that it was merely a venture into a growing industry that had recreational usefulness for recruits. Regardless, the growth has continued. The US Army has been particularly active on Twitch, partnering and donating to massive gaming organizations such as NRG, resulting in many popular signed players hosting a permanent banner on their screen as an ad for the US Army. Some branches have also partnered with Twitch to privately boost their streams to the suggested front page, gaining more viewers and followers.
Despite thousands of viewers watching their channels, the Armed Forces have also had to deal with anti-military sentiment in their chats. Activist @JordanUhl was banned for bringing up war crimes in the US Army’s chat and linking Wikipedia articles on various US war crimes, raising the legal ramifications of an official federal account banning content. This was compared to the official presidential Twitter account blocking activist agencies that criticized the Trump administration, a decision that was eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court. Many other people have been banned for similar behavior such as bringing up PTSD and veteran treatment. Claims have been filed on their behalf by activist organizations such as Knight First Amendment Institute.
Different Internal Stances
While the US Army has the biggest digital following, the other branches do not have identical stances on video games and the use of e-sports teams as the face of their branch. The Marine Corps currently does not host streaming content on Twitch:
“With the Marine Corps brand, we are very strategic in how we activate that brand and how people interact with it,” Capt. Michael Maggitti, a spokesman for the 8th Marine Corps District, told Military.com in May. “It could be some people’s first time engaging with the brand, and it’s a very serious decision to serve, and there’s concerns over gamifying what we do and the translation between video games and actual military service.”
The Military continues to use Twitch as a platform for their recruitment, despite measures proposed by Congress last year to push back against the organization's marketing of gaming as a recruitment method. Last year, Representative Ocasio-Cortez proposed a ban on using military funds to “maintain a presence on Twitch.com or any video game, e-sports, or live-streaming platform.” This was largely due to the growing concern of the age ranges affected by such streaming and marketing, as children from the ages of 13 are heavily active on Twitch. The measure was defeated by a large majority but raised attention from fellow streamers and members of congress towards how the US Military is pursuing recruitment.
AJ Gastelum is one of the Co-Content Directors this semester. He is a sophomore at NYU Stern studying Marketing with a minor in Studio Art. Check out his vertical on Digital Marketing!