Last week, ESL North America and Dreamhack announced a deal with the US Navy (opens in new tab) that will see it become an "Official Festival Partner" for Dreamhack events being held at Anaheim and Dallas. This week, ESL announced a separate military partnership for the Intel Extreme Masters (opens in new tab) North America 2020 and ESL Pro League Season 11 (opens in new tab) series, this one with the US Air Force.
The partnership also includes Anykey (opens in new tab), "an advocacy group that supports diversity, inclusion, and equity in competitive gaming," which will launch a Changemaker Program with the Air Force later this year that will recognize and fund community efforts in support of diversity and inclusion.
"We’re honored to welcome the US Air Force as our first Official US Armed Forces partner for ESL tournaments and leagues," ESL senior vice president of brand partnerships Paul Brewer said. "We continue to partner with organizations who share ESL's values and, as a supporter of AnyKey, we are especially excited to work with the US Air Force to fight toxicity in gaming and to drive awareness of diversity and inclusion in esports."
As the Navy is doing at Dreamhack events, the Air Force will operate on-site content at live events and be integrated into livestreamed Pro League events. Timeouts at Pro League and IEM events will also be officially sponsored as, and I am not making this up, "Air Force Tactical Timeouts."
"This partnership provides the perfect platform to generate public awareness about the Air Force and the many opportunities we have to serve. The Air Force has a lot in common with gamers, especially the intellectual challenge that both provide. The Air Force and ESL also greatly value integrity—a core value for each of us," Maj. Ross McKnight, Chief of Air Force National Events Branch at Air Force Recruiting Service, said.
"This partnership showcases the similarities such as teamwork, technology and respect. It can show how young Americans can turn their hobbies and interests in gaming into an Air Force career."
I expressed some reservations when Dreamhack's partnership with the Navy was announced about the presence of active recruiting efforts at esports events, and I'm going to do it again here. We're accustomed to a certain element of militarization in major sporting events—the Army, Navy, and Air Force all sponsor NASCAR drivers, servicemembers hold flags while the anthem is sung, and halftime flyovers remind us that hot, screaming death from the sky can come without warning at any moment—but this kind of direct, on-the-ground appeal to gamers and esports fans feels more concerted and substantial. I wouldn't necessarily call it an alarming development, but I do feel like it's something we should be paying attention to.
ESL Pro League Season 11, and its partnership with the US Air Force, begins on March 16.