The Dutch Military Enters the Esports Scene

By Luuk Kuiper

Collage by Emma Kappeyne van de Copello

At the end of January this year the Dutch Ministry of Defense started a new recruitment campaign ‘Defensie Esports’ (Defense Esports). The Ministry has built a team of active soldiers to compete in tournaments within the popular esport Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). Moreover, they have created a youtube channel documenting the progression of the team and are hosting community nights on Twitch every Friday. The team manager of the CS:GO team, Lieutenant Desmond Opmeer, told AD that he sees Defensie Esports as “the perfect way to connect Defense with the gaming youth.” 

The Ministry’s move into the esports scene is not surprising as other governments have made similar commitments. The US Airforce sponsored Cloud9, a CS:GO team, from 2018 until 2019 but also the Electronic Sports League (ESL) event this year. Though the move is not unprecedented, it is still interesting why Dutch Defense chose to enter esports instead of a traditional sport. 

Luc Haen, a spokesperson for The Ministry of Defense, notes that there is little difference between traditional sports and esports. They both share characteristics such as focus, team spirit, and perseverance. However, in traditional sports, it is much more difficult to generate a wide reach. On the contrary, in this era of digitization, esports is a fast-growing phenomenon occupied by an extensive demographic. The Ministry saw that they had an opportunity here, “In that world, we, as Defense were barely visible, whilst a large part of our target group is located there.”

The wide reach that esports has is a clear attraction for the Ministry. Yet, they do not seem to have a clear target: “[our target group] is very broad, as we are looking for people of all educational levels and almost all disciplines. And since fans of esports and gaming do not form a homogeneous group that match is quickly made.” However, this extensive demographic that they can reach comes with its faults. That is, video games are played by people of all ages, CS:GO is no exception. Although CS:GO has an ESRB rating of 17 years of age, the game attracts many preadolescent children. Due to CS:GO being free to play since the end of 2018, and steam, the platform on which the game is playable, not verifying or even ask the age of its players. This raises the question of whether the Ministry realizes that children are also targeted by their campaigning effort and if it is desirable to campaign an army career to that age group. 

The Ministry of Defense states that in the Netherlands it is legal to enroll in military training from the age of 17. Pre-adolescents are not their recruitment target, however, teens in their graduation year of high school are. To avoid targeting teens under the recruitment age, The Ministry tries to “match the targeting on social media to the right age group.” They, however, cannot ensure that their campaigns are not viewed by pre-adolescents, due to the fact that they are available on open platforms like Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitch. Then reiterating that they don’t focus on those age groups. “Why should we? This is not only prohibited by law, but they are not a recruitment target and therefore they do not contribute to our recruitment objectives.” 

The Ministry does little to provide information to interested citizens through the Defensie Esports campaign. The Ministry notes here that: “What we mainly want to achieve with this [campaign] is to have more visibility within this target group and offer an accessible way to come into contact with our soldiers.” This shifts the responsibility of informing onto their website. The website provides a lot of interesting concrete statistics, for example, a very thorough budget breakdown. However, statistics or extended information about the risks that come with a career in the military are not on the website. This raises the question if this is intentional and when should such information be mentioned to new recruits. 

In a telephone interview, senior spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, Klaas Meijer explained the difficulty of representing risks in concrete statistics, noting that it is heavily dependent on what and how many missions the army is actively participating in. Information about the risks of joining the military is, instead, brought up in later stages of the enrollment process, for example on information days. The Ministry recognizes that awareness of the risks amongst recruits is important and notes that it is also important to The Ministry itself. “[It would] cost us a lot of money if we were to hire people who would drop out later in the process.” Information about risks is not disregarded, instead, it is moved to the later stages of recruitment. This follows the format they use for their campaigns: “The art of a good campaign is that you first make people enthusiastic and captivated, and then later on in the process you tell people more about all sides of the work. So that people can ultimately make a well-considered choice, the person benefits from that, but we as an organization also benefit from it.”

The Dutch military has a recruitment goal of four thousand people per year, in order to maintain their current military size because life long army careers are rare; the average army career lasts only three to nine years. Due to the end of conscription and the closing of army barracks in most cities, the Dutch military has a decreasing conventional presence in society. To counteract this, they are working on creating a strong online presence. Their move into esports is just one of the few ways they are adapting their recruitment approach to stay in the public eye. 

–All communications with The Ministry were translated by Luuk Kuiper.–

Author: Luuk Kuiper

Physics student at Amsterdam University College

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