Space Force gamer (Air Force Gaming/YouTube)

Esports gaming platforms take off in Air Force

In November 2020, Air Force Gaming made its debut as the global gaming and esports hub for the Air Force. The intramural program for service members in the Air and Space Forces began with the Air Force Gaming League connecting players and teams from the eight U.S. bases under the Air Force Global Strike Command. The league features a Discord community and competitive "pop-up" opportunities for service members; the goal is to eventually cover every base in the Air Force. 

More than 80% of Airmen ages 18 to 35 identify as gamers, playing between four and 10 hours per week, Col. Marc Adair, the Air Force Service Center’s director of operations, said at the launch. Until recently, though, there was no scalable framework or unified competition structure for players in the Air or Space Forces to connect through games.

“Air Force Gaming’s mission is to create an inclusive gaming organization for Airmen of all ages, ranks, and backgrounds,” he said. “We are confident that by establishing a unified hub for community and competition, Air Force Gaming can help promote resiliency, retention, teamwork, and mental well-being for service members around the world.”

To get the network up and running, the Services Center partnered with Rally Cry, a tech company specializing in developing esports infrastructures, to create a customized platform for the Air Force. The unified hub was able to get more than 4,800 airmen and space professionals on the platform within two weeks of launch and now has more than 14,000 active gamers.

Most recently, esports have expanding to Qatar with purpose-built servers in several locations on the Al Udeid Air Base being made available for certain licensed video games as part of GamerNet.

Inspired by Air Force Gaming events and teams in the states, GamerNet was developed by Senior Airman Skylar Harrington, a cyber systems technician with the 379th Expeditionary Communications Squadron. In his free time, Harrington assembled proof-of-concept servers and built a network out of the base’s dark fiber.

Tech. Sgt. Eric Klusman, a 379th ECS cable and antenna specialist, used cabling previously run to the base’s Community Activity Center for the first gaming location and worked alongside the squadron’s network management team to launch the network. Other airmen helped set up the equipment for fiber connections that ensured the local GamerNet only transferred information between specific computers.

“This system cannot integrate with any other sort of network like a commercial internet line, so this is solely a system that exists at Al Udeid AB,” said Master Sgt. Jason Robinson, network control center section chief for the 379th ECS. “We are still navigating some of the challenges that presents, but are very excited to see this system develop now and potentially expand with future rotations.”

GamerNet currently offers access to Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Quake III Arena, and the squadron is looking to expand to more games in the future as the project continues to grow.

Air Force Gaming League, meanwhile, is holding its first championship with players from Europe, Asia and North America, which will be broadcast on Air Force Gaming’s Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube channels.

Currently, Air Force Gaming’s programming is only open to service members and civil servants in the Department of the Air Force with a valid .mil email address. 

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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