Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Rasins grew up playing video games during the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis era.
Whether it was shooter games, sports games or card games, Rasins liked them all.
By middle school, he was drawn to the “Magic: The Gathering” card game.
“I dabble in all the different genres,” said Rasins, who is now part of the Army’s newest electronic sports team that includes playing video games.
Taking a break from the card game during his high school and college years, Rasins joined the Army about 10 years ago as an intelligence analyst. He was soon assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which deployed after he completed advanced individual training and airborne school.
During his free time, Rasins — who was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division about three years ago — developed an interest in the “competitive mobile scene,” or playing digital games competitively on his phone.
It was during that time that he discovered the live video platform Twitch.
“Once I hit a certain point there, I kind of retired from the mobile, competitive scene,” Rasins said. “And that’s when “Magic: The Gathering Arena,” which is an online version of the card game, was released.”
And “Magic: The Gathering Arena” is the primary game that Rasins will play as one of 16 full-time team members on the Army’s Esports Team. The team falls under U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
In December, U.S. Army Recruiting Command announced it was seeking soldiers for a new Army “esports” team, an initiative that has been in development since September 2018.
Officials said the team was developed to compete at the local, regional and national level, while building awareness and using the members’ gaming knowledge to be more relatable to youth.
“If we are going to be successful in recruiting, then we need to be where young people are — and they are operating in the digital world,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commanding general for U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
Muth said with thousands of soldiers who are competitive online gamers, the team allows the soldiers to connect with younger gamers while also starting a dialogue about what it’s like to serve in the Army.
The online page for the team states its members are not recruiters. Instead, they are part of an outreach team comprised of regular Army and Reserve members who will receive the same pay and benefits as other soldiers of equal rank across the Army.
The team is similar to the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team or the Army marksmanship team, which “create awareness about the Army,” the team page states.
Rasins partnered with YouTube, Twitch and Discord about three years ago, which is one of the reasons he thinks he made the Army Esports Team.
Discord is an application that allows group chats, gaming videos and live streams to be connected on one platform.
A fellow soldier with the headquarters and headquarters company he serves with had attended recruiting school and told Rasins the Army was starting the new team.
“I was like finally. It’s about time the Army does, because I’ve been at it for 10 years now, and I feel like the majority of the people in the Army plays video games,” Rasins said. “It’s a passion that’s held between both the Army and the civilian population.”
An Army representative reached out to Rasins through Rasins’ connections with the online gaming community.
Officials said more than 6,500 soldiers applied to be part of the esports program.
Army officials said a list of the team’s roster will be released in October. They said another Fort Bragg solider — Sgt. David Blose, who is with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade — is also part of the team.
Soldiers on the team will maintain their current military occupational specialty and move to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for a three-year broadening assignment, a spokesman with U.S. Army Recruiting Command said.
The team also will host events with its new gaming semi-trailer, which is equipped with eight gaming stations and allows live competitions to be streamed on its outside screens or online, said Lt. Col. David Eckley, commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command Mission Support Battalion.
“This asset will allow us to connect with over 60% of Americans who play video games in their homes every day,” Eckley said in a June 20 Army video.
Rasins is scheduled to leave for Fort Knox on Sept. 10.
He said he will have to maintain his Army physical fitness, readiness, weapons qualifications and “basic soldiering.”
As a member of the team, his primary game is “Magic: The Gathering” tournaments, where he will compete against civilian, professionally-sponsored teams across the U.S.
Other team members play games like “Call of Duty or “League of Legends.”
Rasins also will help maintain the team’s Twitch live streaming channel.
Rasins said he has participated in a few competitions and outreach events and has fielded questions from civilians.
“So the civilians will ask us questions, ‘Oh you play video games for the Army? How do I get involved with that? What is the video games you guys play?'” Rasins said. “I can answer those types of questions with them, and then if they have any interest in joining the Army, I usually point them toward the recruiters like, ‘Hey this guy knows those answers.'”
Rasins said he’s already seen the team generate hundreds of potential recruiting leads.
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