The use of gamified war propaganda to play into that myth isn’t new for the US military. The Army developed its own game franchise, America’s Army, which it launched in 2002 at the height of the War on Terror and includes story lines and missions based on real-life skirmishes. Games like Call of Duty whitewash the horrors of war, sterilize the violence, and mask the trauma inflicted on everyone involved.

The e-sports industry has become overrun with military sponsorships and partnerships with different games, e-sports organizations, teams, and even some individual players. The Call of Duty League is sponsored by both the Army and the Air Force. The National Guard recently partnered with e-sports organization NRG.

Instead of running a Super Bowl ad, the Navy opted to redirect those funds toward boosting its e-sports presence. The Navy sponsors ESLGaming and Fandom, two of the largest e-sports organizations in the world, as well as the e-sports team Evil Geniuses, which on Monday announced a larger collaborative effort with its military funder.

The Air Force, NRG, and Evil Geniuses declined to comment.

The Navy also has a partnership with Twitch that grants it prominent placement in the homepage carousel.

“Through our partnership with Twitch, the most popular e-sports streaming site, the Navy has immediate access to millions of 17-to-24-year-old e-sports enthusiasts on the platform to showcase a side of Navy life that viewers may not expect,” Bollinger said. “Viewers are asking our gamers insightful questions, and our gamers are effectively communicating that there is a place for everyone in the Navy.”

None of the military branches or Twitch would comment on paid promotion or how branches might qualify for prominent placement on Twitch’s homepage, an incredibly valuable position thanks to Twitch’s 15 million daily active users. Users recently expressed dismay last month when the Army’s channel was featured in the “Stream With Pride” category despite the military’s history of discriminating against the LGBT community.

But beyond the recruiting mechanism, these nationalistic e-sports efforts disregard the violence that the US military inflicts around the world.

“When tech and gaming platforms think of safety, they likely aren’t thinking about the very real violence predominately Muslim communities will face around the world as their platforms aid in military recruitment,” said Iram Ali, the interim director of campaigns at Kairos, a fellowship program that supports more diverse and equitable leadership in tech. “It was interesting to see Call of Duty want to express support for Black Lives Matter. But what active steps will the creators take to make sure the way the military preys on poor Black and brown kids in recruitment isn’t also happening with the help of their video game?”

This sentiment is complicated by the evolving nature of war, which makes gamers especially valuable. The military has long employed video-game-based training and was expanding its use even before the pandemic. Military personnel operate unmanned drones thousands of miles away using controllers that would be familiar to a serious gamer. A recent study showed that gamers may make better drone operators than even experienced pilots. With the military’s Twitch recruitment strategies, it’s easy to see the beginnings of an e-sports to drone operator pipeline.

“As we think about how automation and media are changing the way we fight wars, it’s concerning to think that children are being given the impression that the military is like a video game,” Hendrix said. “Whether it’s drones or killer robots, the last thing we need is less humanity in war.”