While bullets are flying overhead, a grenade suddenly lands in your lap, and you have to do everything you can to get away from it. After an intense battle and multiple casualties, you and your companions eventually win the fight. You exchange high-fives as you set down your electronic gaming controls because that wasn’t a real-life battlefield you were just running and gunning on. You were bringing the fight virtually, which is now possible in a menagerie of games such as “Call of Duty,” “Rainbow Six Siege,” “Fortnite,” and more.
However, not all virtual battlefields are devoid of firsthand experience. U.S. Army Green Beret Joshua “Strotnium” David has spent the last 12 years in the military, serving as an Army Ranger, dog handler, sniper, and now as a member of the Army eSports team out of Fort Knox, Kentucky. In this position, David participates in community outreach and provides insight into military life.
Many popular first-person shooter games have branched out into competitive electronic sports, or eSports, which led to a revenue of about $869 million in 2018. By 2022, revenue is expected to balloon to $2.69 billion, and that doesn’t include the total gaming industry revenue, which in 2019 was $43.3 billion. To put that in perspective, the global box office revenue in 2019 was $42.5 billion.
The growth in eSports revenue is due to the growing eSports audience, which is expected to reach 557 million viewers by 2021. This massive audience has led to more mainstream appeal, including the Overwatch League appearing on ESPN and the Army eSports team.
The Army team doesn’t focus on any particular games. Instead, the 16-person team at Fort Knox and others at large — all soldiers or reservists — play the games at which they excel. Those usually end up being the top seven or eight games on the live-streaming service Twitch. David said “Call of Duty” and “League of Legends” are his games of choice, but he started off in the pro-gaming scene with “Halo 2.”
“I was at every MLG (Major League Gaming) event from 2006 to 2008,” David said during a recent phone interview with Coffee or Die. “Twelfth was the highest I ever placed in the ‘Halo’ days. I always played but never won one.”
“I used to think it was weird for people to sit and watch a streamer all day […]. But after I started streaming, I realized that you can be a release for some people, that there’s a personal aspect to it.”
When he joined the military in 2008, David fully dedicated himself to the training and military lifestyle, even when it hurt. He specifically recalled the physical strain of his Ranger training.
“It was hard on your body, but you form a brotherhood,” David said, adding that when it comes to it, you “do your job and help out where you can.”
While he didn’t go into detail regarding his military experiences, David was open about his online persona, Strotnium. The name comes from a 7th grade chemistry lesson where he learned about the element strontium and, being a 7th grader, wanted to make it his own.
“One time I was playing duos on ‘Fortnite,’” David said, “and I matched up with a guy who claimed to be a chemist, and he was so offended that I spelled strontium wrong for my name.”
David started gaming with games like “GoldenEye,” “Perfect Dark,” and “Mario” on the Nintendo 64. Eventually, he ended up with an Xbox, and the rest is history.
“I was always an Xbox guy,” he said. “I mean, now I play on PC and still use an Xbox controller on it.”
David was also into strategic games during his early years in gaming, including “Blizzard’s Starcraft” and Relic Entertainment’s “Age of Empires.”
Since joining the U.S. Army eSports team, David’s eyes have been opened to more of the niche aspects of gaming culture, such as the relatively recent phenomenon of casual players streaming their games.
“I used to think it was weird for people to sit and watch a streamer all day — I mean, I could understand watching a pro player, but someone just hanging out? I don’t know,” David said. “But after I started streaming, I realized that you can be a release for some people, that there’s a personal aspect to it.”
He said that one of the best aspects of being on the eSports team is traveling and meeting different people. He added that he also loves going to the events and sharing what military life is really like.
“You get to connect with so many different people,” David said. “At events, you get to see all different kinds of demographics enjoying the same thing.”
The Discord server was set up for the Army eSports team, and it currently hosts more than 12,000 members. David said it acts as an outreach and gathering spot for individuals interested in the team, active duty, or any other aspects of the Army. The server is open to the public and is home to the tryout section for the team.
“I’m one of the older guys around,” David said, “and I’m new to streaming, but I really enjoy it.”
So much so that he plans to stay in the gaming industry even after retiring from the military.