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The Cyber Defense Review

Four Reasons eSports is a Strategic Opportunity for Service Academies

By Maj. Jason Hillman | June 11, 2019

In Martin Scorsese’s 1986 film, The Color of Money, pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) asks Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) if he can make money playing a video game called Stalker. Vincent smirks and replies, “I’ll tell you what I can do off Stalker. Years from now, I can go to West Point. It’s all coming down to video-game reflexes. Computerized tanks. Star Wars. In years, a heavy score on Stalker is a shoo-in at the Point.”[1]


Today, more than 3,000 student-athletes from over 130 schools across the nation participate at the collegiate level in organized video game competitions known as eSports.[2] These institutions are at the tip of the spear in an exciting new environment that provides opportunities for learning, external collaboration, and research. For America’s service academies, there are four specific reasons why eSports is a strategic opportunity worth embracing:

  1. It can reinforce academic, military, and physical program learning objectives, including, but not limited to communication, critical thinking and creativity, ethical reasoning, team building, and resiliency.[3]
  2. It can foster the culture of character growth through competition in the cyber domain.  General Douglas MacArthur was not around for the Internet, much less eSports, but we know his opinion about athletics. “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory.”[4]
  3. It can introduce the relevance of the service academies to a massive audience. To put eSports on a scale, look at the number of viewers. In 2015, ESPN reported how one eSports tournament attracted more than 27 million online viewers, which is more viewers than the Masters, NBA Finals, World Series, or the Stanley Cup Finals could each muster. Even more impressive, when compared to other YouTube categories, gaming “has more followers than news, movies, and education combined.”[5] 
  4. It can prepare future military leaders for the challenges they will face. The battlefields of tomorrow will look very different from today. To plan for success in these new environments, the Department of Defense is investing heavily in the research and development of new technologies like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics. No one knows when we will experience the first autonomous kill or fully autonomous warfare, but if the service academies choose to support opportunities like eSports, they will complement the training that is necessary to transform, fight, and win in that space.

Surprisingly, eSports is a low-cost opportunity that can address or partly address targeted objectives mentioned above. With a little motivation and discipline, any institution can easily repurpose a few computers and a dusty room to start an eSports club that supports their total education experience. The essential personnel needed to start an eSports club at a service academy is the officer-in-charge (OIC) and two volunteer coaches with some gaming experience. The OIC should be expected to supervise practice at least twice a week for 90-120 minutes per session, handle the team’s administrative and financial functions, take the team to organized eSport competitions for the year (up to one competition per month), and possibly serve as a coach during practices and tournaments.

If those reasons are not enough to justify a decision to pick up the game controllers and keyboards, there’s more. Advertisers, celebrities, blue-chip sponsors, and cities are investing heavily as the projected value of the eSports market is estimated to reach $2.3 billion in 2023.[6] In Philadelphia, the 76ers, Flyers, Eagles, and Phillies are all making room at the South Philly Sports Complex for a next-generation $50 million eSports arena capable of seating up to 3,500 fans.[7] In Texas all things are bigger, including the largest dedicated eSports stadium in North America, Esports Stadium Arlington.[8] Imagine an All-Academy or, even better, International Academy eSports Tournament at one of these locations with crowds of diverse teams competing in elite virtual sports or applying the concepts and principles of doctrine and warfighting to strategy games.

Please take note – eSports are not “just games.” It is an iterative process that quickly allows multiple resets with increasing complexity against tougher competitors in different synthetic environments. The day is fast approaching when training simulations and real-world combat scenarios become indistinguishable. The military must ensure the way we accomplish our mission in this space continues to reflect our nation’s values. To that end, the service academies must ensure the military officers that will lead in this space are prepared for it. Failure to take on this space now puts our service academies and the nation’s military at a strategic disadvantage. If this author (not a gamer by the way) had a conversation with a senior leader responsible for the education and training of future officers at a service academy,

I would encourage them to see an eSport event. They can also explore the National Association of Collegiate Esports online at for a better understanding of how this opportunity can support cadet-athlete development and assist strategic leaders with exploring new cognitive mindsets, both of which are necessary for responding to today’s challenges and achieving tomorrow’s strategic goals.

Tags: Esports, Strategic Leadership, USMA, USAFA, USNA, USCGA, NACEsports


Jason Hillman is a major and cyber strategist for the Army Cyber Institute at West Point.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, DoD, or the U.S. Government.


Figure 1 Fusion Arena eSports Arena in Philly (Fusion Arena, 2019)


Figure 2 Inside Fusion Arena (Fusion Arena, 2019)


Figure 3 Fusion Arena Training Center (Fusion Arena, 2019)


Casselman, B. (2015, May 22). Resistance is futile: eSports is massive ... and growing. Retrieved from ESPN:

Collegiete Varsity Esports Programs. (2019, May 25). Retrieved from GAME DESIGNING:

Esports Stadium Arlington. (2019, May 27). Retrieved from Esports Stadium Arlington:

Fusion Arena. (2019, May 26). Retrieved from Fusion Arena:

Jenny, S. E. (2017). Virtual(ly) Athletes: Where eSports Fit Within the Definition of “Sport”. Quest, 1-18. Retrieved from SPORTDiscus with Full Text.

MacArthur's Opinion of Atheletics. (2019, May 25). Retrieved from Bugle Notes: Learn This!:

Scorsese, M. (Director). (1986). The Color of Money [Motion Picture].

The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). (2019, May 25). Retrieved from The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE):

USMA Regulation MA-19-02. (2019, May). Strategic Planning and Institutional Effectiveness (SPIE) Processes. West Point, NY: United States Military Academy.




[1] (Scorsese, 1986)

[2] (The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), 2019)

[3] (USMA Regulation MA-19-02, 2019)

[4] (MacArthur's Opinion of Athletics, 2019)

[5] (Casselman, 2015)

[6] (Collegiete Varsity Esports Programs, 2019)

[7] (Fusion Arena, 2019)

[8] (Esports Stadium Arlington, 2019)

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