DVIDS – News – Virtually together
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — During the years of 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak. Throughout this time people around the world were advised to stay within their homes and avoid public spaces and socialization. For U.S. Air Force Airmen and civilians, it was no different. While mission essential personnel were still required to report for duty, the number of personnel within workspaces reduced drastically and face-to-face interactions between coworkers and friends diminished. However, in November of 2020, an organization rose to virtually bridge the social divide between people within the U.S. Air Force – Air Force Gaming.
AFG was created to support the Department of the Air Force’s resiliency and retention efforts by creating a community of people that share a collective love of video games. Later adding U.S. Space Force to the team, in just two years AFG amassed nearly 30,000 participants.
“[AFG] created an inclusive community of Airmen and Guardians across the Air Force [and Space Force] where it doesn’t matter what rank you are, how old you are or what base you’re stationed at,” said Senior Airman Zurich Wieser, Air Force Gaming League senior advisor. “I’ve made friends who are master sergeants through this, and I’ve made friends who are majors through this. All that matters is that there’s a shared love of video games.”
There are two parts to AFG; the AFG community and the DAF Gaming League. AFG is open to active duty, reserve and guard members, veterans, family, DAF civilians and associated groups. DAFGL is the competitive side and is only open to active duty Air Force, Space Force, Reserve and Guard members.
“We have teams comprised of Airmen and Guardians who compete [against other teams] and the winners have opportunities for [paid temporary duty] to compete,” Wieser said. “So, if you think you’re that good, you can represent the Department of the Air Force.”
Even though COVID restrictions are relaxing and people are returning into public spaces, there is still a need for AFG. According to an AFG survey, 86% of Airmen and Guardians play video games. When Airmen and families get stationed at a new installation, AFG provides a community and virtual location to keep in touch with friends and prior coworkers.
While AFG provides a hub for people around the world, many installations have created local communities. The Hill Gaming League was created in October 2020 by Tech. Sgts. Erik Jacobson and Brian Mitchem, Hill Gaming League founders.
“We like to explain to people who really have no idea to look at it as a sports analogy,” said Mitchem. “[AFG is] like your Major League Baseball team, right? But then you have small little minor league teams around. That’s how we like the picture ourselves, we’re like the minor league team.”
According to Jacobson, much like AFG, Hill Gaming League at the time, was created as a way for Airmen to come together virtually during COVID.
“This created a nice central point that allowed anybody from any walk of life on this installation to come together and share a passion in gaming,” Jacobson said. “There are a lot of people that like to game and there’s a lot of people that like the connectivity that comes with it. We are trying to show that the Air Force actually recognizes and values that.”
Hill Gaming League still provides a virtual space for people, but they are also starting to introduce in-person events. There is opportunity for units to build teams and participate in base video game matches as intramural teams. Hill Gaming League also holds game nights where participants can win prizes.
“We hold various types of events throughout the year,” Mitchem said. “Monthly, we’ve established a family game night and then we’ve established doing some type of minor events [and tournaments throughout the year].”
What started as a way to bridge like-minded people during a difficult time, the AFG and Hill Gaming League have flourished into a diverse community. Whether it’s international or at a local scale the Department of the Air Force has a place where video games are more than just video games.
For more information or to sign up for AFG visit https://airforcegaming.com/ and for Hill Gaming League visit their Facebook group at Hill Gaming Leagues – HGL.
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