Staff Sgt. Jarrod Stegall has been a “Street Fighter” most of his life.
In August, he earned the right to slug it out with the best of them – not in a back alley or MMA tournament – but during an event in which nimble button jabs activate lethal punches and kicks from preselected fighters in the virtual world of video gaming.
The 30-year old Quartermaster School instructor said he was wowed taking in the spectacle while competing at the TwitchCon19 event that took place in San Diego Sept. 27-29.
“The energy was unreal,” said Stegall, describing the convention floor packed with thousands who came to partake in the online E-sports and streaming event. “Especially during the tournaments, people were fixated on the screens, cheering us on and pumping us up. We fed off the energy.”
Stegall earned the right to compete in the Army Entertainment E-sports Championship Finals held at TwitchCon after winning an Aug. 15 qualifier at Fort Lee’s Warrior Zone. At that event, he was more adept than 120 troops competing in the legendary video game “Street Fighter.”
“It was unbelievable for me … because I’ve never competed in a ‘Street Fighter’ tournament,” said Stegall, noting he has tried his hand in other video game competitions. “I didn’t think I was all that good to begin with. The proof is in the pudding as they say.”
Stegall went on to earn fifth place out of a pool of 16 Soldiers representing garrisons all over the world. Sgt. Dominic Ramirez from the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, Presidio of Monterey, Calif., placed first. The National Guard and Army and Air Force Exchange Service funded the trip and awards for the competing troops.
Remembering there was much to like about TwitchCon, Stegall said he particularly loved the fact everyone there was all about gaming.
“They just enjoyed the games and nobody was judging anybody,” he said. “It was really something to see.”
TwitchCon draws more than 50,000 fans annually, according to its website.
During the “Street Fighter” competition, Stegall said strategy and game knowledge were critical. Factors include knowing the capabilities of each fighter, spacing, understanding how long it takes to recover from hits, and knowing how and when to use punch and kick combinations.
“There are a whole bunch of tactics and techniques in this game,” he said. “It’s technical.”
Stegall should know. The Joliet, Ill., native said he has been playing “Street Fighter” since he was 7 years old. He is part of a generation of mostly males who grew up with gaming, testing their skills against players from all over the world.
“It’s outstanding,” said Stegall of his online competitors and friends. “You can think you are the best, but then you might meet that other dude (who’s better). The people you play against never downplay your skills. They will coach you and try to help you on the side.”
Stegall said the gaming community is mostly comprised of casual players – those who use it for social interaction – and others who thrive on being the best. “It’s just that drive to play someone better than you; to see how you stack up against the world.”
The Army Entertainment Division – part of the Installation Management Command’s Family and MWR Directorate – recognized years ago gaming’s potential for growth as a leisure activity and sport, said Megan Trexler, sponsorship and advertising manager for Fort Lee’s FMWR program. Trexler was instrumental in the elevation of Army E-sports while previously assigned to Alaska. She said troops have gravitated toward gaming for various reasons.
“Through a lot of conversations with Soldiers, both informally at the garrison level and formally through surveys from our headquarters, we found that most of them are gaming,” she said. “It’s what they use to combat their PTSD or high stress situations. … So, the need was there, and it was the demand that was coming straight from our active duty Soldiers.”
That was four years ago. Since then, gaming events have taken place at the installation level all across the Army. AED’s efforts culminated with its participation in the TwitchCon tournament.
Gaming’s burgeoning move forward has also caught on at the Department of the Army level. In late 2018, Army Recruiting Command formed a gaming unit intended to support recruiting efforts. The Army E-sports Team, as it is called, numbers about 30 Soldiers. Members travel the country performing in the same manner as the Golden Knights Parachute Team and Army Marksmanship Unit. Their mission is to connect with America’s enlistment-eligible population and get them to consider military service as a possible career option. Staff Sgt. Michael Showes, previously a Wheeled Vehicle Recovery Course instructor here, was among those who qualified for the team (search for Soldier’s name at www.fortleetraveller.com to read more).
Another boon to the Army gaming community is its “Discord” networking group. It counts a community of 8,000 active duty and reserve component Soldiers, family members and veterans.
“The Discord server is a hub where Soldiers congregate for scrimmages, tournaments and fun play,” said the AET’s Sgt. 1st Class Chris Jones. “It has channels for every game that’s being played, along with rooms to chat and find new people to play. This Discord is open to the public and is the first and only verified military Discord server.”