Connecting in the great frontier
Sean Latham of Post 28 and Laura Dean of Post 1 flank participants in the American Legion video game tournament at University of Alaska Anchorage's eSports lounge in June, the first of its kind. (Photo via Laura Dean)

Connecting in the great frontier

Depending on the method of transportation, the distance from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seattle varies from just under 1,500 to just under 2,500 miles – a lot of distance for a plane, car or legs to cover. But the internet can bring people together wherever in the world they are.

The American Legion’s recent focus on e-gaming supports the organization’s priorities on everything from suicide prevention to membership recruitment. And it’s gaining traction at Legion posts in Alaska. Below, Laura Dean, former adjutant of Jack Henry Post 1 in Anchorage, talks about how her post and others are establishing a new culture for a new age.

Where did the inspiration for taking this on come from? How much pre-existing gaming enthusiasm was there in your post family? The initial idea came from California’s Ronald Reagan-Palisades Post 283 and Andre Andrews, who a couple of our post members met as well as visiting the Regiment Gaming booth, at the national convention in 2021. We were all Persian Gulf and post-9/11 veterans, and the discussion had already been started about things Alaska Legion posts could provide beyond a restaurant/bar. When we heard the research of how video games can help reduce suicide and depression, it became a no-brainer to champion it. We took the idea back to Post 1, wrote a resolution supporting it and creating our own Video Game Committee, and brought it to our department convention that spring. At this point, other posts in Alaska had also been looking at how to pursue gaming. For example, Post 13 in Sitka hosts weekly tabletop game nights. Post 28, which is located in Anchorage like Post 1, was also interested in video games.

Our post took our idea and started socializing with our members and community contacts to figure out how to pursue this in Alaska. Nuvision, a regional credit union, sponsors Post 1’s Memorial Day BBQ and loved the idea of using video games to combat suicide, so they made a donation in support of it. Post 1 then partnered with Post 28, the Wounded Warrior Project-Alaska, Stack Up, the Stephen Cohen Clinic and University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) to host the first American Legion video game tournament in June at UAA’s eSports lounge. Next, Post 28 hosted a booth for Stack Up and Regiment Gaming at their AlaskaFest event, which Post 1 volunteered to help run.

Post 1 had now received a grant from GCI, a local telecommunications company, to further the video game efforts. Along with Post 28, we plan to host more tournaments over the winter, including competitions between our local high school eSports teams and veterans. Eventually, both posts hope to have their own eSports lounges in their buildings, and to figure out a way to help Alaska posts in more austere locations participate too (particularly due to internet connectivity issues).

What is the process of getting equipment installed? What have been the costs so far? Verizon got wind of our efforts and donated a new Xbox to Post 1, which we will be installing with one of our TVs in our meeting room. A member also donated an old Nintendo Wii as well. Eventually, for our eSports lounge, we hope to install four gaming computers. We have worked with Regiment Gaming to create a gaming PC buildout that comes to approximately $2,500, including the desk and chair, and we are actively fundraising to purchase that equipment.

Post 1 has also identified that our internet infrastructure needs to be upgraded in order to support quality video gaming. In total this will cost approximately $11,000 to complete, mostly due to installing coaxial outlets throughout the building.

E-gaming naturally takes a lot of relevance out of people’s physical locations. But have you found that living in a more isolated part of the country/world has made connecting online easier than it would be for someone in, say, New England?

I wouldn’t say it necessarily makes it easier, but it definitely augments our connection to the world. Due to our location, Alaskans tend to have a very strong local community. E-gaming provides another venue for people to connect and, perhaps, find the support they need for whatever issues they have going on. Studies conducted by WebMD and reviewed by Dan Brennan, M.D., have proven this; video games increase the sense of community and belonging, rather than decrease it as we were told growing up.

Have you personally encountered any instances of people finding new relief from their symptoms in gaming?

Yes. One veteran has moved to a new job in an isolated part of Alaska, away from their established support network. They are using gaming for distraction, mental stimulation and connection with that support network. Another veteran uses video games as a way to check in on their nephew, who struggles with depression.

What should a post looking into this be mindful of, especially in terms of potential problems?

It’s not simply installing a computer or Xbox and buying a couple of games, though that can be a good start. E-gaming and eSports are incredibly diverse, so we definitely recommend asking your membership what types of gaming they would like. For example, Sitka Post 13 found that tabletop gaming was a larger draw than video games for the time being, so they put effort there. At Post 1 it’s video games, so that’s what we’re focusing on.

You’re also going to run into issues combating the stigma that Legion posts are old, dark and dank. Consider partnering with a local eSports lounge in the beginning to draw people in (and reduce initial costs), then try bringing them into your post. Another benefit of partnering is that you don’t have to provide in-house tech support too.

Finally, start creating relationships with companies and organizations that already run video game tournaments. Each game is going to be a bit different about how to run the tournament, and it gets exponentially more complex if you want to hold a geo-diverse tournament. They should already have the know-how, which will reduce headaches all around (plus the volunteer manpower!).

Are there plans to expand in Alaska, beyond Post 28?

Yes! Post 1 and Post 28 hope to figure out the “secret sauce” for Legions in Alaska so we can share that information with all our other posts. We hope to figure out how to hold tournaments so our posts can compete against each other, and we can have veterans competing all across the state! Given how big Alaska really is, this will be a super-cool feat to achieve.