Power, and potential, of gaming on full display

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Chris Earl founded Regiment Gaming – an online video game community for veterans, active-duty military and their families – as a way to ease his own transition into the civilian world.

During The American Legion National Convention in Milwaukee, dozens of American Legion Family members were able to see up close what Earl said is the power of gaming. It’s something he hopes Legion posts across the country use to draw in younger veterans seeking that same kind of community they developed in the military.

For three days, Regiment had a four-PC gaming station set up in the Wisconsin Center during the convention. It gave those non-gamers in the Legion Family an opportunity to learn more about gaming while interacting with Earl and the other younger veterans with Regiment.

“It's been surreal,” Earl said of the experience. “The youngest gamer we’ve had show up was 8 years old, and we’ve even had a 78-year-old gamer. And they were playing together. It’s just crazy. Everyone’s a video gamer.”

The game stations were provided by Paradox Customs, which started as a hobby for founder/owner Arpit Manaktala but has grown considerably since its inception. Manaktala started Paradox in 2019 as a hobby to build PCs for his friends and peers in the gaming industry, where he competed semi-professionally. But as word spread of his work, his company’s client list began to include a slew of professional gamers and streamers, and celebrities. He ended up quitting his full-time job to focus his attention on Paradox, hiring a staff in the process.

Manaktala had been friends with Earl before Regiment Gaming was founded. When he saw Earl’s company’s growth, Manaktala decided to bring Paradox on board to help sponsor Regiment. Since then, “We’ve kept elevating our game, giving PCs to veterans, to Regiment members,” Manaktala said. “The influx of customers on the veteran side, the Regiment side, has been amazing, and we’ve sort of helped that community.”

For Manaktala, spending a few days at the national convention was “very exciting. I’ve been impressed by the amount of people I’ve been able to connect with … who may be used to game or dabbled. A lot of the younger generation had stories about when they were stationed overseas and were still gaming over there. Their love of gaming has never left, and being able to show them the graphics of today’s single-player games, as well as the fluidity of today’s multi-player games, has really been a good showing for everyone here.”

Both Earl and Manaktala would like to see American Legion posts set up similar gaming PC stations in their own facilities. “We’ve been marking this (gaming) setup as buying it all in … but we can definitely rent these setups to start and get even more proof of concepts like we did at this convention,” Manaktala said. “If it’s a big event the post has planned, we can rent the whole four-PC setup and even be there on site for the event to help facilitate. And that’s what we’re all about. We have training and support, so we can offload most of the responsibilities of maintaining the setup, but also training the veterans themselves on all the setups.”

Earl said the stations are a way to both bolster a post’s revenue and its membership rolls. “Each American Legion post can have these gaming PCs in their (post),” he said. “With all the peripherals and gaming equipment, everything costs less than $10,000. It’s very easy to monetize gaming and make this money back. And a lot of post-9/11 demographic veterans are definitely going to come into these posts.”

Bringing veterans together is why in 2020 Earl started Regiment, which now has well over 17,000 members – all veterans, servicemembers or military dependents.

“A lot of my friends before me, as they got out they felt alone, they felt lost, they felt afraid,” Earl said. “They didn’t really have that camaraderie and community they had when they were enlisted. This is just an amazing way for veterans and servicemembers to stay connected when they get out of service, and keep that camaraderie and community and know everybody’s got your six there.”