The United States Navy paid marketing and communications firm Young & Rubicam $2 million to help it with its foray into esports, according to a Vice report.
This included creating landing pages for articles and sponsored content, facilitating Navy content on esports pages, and putting Navy branding on a number of esports-connected elements such as jerseys and advertisements.
The contract was tied into the US Navy's recent efforts to stream on Twitch, which alongside similar efforts from the US Army, National Guard, and Air Force have been widely criticized for faking giveaways, on-stream references to racist slurs and the US bombing of Nagasaki in World War II, and for a time, banning users who mentioned United States war crimes in chat (which the channels have since promised to revoke).
The streaming channels have also been criticized by both audiences and US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called their Twitch streaming as a means of recruitment "irresponsible."
The US Navy denies it is using Twitch to recruit explicitly, though its contract with Young & Rubicam (now known as VMLY&R following a 2018 merger) seems to indicate recruitment as the ultimate aim.
"The Navy needs to identify innovative ways to expand the reach of Navy awareness, and generate interest with today's youth," reads a portion of the documents, which Vice obtained via Freedom of Information Act request. "E-Sports provides an excellent opportunity to reach out to youth who fall into our Creative Innovation pillar, as they are typically our core audience of ingenuity seekers who are interested in technology, gaming, arts and entertainment."
The documents also outline that the firm would track leads originating from the Navy's esports content including webpage views and online applications, measure audience sentiment, and that success would be gauged by how well Young & Rubicam generated leads for potential Navy applicants.