Gaming tournament brings Joint Strike Fighters to the competition

People from around the world have made gaming a favorite pastime, and many Airmen throughout the Air Force are among those who enjoy a game or two after a long day.

Whether it’s through console or PC, many service members put countless hours into this digital pastime.

Recognizing the trend, Air Force officials started a Department of the Air Force Gaming League, which led three Airmen from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., to compete in the Apex Legends Tournament.

From left: Senior Airman Isaac Garcia, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant dedicated crew chief, Master Sgt. Joseph Blahut, 56th Maintenance Group wing avionics manager, and Senior Airman Jeffrey Dupont, 308th AMU autonomic logistics information system expeditor, play a video game together Dec. 14, 2021, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The Airmen make up a team they call “Joint Strike Fighters” in the Department of the Air Force Gaming League’s Apex Legends Tournament. Over 400 service members have competed in the tournament across the Air Force, which aims to strengthen teamwork and morale. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman David Busby)

“Gaming is just another outlet for us [Airmen],” says Master Sgt. Joseph Blahut, 56th Maintenance Group wing avionics manager and Gaming League competitor. “The Air Force is hosting this [tournament] as a resiliency outlet for us to use in order to reach out and come together with a common interest. With that comes a sense of camaraderie.”

At Luke, several teams competed in the tournament, but few teams have had the level of success as the “Joint Strike Fighters” team, consisting of Blahut, Senior Airman Jeffrey Dupont, and Senior Airman Isaac Garcia.

“We have a Discord going on, that’s how we all communicate, to know when to hop online and join the lobby that gets set up every Saturday,” said Dupont, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit autonomic logistics information system expeditor. “I definitely think it brings Airmen together. Even when some shade gets thrown, it’s all in good fun.”

There are hundreds of first-person shooter games out there, playable on dozens of platforms, and even more beyond that category. Apex Legends is one of the games used in the DAF Gaming League due to its wide availability and affordability.

“The tournament is for Apex Legends, a free battle royale game,” said Dupont. “You’ve got your standard 20 teams, three players per team. That game can be an emotional roller-coaster sometimes.”

Essentially, it’s an Apex tournament, starting with 130 teams. There are 20 teams in each lobby where you fight for first place and to get as many ‘kills’ as you can to rack up points. Whoever has the most points out of the games that weekend will advance to the next round.

“[We’re here] to have fun, but also trying to go for first place,” Garcia, a 308th AMU assistant dedicated crew chief, added. “It’s great to represent the Air Force through this competition.”

Senior Airman Isaac Garcia, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant dedicated crew chief, handles his controller Dec. 14, 2021 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Dupont is part of team “Joint Strike Fighters,” which participated in the Department of the Air Force Gaming League’s Apex Legends Tournament held throughout the Air Force and its sister services.

The tournament gives Airmen an opportunity to engage in friendly competition across the entire service. Using an online medium allows service members to go head-to-head from all over the globe.

“We’ve prepared through practice throughout the work week when we have time, about 30 minutes to an hour per work day,” said Blahut. “But the weekend is when we get together and practice, working out the kinks and smoothing out communication. Initially we were just looking to have fun. Come to find out, our team meshed really well.”

Joint Strike Fighters has progressed through 188 total teams entered. They are now in the top 20 teams representing the Air Force, with the final round this past Sunday, December 18th, [2021].

“Joint Strike Fighter” placed third in the overall running and placed 8th in the final match-up on Dec. 18, 2021. Their hard work and dedication paid off, not only in ranking within the top 20 teams in the U.S. Air Force, but in their growth as teammates and Airmen.

“Of course, getting the champion spot was our goal,” said Dupont. “For me, it’s really [rewarding] to play against super challenging players. There are some people whose skill level is way above mine. But being able to experience playing against the tougher players helps us grow.”

Learn more about the DAF Gaming League at airforcegaming.com.

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