At first glance, videogames might seem antithetical to the spirit of Scouting. They’re often played alone, inside, in front of a screen.
But a recent event put on by Troop 12 of Clinton, Miss. (Andrew Jackson Council), suggests that maybe it’s time to take another look at gaming — especially as the pandemic forces Scouts to find creative ways to spend time together, even when apart.
At Troop 12’s inaugural videogame tournament last month, Scouts strengthened friendships, showed off their creativity and had a ton of fun.
“We are a very active camping and outdoors troop, and we certainly wouldn’t replace that,” says Scoutmaster Dan Fuller. “But it was nice to provide Scouts with an outlet for another side of their interests. In our Minecraft design competition, for example, we had some great examples of Scout engineering and creativity. When done intentionally, gaming can be a great social activity, as I think our event showed.”
Life Scout Owen McCleese agrees.
“It’s a fun and easy activity that can get the whole troop involved,” he says. “It can help the troop grow together.”
The idea for the tournament originated where all great Scouting ideas should: with the Scouts themselves. The Troop 12 patrol leaders’ council, or PLC, was looking for inventive ways to enliven the troop’s annual holiday party.
Instead of merely moving that event to Zoom because of COVID, the Scouts realized that multiplayer videogames would allow them to spend time together in an enjoyable but safe way.
After seeing how well it worked, Fuller contacted Bryan on Scouting to share his troop’s story.
“I thought other troops might be able to do something like this this winter, while we’re waiting to resume outdoor meetings,” he says.
During the planning process, Fuller says he forced himself to stay on the sidelines and let the Scouts do as much of the work as possible. He purchased the necessary gaming subscriptions or extras (like Minecraft maps) but otherwise stayed out of the way.
“The PLC divided the tasks and assigned Scouts to run each game,” Fuller says. “The Scouts in charge of each game developed their own tournament format and decided how to run each of those events.”
Fuller saw that when you give Scouts the freedom to plan something themselves, they’ll score the maximum amount of points — even when obstacles arise.
“I was very impressed with their ability to adapt on the fly,” he says. “When we had some technical problems getting the initial streams started, the Scouts stepped up and improvised solutions to keep everything rolling.”
Level by level
Here’s how Troop 12 did it. Would something like this work in your pack, troop, crew or ship? Youth under 13 need to get parental permission before signing up for any games that require personal information.
- Get input: The PLC polled the Scouts in Troop 12 to ask what multiplayer games they’d recommend for the tournament.
- Select the games: From that list, the PLC selected the games to use, making sure to choose games available on a variety of platforms: Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PC and mobile. The lineup included Minecraft, Brawlhalla, Jackbox and Among Us. (All games were rated E, E 10+ or T.)
- Test the tech: “Our biggest area of improvement would be to get the PLC together earlier to test all of the games and streaming before the event,” Fuller says. “All of our testing was just with one or two people. It was a little different when everyone logged on at once.”
- Deliver the goods: The day before the tournament, leaders in Troop 12 crisscrossed around town delivering “tournament supply kits” to each Scout’s home. These were left on the doorstep to ensure the deliveries were no-contact. The kits were not to be opened until the tournament started. Inside, the Scouts found two bottles of Powerade, gamer-friendly snacks like Doritos and Sour Skittles, and party glasses and hats.
- Start the show: During the event, Troop 12 Assistant Senior Patrol Leader Owen McCleese kicked things off and told everyone to open their supply kits. Properly fueled, the Scouts started to play their chosen games.
- Include everyone: To give the event a “gaming tournament” feel, rounds were streamed live on a private Twitch channel available only to authenticated members of the troop.
- Award prizes: All Scouts who won at least one round of any game were entered to win a prize. The loot included Scouting essentials like windproof camping matches, patches and books about camping.
- Roll with the punches: “I think going into the event with a flexible attitude is key,” Fuller says.
Life Scout Blake Little, who organized the Minecraft competition, has some advice of his own:
- “Design the games in a way that will be fun for players of various levels of experience.”
- “Choose games that the entire troop can participate in — or divide the troop among several games so that everyone is participating.”
- “Develop a system to keep track of who won specific events.”
And how does he feel about Scouting and gaming coexisting?
“While videogames should not take up a Scout’s time completely, videogames can be used as a great team-building activity,” he says. “They can provide interaction between Scouts, especially when social distancing situations make that difficult.”