“I’m a 14-Alpha (Air Defense Artillery Officer),” said 1st Lt. Ryan Deopante, an 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade Soldier. “Specifically, right now, i’m in a Patriot unit, so that comprises of being a platoon leader and a tactical control officer. In layman’s terms, I control a ‘megazord.’” (Photo by David Poe, USAG Fort Bliss)

Master of the Megazord: Q&A with 11th ADA Patriot officer, top Army eSports gamer, part I of II

10/17/19, 12:00 AM

By David Poe, USAG Fort Bliss

Earlier this year, Army Entertainment, the National Guard, and Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation teamed up here at Fort Bliss and at garrisons across the Army and the guard to host The Road to TwitchCon Street Fighter V Tournament to find the services’ top gamers. 

This wasn’t just a quality-of-life event; U.S. Army Recruiting Command has been sidling up next to American video gamers, which propel a $25 billion dollar business, second only to China at $32 billion, to find tomorrow’s Soldiers and leaders through on tour recruiting teams to not only meet young gamers from across the country, but also take them on in virtual arenas to encourage conversations about military service. 

After tournament wins here in 2018 and now in 2019, 24-year-old Southern Californian 1st Lt. Ryan Deopante is onboard as part of the early phases of the Army’s new approach to next-gen recruiting efforts. 

With a good gaming record proceeding him, and even as a member of the Army’s elite eSports team, I have to be honest, I still wasn’t that impressed with his gaming accolades, but I’m not tone deaf to the appeal of video games. I grew up with a Nintendo. My friends and I had an NHL 94 team to be reckoned with — go Bruins.

So on my ride over to the Warrior Zone on East Fort Bliss last week to meet Deopante, I tried to imagine who I would see walk through the door. I figured he may be a bit softer than the average warfighter. His eyes a bit narrowed from years of TV screen viewing, coupled with more of an ability to hold a game controller than a good conversation. 

But, I lost that game immediately. 

Graphics by streetfighter.com (official)  The only thing less than large about Deopante was his height. He probably could have ran circles around every Soldier in the Warrior Zone Oct. 10, and followed by shaming them on a pull-up bar. He had a huge smile, and as we talked over black Starbucks iced coffees and chipotle wraps, I learned that I was the soft introvert, not him. 

Where are you from? 

I say I’m from Long Beach, California, but I’m really from Lakewood, California – the only popular person from Lakewood is (Olympian) Apollo Ono. I claim Southern California. 

How much are you “Southern California?”

That’s where I get a laissez-faire leadership attitude. It’s very infamous in my unit – they say “he looks like he doesn’t care,” but I execute and we get the job done. In Southern California, gaming is a big thing – everything is big in California. 

What do you do in the Army?

I’m a 14-Alpha (Air Defense Artillery Officer). Specifically, right now, I’m in a Patriot unit, so that comprises of being a platoon leader and a tactical control officer. In layman’s terms, I control a “megazord.”

(At this point, I was trying to remember how I missed the term “megazord” in the U.S. Army Weapons Systems Handbook, but it turns out I was just getting to know the Deopante his ADA teammates already know.)

A what? Megazord?

If you think (Mighty Morphin) Power Rangers – you know those old-school camera shots at every station? — that’s what it is. You’re pretty much operating a robot. It’s a Patriot battery, but I like to have fun with it. 

How did you commission in the Army?

I went to Saint John’s University in Queens, New York. Coming out of Southern California, I was one of those kids who was like “man, I just need to get out of the house,” but after I got out, I was like “how am I going to pay for it?” 

It’s funny, and I tell my little brothers this, everything comes full circle as long as you stay true to who you are. I was on a Street Fighter website and I saw a Saint John’s ad, and I was doing my West Point application online at the same time. I was like, I don’t have the GPA for [West Point] and Saint John’s had an [ROTC] program.

What was that leap like?

I had no [junior] ROTC experience. I did have some martial arts experience, so I did bring some discipline. I do Taekwondo. I was trained by the first Olympic gold medalist in the sport, Jimmy Kim, and his father. Right when I stopped competing in that is when I started getting into Street Fighter. I stayed who I was, did the Army thing, and it’s worked for me.

Ok, joining the military was about money for school, but why did you choose the Army?

The most successful people I’ve seen in my family have been in the military. My mom’s side of the family is from the Philippines, moved to Guam to enlist – they came to this country because of the military. That’s why I chose Air Defense Artillery as well, because of its roots in the Philippines. “First to Fire” is the [ADA corps] motto – [ADA] units were the first to fire during World War II defending from the Japanese. 

In the Army, you have to be a part of something you’re proud of. ADA is always undermanned … we deploy all the time, but it’s important to be proud of that history. We’re not the 82nd [Airborne] or the 101st [Airborne]. We’re not the “Band of Brothers,” but we were there. The big Army sells the infantry and the tanks, but if you look at the news today, [the ADA] is always in the fight. People don’t know. We’re the second-most deployed branch in the Army.

How was Twitchcon in San Diego this year? 

It was great. [The Army] flew me out there and it was my second trip with Army Entertainment. The year before we went to PAX West in Seattle and this year I was the only returning [Army] player in the whole thing. 

Is Street Fighter V “your” game?

It’s not my favorite of all of the Street Fighters. If you’re fundamentally sound, you can win it. Street Fighter changed my life. Ninety-five percent of [people] who play video games play where you don’t have to see your opponent face-to-face. 

What do you think are some of the parallel, beneficial skills between Street Fighter and winning as a warfighter?

Don’t let anyone know your “hustle” – mask that movement. With Street Fighter, if you truly want to be good, you can’t play online … fighting games are so intricate that you can’t have [online] lag or latency. You can’t hide in your basement, you can’t hide in your room. In the traditional, arcade sense, it’s one-on-one, head-to-head. You have to go to events, you have to meet people.  

We couldn’t play out this interview in just one installment – check out next week’s Fort Bliss Bugle or www.FortBlissBugle.com for the conclusion. 

Gaming eSports