Marine Corps Gamers Play Their Way to Super Bowl LVII


One of the most-played online video games once again earned two U.S. service members a trip to the biggest sporting event in the world.  

Marine Corps Sgt. Kolton Lehman and Marine Corps Sgt. Ali Zaidi never thought their love of gaming would get them to the Super Bowl.  

“Absolutely not — especially a game like Madden [NFL 23],” said Lehman, 28, a reservist based in New Jersey. “I’ve seen the winners of their big tournaments. … Those guys are professionals for a reason. So, I definitely never saw myself being able to play Madden to a point where I could get to that level.” 

But each Marine decided to try their hand at the second annual Salute to Service Showdown Tournament anyway. Sponsored by the NFL and the USO, the gaming competition is exclusively for service members.  

“I went into the tournament unsure. I just didn’t know what the level of competition would be like … but after the first week, I was very confident to borderline arrogant,” Lehman joked.  

After several grueling games played over the span of weeks this past fall, each man rose to the top of the heap — Lehman earned the top spot on his PlayStation, while Zaidi took the top prize for Xbox players. That earned them each two tickets to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona, complete with fully funded flights and hotel rooms. Lehman took his younger brother, Dalton, while Zaidi, 22, of Huntington Beach, California, took his stepdad. 

While many members of the military were involved in several aspects of the week leading up to the Super Bowl, the winners just got to relax and have fun as football fans. That was easy to do at the Super Bowl Experience, which was basically a theme park set up at the Phoenix Convention Center.   

“We walked around, kicked a field goal, ran a 40 [yard dash], and took a bunch of pictures with the Lombardi trophy and all of the [Pittsburgh] Steelers Super Bowl rings,” said Lehman, who just happens to be a Steelers fan. “So, that was really cool.”  

Neither Marine is a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles or Kansas City Chiefs — the teams that were in the big game — but they said that aspect actually made it more enjoyable. 

“It was pretty surreal. The energy in the stadium was different. I’ve been to several NFL games throughout my life … but the Super Bowl was a very obvious and different energy,” Lehman said. “I knew that no matter what happened, I wasn’t going to leave the stadium angry.” 

Many Super Bowl attendees shell out thousands of dollars just for one seat, so it was no surprise that other attendees were shocked to learned how Lehman and Zaidi got their tickets for free. 

“Every single one of them, as soon as you said it, they kind of got a surprised look on their face, like, ‘Are you serious?’ And they were like, ‘So, we need to play Madden more?'” Lehman said. “A lot of people were like, ‘That’s cool that they’re giving service members an opportunity to compete and win this stuff.'” 

Both Marines were thankful for all that the USO offers, especially the opportunity to play esports. It’s an industry that’s grown exponentially, to the point that nearly every military branch now has an official service-sanctioned gaming program.  

Lehman’s last words on the experience: “I can’t wait to win it again next year and do it all over again.”

The original post of this article was published on this site - RLTW


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