The story of how Royal Canadian Legion formed world’s oldest esports team
Zulu Alpha Kilo won the ‘Best Digital Media Strategy’ and ‘Grand Prix’ categories at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2021 and the 'Best use of content on a social platform' category at The Drum Awards for Content 2021 for its work with HomeEquity Bank and the Royal Canadian Legion. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveals the secrets of this successful project...
The Royal Canadian Legion has sold Remembrance Day poppies every November for decades as its primary fundraising effort. But awareness and relevance of the poppy program have waned over the last several years, especially among younger generations.
In 2020, Covid-19 further complicated things: the retired veterans who typically canvass streets and shopping malls were at high risk of contracting the deadly virus. With no volunteers and nowhere to collect donations, the Legion couldn’t carry out its annual fundraising initiative.
HomeEquity Bank wanted to help. It’s Canada’s only financial services company exclusively serving seniors and frequently advocates on issues that matter to them. Those activities build positive brand associations for the bank. In the past few years, the bank has partnered with the Legion on Remembrance Day, with a shared goal of ensuring the sacrifices of our veterans continue to be recognized by younger generations.
Our challenge: find a new way for HomeEquity Bank to help the Legion engage a younger audience, raise funds for veterans and help stop the lessons of war from fading into history.
We identified that many young Canadians’ primary exposure to war comes through entertainment, often through online gaming. Popular war simulation games like Call of Duty shape the perception of conflict among youth today much more than activity on actual front lines.
Our audience was engaged in the subject matter but had little understanding of the real-world experiences and sacrifices of veterans. No game could ever create a true understanding of war. We believed exposing gamers to the actual stories and experiences of veterans could change that.
Our strategy: increase the awareness and relevance of Remembrance Day by having those who play games of war come face to face with those who lived it.
Instead of lecturing young people on the importance of remembering the sacrifices of veterans, we connected with our audience in their world and on their terms. In a first-of-its-kind effort, four WWII veterans (all well over 90 years of age) were recruited to form Team Legion, the World’s Oldest Esports team. Their team logo was inspired by the moment of silence practiced each year on the date 11/11 at precisely 11:11 a.m.
More than 70 years after they left the battlefields of Europe, on November 11, 2020, Team Legion was deployed into the world of online gaming. Each veteran received a rental laptop installed with video-conferencing software and a Call of Duty game based on World War II. Video game influencers joined the veterans on virtual battlefields – not to play but to lay down their controllers in respect and to hear their stories and honor their service. The influencers live-streamed the event on leading video game platforms, giving the World’s Oldest Esports team a platform to remind younger generations that war is not a game.
The execution focused on channels that would reach younger gamers. Platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Live were used to connect with audiences who typically follow and watch their favorite streamers. Those channels generated excitement for the “next great esports team,” with forums spreading the word within gaming communities.
For the in-game setting, we used a level showing a decimated European city from Call of Duty WWII as the veterans stood in solidarity virtually to share their true stories. By keeping to the now-iconic visual of a video game level taking up the full screen with inserts of people speaking on webcam, it felt like a regular gaming live stream, only with a very different message.
We set ambitious goals with HomeEquity Bank for Team Legion: over 100,000 views of the live stream, over 2m earned media impressions, and an increase in online donations and individual donations of 15% or more versus 2019.
Every one of our goals was significantly overachieved. Connecting with gamers and teaching them about war through the eyes of our hero veterans, the campaign generated 6.9m earned media impressions for HomeEquity Bank and the Legion, including a very significant 342,000 views of the November 11 live streams with the veterans.
Educators now use clips of the experience to help students connect with history. As one teacher wrote: “My students were entranced by this. They were able to discuss the games they play and how they glorify war.”
Team Legion contributed to a 321% increase in Remembrance Day online donations. This amounted to an astounding $831,000 raised in support of veterans during a challenging fundraising year. The average amount per donation also dramatically increased by 58%.
This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for Digital Industries 2021, which are now taking extension requests for 2022 entries. You can also find out which of The Drum's other awards programs are currently open for entry here.