EGLIN AFB — The grand opening of Eglin Air Force Base’s new video game center was still half an hour away, but the 24 game stations provided by the USO were already packed Thursday afternoon with Airmen testing looking forward to their skills.

But the games were only part of the reason Airmen were so eager to try out the new facility in the base’s Legends building, located between the base dorms and the fitness center near the gate. East.

“It allows us to come together…and get to know each other in a different way,” said Airman 1st Class David Burrow of the 96th Communications Squadron.

Go “inside the game” to the mall:From races to escape rooms, VReality at Santa Rosa Mall takes people “inside the game”

Other news from the Air Force Base:Eglin Research Lab is turning fighter jet into submarine as ‘low-cost, more agile solution’

And indeed, it was the social aspect of the gaming center, which is also stocked with free drinks and snacks, that motivated USO and Eglin leaders to establish what Jim Whaley, Area President southeast of the USO, called it the “flagship gaming hub for the USO worldwide.”

“The idea is to give them a bit of a home,” Whaley said of the USO’s work to bring the Eglin Play Complex to Airmen at the facility.

An airman plays a game of "Infinite Halo" at the grand opening of the state-of-the-art play complex at Eglin Air Forde Base.  The games will allow Airmen to communicate with each other and with family and friends back home.

The center, valued at more than $1 million – including state-of-the-art gaming computers donated by Xbox, specialty gaming chairs, keyboards and headsets donated by Razer Inc. and the additional support from the Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation – recognizes that, just While bowling alleys and movie theaters provided places to connect in the past for the military, today’s Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines socialize around video games.

Ross Ledford, USO Regional Gaming Events Manager, who was instrumental in creating the gaming complex, underscored this point, noting that the USO’s own survey of male service members aged 18 to 34 years old showed that 70% of them named the video game. as their favorite pastime.

It should be noted that a number of female airmen were at the resort for the grand opening.

In addition to providing Airmen with the ability to connect with each other, both within the Eglin Complex and digitally with other gamers around the world, the Gaming Complex allows them to play games and connect with their family members.

“Each console in the center is like a portal to their family and friends,” said Space Force Master Sgt. Michael Sullivan, who works in the Inspector General’s Office of that service in Eglin.

Brig.  Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, and USO Southeast Region President Jim Whaley hold up the scissors at the video game center grand opening from the base.

Sullivan, a very serious gaming enthusiast who chaired Thursday’s opening, said it made sense to tie the video game’s popularity to Airmen’s ability to get to know each other and stay in touch with family and friends. distant.

“If they’re already doing it (using the game as a socialization tool), why not ride the wave?” said Sullivan.

He added that the USO showed exactly how to set up a gaming complex.

“It turns the dial up to 11,” Sullivan said. “The amount of money in this room is staggering.”

Characters from the Halo video game series mingle with guests at the grand opening of the Eglin Air Force Base Playground Complex.

The Eglin Gaming Complex also received an endorsement from one of the other serious gamers on the base.

Airman 1st Class Justin Staton of the 39th Electronic Warfare Squadron – who last year won the North American title in the “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” video game tournament and finished second in the world competition of the Air Force – declared the resort “awesome”.

“These are like high-end, high-end offerings,” Staton said as he surveyed the rows of gaming stations that gleam softly in the dim light.

Before the play stations were officially handed over to Eglin Airmen, Whaley reiterated one of the USO’s reasons for creating the complex.

“It’s a great day for families to be able to connect through play,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing and commanding officer of Eglin, said Thursday the video games are a good fit for the base, where work focuses on testing and evaluating new equipment and systems. He praised the 96th Mission Support Group, which played a role in setting up the complex at the base, for having “the vision to do something different.”

“One of the main things we do is change the future through technology,” Cain said of thanking the USO for bringing the gaming complex to Eglin.

Cain added that the resort is “a new way for all of our members to connect with each other, to connect with their families,” before bidding “Game on!” to airmen.