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March 7, 2021

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Ex-Prairie soccer standout finds thrills with U.S. Navy esports team

Riley Bufford sees similar teamwork in competitive gaming

By , Columbian sports reporter
Published:
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Riley Bufford played soccer at Prairie High School. Now, the U.S. Navy petty officer finds a similar teamwork and camaraderie  while playing for the Navy's first esports team, Goats and Glory.
Riley Bufford played soccer at Prairie High School. Now, the U.S. Navy petty officer finds a similar teamwork and camaraderie while playing for the Navy's first esports team, Goats and Glory. (Photo courtesy of Riley Bufford) Photo Gallery

Petty Officer Riley Bufford, a 2013 Prairie graduate, never believed he’d be playing video games for the United States Navy. But last December, when the Navy began recruiting gamers for its first esports team. Bufford was picked as one of the first 10 members of the team, named Goats and Glory.

“When I played it was just for a hobby. It has always been just relaxing and fun,” Bufford said. “I wanted to try to see a different side and get back into a group setting that I’ve been missing since I left college.”

Bufford’s gaming journey started in college at Warner Pacific University, where he majored in biology and competed for the soccer team. He first started in sports games, such as FIFA soccer and Madden football.

It wasn’t until two years ago that he got into first-person shooter games like Call of Duty, which is predominantly what Bufford plays live on the Navy’s Twitch channel, America’s Navy.

“My relationship with video games has gotten a lot better. I actually enjoy video games more now,” said Bufford, who opts to compete on his computer rather than a console more often than not. “I miss that team atmosphere and being on an esports team with 10 other individuals, I really found to enjoy the time I’m spending playing video games.”

Bufford believes many of the skills he used as a standout soccer player for the Falcons a half-decade ago translate to gaming.

“Communication is big for soccer: Where am I? Where is the ball? Where is the attacker?,” Bufford explained. “In gaming, it’s ‘Where am I? Where’s the objective? Where’s the enemy?'”

On Saturday, as he live-streamed on Twitch, Bufford demonstrated first-hand how important communication and decision-making can be in gaming. In Call of Duty’s “War Zone” game mode, a team-based battle royale game where players compete to be the last remaining squad, Bufford directed his squad where to go, where the enemies were and planned on which areas of the map to traverse next.

“I do think the perception of gaming is changing,” Bufford said. “Working with a team, making split second decisions, hand-eye coordination are all things video games can help with.”

Bufford joined the Navy Reserves in 2015 and became a Cryptologic Technician, an expert in communication network defense and forensics. Now, he serves as a recruiter in Portland. Late in his work day, he will stream or practice with teammates.

“I would say this just shows the opportunities are really endless with the Navy and the esports team,” Bufford said. “We all have wild career paths to get to this same opportunity to be a part of this and spread Navy awareness.”

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