Playing video games for the military is not something Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Alex “Gambit” Alfonso, an information systems technician stationed at Electronics Support Detachment Baltimore, ever thought he would do.
A Hollywood, Florida, native, Alfonso wasn’t always a gamer. He grew up playing sports and spending his free time at the beach and skateboarding. It wasn’t until he was 14 that he started gaming more seriously, about the time Halo 2 released. In his adult life, his passion for gaming made its way into his career.
Alfonso is a founding member of Coast Guard Gaming (CGG), the Coast Guard’s official esports program, and a competing member on both CGG’s Halo and Rocket League teams. He has competed in three military esports tournaments across the country and coached the CGG team in another.
During his most recent esports event where he coached the CGG team in a military Rocket League tournament held by The Warrior GMR Foundation at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado, Alfonso was presented with a unique opportunity to coach a children’s team. However, it wasn’t just a regular children’s team – it was a Gold Star Gamers team.
Gold Star Families are families who have lost an immediate family member in the line of military duty service. The Gold Star symbol dates back to World War I. When America entered what was then called the Great War in 1917, families hung banners with blue stars to represent their loved ones in the services. If the service member died in combat, the family changed the blue star to gold. After the war, Gold Star mothers banded together and incorporated a Gold Star group in 1928. There are still Gold Star families from World War I, and many thousands from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Gold Star Gamers is a group dedicated to promoting healing and hope through competitive gaming. Twelve Gold Star kids from around the country were selected to participate in the first GSG tournament, which occurred alongside the military Rocket League tournament Alfonso participated in. The children were split into groups representing Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy - services from which the children had lost a parent.
"It was so nice to see my son up on a big stage smiling like that,” said Brittany Jacobs, the mother of Christian “Jakespine” Jacobs, a GSG Marine team member. “Having another service member up there playing games with him and helping him with something he loves to do was amazing. He doesn’t have a male figure who does stuff like that with him.”
Brittany lost her husband, Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Jacobs, in a training accident when Christian was only eight months old. Christopher was an experienced Marine who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a crew member with Delta Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion in Twentynine Palms, California.
“Christian’s father was a huge gamer,” said Brittany. “It felt like we were honoring his dad’s memory by participating in this event. They’re so similar, Christian and Chris. They even look exactly the same.”
In between CGG matches throughout the day, Alfonso spent time on and off the stage coaching the GSG Marine team, giving them tips on how to improve techniques and sharing strategies for gameplay with them.
“When I was asked to coach the Gold Star Gamers team, I was honored,” said Alfonso. “It was such a humbling experience to be a mentor for these kids playing up on a big stage competing in front of a crowd. That’s something so many other gamers only dream of accomplishing.”
Alfonso said it was an emotional experience overall and he would love to coach another Gold Star Gamers team again if given the opportunity.