‘Gaming for Good’ taps popularity of online game play

By: David Ibata

With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting its Red Kettle campaign, The Salvation Army in Augusta, Georgia, was searching for fund-raising ideas for the new year.

“We said, OK, we’ve got to do something different,” said Derek Dugan, development director for the Augusta Area Command. “We thought, kids are home from school; they’re sitting playing video games online all day. Let’s get them to do something good – ‘Gaming for Good.’”

That became the theme of the Red Kettle Cup Charity Tournament, an online, multi-player competition unfolding over six weeks this winter: “Fortnite” on Jan. 2, 9 and 16, and “Rocket League” on Jan. 23 and 30 and Feb. 6. The initiative makes use of the online gaming craze to benefit a charitable cause.

“With Fortnite, you’re dropped on an island with 100 players, and your goal is to eliminate each other” – in the game’s family friendly format, tagging each other using toy guns or nerf guns – “until you’re the last person left on the island,” Dugan said. “Rocket League is basically soccer; it’s a sports game.”

As with many online tournaments, Red Kettle Cup participants pay a $15 entry fee and play for prizes ranging from T-shirts and stickers to cash awards; first prizes are $150 to $250 each, depending on the number of players. Yet as a charity game, money that’s left after expenses goes not to the bottom line of the event host, but to a nonprofit. To sign up to play: https://redkettlecup.com/

Dugan said he got the idea of game-playing for charity watching his own kids’ gaming activity.

“My son, when he was younger, played in a tournament that raised $3 million,” Dugan said. “I did some research to find out how it was done, and we reached out to the company that we’re using, BattleFy. It’s a Canadian company that manages tournaments worldwide.”

Tournament hosts know how to market on behalf of for-profit entities, like a Red Bull or a Coca-Cola, but charity fund-raising is different, Dugan said. “We had to educate them a little bit how a nonprofit works. Charity tournaments are relatively new to the industry; adapting them for The Salvation Army was a little tricky, but we put it together.”

The Augusta Command has three Red Kettle Cup partners: BattleFy hosts the games and monitors play; Alison South Marketing Group of Augusta markets, promotes and runs the tournaments locally; and Hawk Law Group of Thomson, Georgia, is providing seed money.

“We’re staying completely family friendly,” Dugan said. “BattleFy is certified to allow play by people of all ages – that’s why they monitor. Anyone who curses in the course of the game, for example, is eliminated.”

The first round of gaming, Jan. 2, drew only a handful of players. That’s no cause for discouragement; like anything that’s never been done before, it’s all learn-as-you-go. New strategies are being tried to bring in more participants as the tournaments continue.

For instance, Dugan said he was surprised to learn many high schools have “e-sports” coaches and online gaming teams of students. “We have high schools here in the Augusta area with e-sports teams that play Rocket League, and they’re excited about joining us for the last three rounds of games.”

That’s 60 players across two schools. An outreach is underway to other schools, as well as to church youth groups. The Salvation Army also invites its community partners to sponsor kids at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Augusta by paying their entry fees.

“The ultimate goal is to turn this into an annual fundraiser,” Dugan said. “In Augusta, we do not have an annual fundraiser outside of the kettles. We need to establish something for the community, something that gets kids involved.”