Sean Mathews is a soldier and a celebrity. He served in Iraq and still is still active in the reserves. I know he's famous because I saw his celebrity in action at Wargaming's Let's Battle Tour event on the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi.
Wargaming brought dozens of high-end PCs to the Lexington for on-site gaming. (USS Lexington Facebook page)
Sean plays World of Warships with the handle NoZoupForYou. He makes streaming videos for the game on his YouTube channel and has attracted a devoted and engaged following. More than a thousand gamers attended the event created to allow fans of World of Tanks, World of Warplanes and World of Warships to interact with the game designers and high-profile players.
The USS Lexington is an Essex-class carrier that had a storied career in the Pacific during World War II. The ship ended her career as a training ship in the '70s and '80s. Decommissioned in 1991, the Lexington now operates as a museum.
World of Warships is a free-to-play online PC game with a strong emphasis on World War II ships and military history. I've linked to some of our earlier posts about the game and embedded videos from Zoup in which he provides a basic introduction to the game and how adults can fit the game into busy grown-up lives.
Warships players wanted photos with Zoup (as evidenced on his Facebook page) as he worked the room. I was able to pull him away from the scrum for a conversation about his military career and his love of naval warfare.
What’s your military story?
I enlisted in 2002 after 9/11. I was in college at Oklahoma State. I had been kind of floundering around and spending my parent's money and felt bad doing that. So after watching “Black Hawk Down” three or four times in the theaters, I decided to enlist.
I walked in. I was probably the easiest soldier any recruiter could enlist because I walked in and said, “Hey, sign me up.” And he's like, all right, we're all infantry. I'm like, “Hey, that’s cool. Infantry, that’s the cool stuff, right?” He said, “All right, well, what kind of infantry?” And I'm like, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, there's 11 Hotels and they ride around on top of the Humvees.” Having just watched “Black Hawk Down,” I said, “I don’t want to be on top of a Humvee.” I regretted that later on as I was humping multiple miles and I'd see my buddy who I got to enlist drive by on top of a Humvee. I'm like, “I made a mistake.”
I enlisted, did ROTC, the Split Membership Program at the same time. So I drilled and I did ROTC, got my commission out of Oklahoma State, went to Iraq in '09 to '10. I did not commission infantry, switched to AG. At the time, my ex-wife did not like that idea. And it was during that rough period in Iraq, so I acquiesced to her and did not go infantry. A part of me still regrets that.
I did my tour over there as a postal officer serving Northern Iraq, 35,000 soldiers up there, and came back and now I’m with an OCT Unit doing Observer-Controller-Trainer stuff.
Zoup explains the World of Warships basics
You're obviously a lifer at this point.
I am four years away from twenty and I will likely stay thirty. The true reserve retirement, just because the Army has been very good to me. It's opened up a lot of opportunities. I've been to a lot of nice places despite going to some not-so-nice places. I feel I still owe them, so as long as I can serve, I think I will. Full 30, unless they kick me out prior to that, I'll stay in as long as I can.
How does an army guy end up being a World of Warships player?
Because I never thought I was going to wind up in the army. I really didn’t. When I was younger, my first gaming system was a Commodore 64. I played Red Storm Rising. I could name you every US submarine, every Russian submarine. I was only 11 at the time and I could talk about doing knuckles in submarines to create artificial noise makers and everything else. This is an 11 year old doing that. I always thought I was going to join the Navy.
My dad was career army and he went to West Point. I always thought I’d attend the Naval Academy. High school came around and I found other things I was more interested in, things that weren't necessarily good for my grade point average. That ended my Naval Academy aspirations, so Army is where I wound up. I'm very thankful I wound up in the Army, so I have no regrets about that.
But a part of me has always loved the Navy and the history behind the Navy. I'm a World War II history buff. That’s really where it comes from.
Would you call yourself a gamer or are you just a Warships guy?
I'd like to say I'm a gamer, I used to be a gamer, but living in Northern Virginia and commuting into DC doesn’t give me much time for anything. When you throw in reserve duty on top of that, that’s one weekend a month. On top of that, you get home from work and sometimes it feels like you have two jobs. I was a Battalion S1 for three years, so that almost felt more like my job than my actual federal job. So it's hard to make time.
I'm at the point now where I have to pick and choose what I play. And while I do have time to play some other games, like PUBG right now, I'm at the point where I'm going to play that with my longtime friends for one night and then I'm going to devote the rest of the time for Warships. At this point it's probably 75 percent Warships, 25 percent other games.
In your offline life, do people know you play Warships?
In my reserve unit, my first line supervisor and his supervisor know and we actually play every Thursday now. One is a major, one is a lieutenant colonel. I’m getting promoted so I'll be able to call the major by his first name here shortly. Until then, he's still major. We play every Thursday. My overall supervisor, the lieutenant colonel, he was a Tanks player. I got him into Warships and now he plays Warships more than Tanks. We all play Warships and these are guys who would have never played Warships to begin with. They love it now.
On the flight deck of the USS Lexington.
For the people you play with, how much of the fun is the game itself and how much of it is the nerding out on military history?
I think it's a combination. Tonight has really been an eye-opener, running into a lot of people that follow me on YouTube. And it's a different crowd than like a game like Call of Duty, for example. I think a lot of them are playing Warships because it’s more laid back and more relaxed than your twitchy games like Call of Duty.
But I also think there is that historic aspect. I love ships. I went on the North Carolina when I was 12 and to this day I still go on a lot of warships. There's just something about naval warships that just inspire awe, because they're huge. They're gigantic and they won World War II in the Pacific for us. I know the infantry did a lot, and the Marines and the Air Force, but, when you think of Pacific warfare, you think of battleships.
For the most part, everybody in the military is a historian in some way or another.
Zoup explains why you actually do have time to play Warships.
You spend a lot of time making streaming videos for the game.
One of the things that makes it worthwhile for me to do videos for Wargaming is the crowd and the community that I'm reaching out to. I know there's a lot of military in the Warships community. It’s great going online and seeing a gamertag that uses “11 Bravo” in it. I'm like, I know what you did in the military. Or just those little hidden veteran things that you catch, like when someone has OIF in their tag.
What makes me want to continue doing this is knowing that Wargaming in return really realizes that and they are really supportive of the military community. That’s a big thing because they're located in Russia, but they reach out to the military in North America through Project VALOR. Right now, they’re raising money to preserve the USS Texas right now and they’ve done charity work for military families. Things like that make me proud of working with Wargaming. They are very veteran-conscious.
Another thing is that you don’t have to be a kid with incredible twitch reflexes to play Warships.
The majority of the people I have met tonight that recognize me or my name. I'm 36 and everyone has been older than I am. That’s not a bad thing. I've been playing games since the 80's and I'm sure those individuals have too.
Wargaming and Warships gives them a way to keep playing because it's not that twitchy. You can still play without the movement skills you used to have. I know I don’t have them, but you can still do well in the game. If you don’t do well in the game, it doesn’t matter because there’s the historical aspect. I get to play the USS Iowa. That is my favorite ship. I can be the Iowa. There's so much that can appeal to so many different players.
If that’s not you, if you want the competitive scene, then there's outlets for that too with Supremacy League and things like that. You can literally make the game as challenging as you want or as simple as you want. If you just want to go out and have fun, you can do that. Or if you want something more challenging, you can join a clan and there you go, play against some of the best players in the country. Which I've done, but it's not something I want to continue to do all the time.