The gaming community reacted in shock and sadness on Sunday, after a mass shooting at a Florida esports event left three people dead.
The shooting turned what had been a good-natured season-opening event for a league of passionate Madden football players into the latest scene of carnage resulting from a mass shooting in the US.
"It's heartbreaking," said esports journalist and consultant Rod "Slasher" Breslau. "It's very hurtful to have these kinds of issues that we see everyday here as Americans, and now it's coming directly home."
The tournament, which was taking place at a bar in the Jacksonville Landing outdoor mall, was hosted by Electronic Arts, the publisher of the Madden video game franchise. The event was the first of four regional qualifiers for the Madden Championship event slated for later this year in Las Vegas. The event featured several professional players as well as dozens of aspiring esports players.
While esports has grown into a more than $500 million (more than R7 billion) industry according to Goldman Sachs, the leagues based on real-world sports like football and basketball are generally considered smaller than the leagues for fantasy and first-person-shooter games such as Call of Duty and Dota 2.
But news of the tragedy quickly spread across the broader industry of video gamers and esports contestants. During a League of Legends tournament on Sunday, the video stream included a live statement to pay respects to the victims of the shooting in Florida.
We are deeply saddened to hear about a shooting that occurred at a Madden 19 tournament in Jacksonville, Florida this afternoon and we wanted to extend our deepest condolences to the victims, their families, and all those affected by this tragedy. pic.twitter.com/GYWCjE3yzG— lolesports (@lolesports) August 26, 2018
And Overwatch, another game with a popular league, also made a statement.
We are deeply saddened to hear of the shooting that took place at a Madden Tournament this afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida.We want to express our condolences to the victims and extend our support to everyone impacted by this tragic event.— Overwatch League (@overwatchleague) August 26, 2018
Ninja, the famous video game streamer who is most famous for playing Fortnite: Battle Royale, tweeted condolences to those affected and cited the "evil times we live in."
My heart goes out to the family, friends and people affected by the madden shooting today. Evil times we live in, just need to out shine that evil with positivity. Love you all— Ninja (@Ninja) August 26, 2018
Authorities identified the suspect as David Katz, a 24-year old gamer from Baltimore, Maryland, and said he died of self inflicted wounds.
According to the LA Times, the shooter was a participant in the Madden tournament who had been disqualified earlier in the day, but authorities did not provide a motive or confirm whether Katz was involved in the tournament.
EA did not return requests for comment, though it tweeted statements earlier that it was working with the authorities to gather facts about the "horrible" situation.
The rapid growth of esports have prompted concerns about security at gaming events.
According to Breslau, there have been occasions at some esports events when people have managed to get in front of the video cameras streaming the tournaments. Although those incidents involved people being crass or making jokes, they highlighted a lack of security within the fast-growing industry, Breslau said.
In 2015, two gamers were arrested after travelling from Iowa to a Pokemon tournament in Boston equipped with 12-gauge shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle.
While the security at major esports events is generally on par with that of professional sporting events, that's not usually case at the numerous smaller events like Sunday's Madden qualifier, which took place in a bar.
The atmosphere at live gaming events can be intense, Breslau noted, especially when significant prize money is at stake. Trash talking among players is very common. But Breslau stressed that the overall experience is one of fun.
"We're a community of gamers," Breslau said, noting that he's never witnessed a real-world physical fight at an event before.
And while the shooting occurred at a tournament for a football game, Breslau said he's bracing for some people to try to blame video games for the violence.
"I know the gaming community will come out and be a positive force in the wake of everything that happened this weekend," Breslau said, but "I do know that some people will try to make this about 'Gamers are bad.'
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