Last weekend, scores of gamers gathered in Jacksonville, Florida, to compete in a regional qualifier for the Madden NFL 19 tournament. What should have been a celebration of these talents turned to tragedy a 24-year-old gamer opened fire on his fellow competitors.
In the ensuing panic and chaos, two Madden 19 esports gamers, Eli Clayton, 22 (“Trueboy”) and Taylor Robertson, 27 (“SpotMePlzzz”) were killed. A further nine people were injured. Immediately following the violence, the gunman took his own life.
In response to the tragedy, EA Sports has announced the remaining tournaments in the Madden Classic qualifying event have been cancelled. It remains to be seen whether further qualifiers will be played, or whether the Madden Classic finals will take place at all this year.
Security at esports tournaments
Sunday’s awful events have led to a somewhat predictable call from many commentators about the security, or lack thereof, at esports events. It is perhaps a testament to the uniquely friendly makeup of the esports community that few have felt the need to publicly question whether security is required at these big events until now.
Esports gamers are certainly competitive, but by and large, they are able to accept both victory and defeat with a degree of humility and acceptance.
However, as events in Jacksonville have shown, it takes only one individual to undo many, many years of safe, friendly gaming. It now makes total sense for the esports community in the United States to consider the safety of players, organizers and attendees at big events.
But the salient point to remember here is that this violent and tragic outburst is not a problem created by esports. American culture and laws writ large made it possible.
Esports was only the latest setting for an American epidemic
It’s been impossible in recent years to hide from news of mass shootings that seem to occur almost monthly in United States. Nightclubs, restaurants, concerts, and schools have all played host to this ceaseless pattern of tragedy. The country’s much-vaunted “right to bear arms” coupled with politically powerful organisations such as the National Rifle Association, not to mention a rightwing government currently unwilling to address the issue’s root cause, make this a particularly thorny issue in the US.
Even minor caveats to legislation regarding gun ownership, such as the type and power of the guns people are allowed to own, is often met with fierce resistance from millions of people and many powerful pro-gun lobbyists and lawmakers.
Outside the US, it is genuinely shocking that a young man with a history of mental illness and a proven inability to accept defeat could legally obtain a hand gun and ammunition.
Until the nation deals with this societal issue, yes, adding greater security at esports tournaments is a necessity. But it is akin to putting a band-aid on a broken leg. No tournament organizer can solve a problem deeply rooted in an entire country, just the same way arming teachers won’t end school shootings.
Cancelling tournaments isn’t the right move
As EA Sports indicated in the statement by its CEO, it’s cancelled the Madden qualifiers. This, while the company works with different partners to try and improve and increase event security. I have no doubt that across the United States, many other esports events taking place their will follow suit.
However, a fitting way to honour the memory of the two gamers who lost their lives last weekend would be for the tournament to continue when the security issues are resolved. This way, the esports community can come together to honour their memory in a way both players most certainly would have wanted.