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Gamers plead for more security after Jacksonville shooting

Image: Florida Highway patrolmen block the entrance to the Main Street Brid
Florida Highway patrolmen block the entrance to the Main Street Bridge near the scene of a mass shooting at Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida, on Aug. 26, 2018. Copyright John Raoux AP
Copyright John Raoux AP
By Tim Stelloh with NBC News U.S. News
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"It's time esports events (large and small) double down on security for everyone in general and players specifically," the CEO of an esports team tweeted.


Some gamers reacting to a shooting at a Madden 19 tournament on Sunday that killed three and injured 11 had one subject on their minds in the grim aftermath — security.

Though many details about the shooting remained unclear, including how the 24-year-old suspect, David Katz, apparently entered the Jacksonville, Florida, tournament armed, people involved in the booming esports industry pleaded for more protection at such events.

"Sad day and a WAKE UP CALL for organizers large and small," tweeted Jason Lake, CEO of the esports team compLexity Gaming. "It's time esports events (large and small) double down on security for everyone in general and players specifically."

A compLexity player, Drini Gjoka, was struck in the thumb but managed to escape the tournament venue, a company spokesman said in a statement.

A man who identified himself as the general manager of another esports team, eUnited, wrote on Twitter that players, managers and owners should have separate entrances and exits from the fans, and another observer lamented the loss of an important part of esports culture — the "loose" rules that once allowed fans to mingle with players.

"That was cool at the time," the person tweeted, "but the investment is there to provide top-of-the- line security, so let's make sure all the big events have it!

An estimate published earlier this year by the data tracking firm Newzoo said the industry is expected to grow by 38 percent this year, to nearly $1 billion, and reach an audience of 380 million with titles like "NBA 2K," "Pokémon" and "Call of Duty."

Amid such growth, security at these events can vary, said Rod Breslau, a longtime esports journalist and consultant.

Breslau said Sunday's event — the first of the Madden 2018-2019 season — was small. Unlike the "Dota 2" championship in Vancouver's Rogers Arena that ended Saturday and had a prize pool of $25 million, along with "great security," according to Breslau, the Madden qualifier topped out at a fraction of that. The event took place at a gamer bar that shares an entrance with a pizzeria.

"The smaller the game, the less security there is," Breslau said. "You can very well get into many of these events without any type of checking, and you could very easily sneak things into a lot of these places."

Still, it's not as if there's been a rash of violence at esports events. Breslau recalled a 2015 incident, in which two men drove from Iowa to the Pokémon World Championship in Boston with a shotgun, an AR-15 and 300 rounds of ammunition — and posted threatening messages about plans to carry out "another Boston massacre" there.

The pair was arrested in Boston while trying to check in for the event. They pleaded guilty to weapons charges and were sentenced to two years in prison.

The more common crime associated with the subculture is "swatting" — when one gamer files a false police report on a competitor, Breslau said. In one notorious case earlier this year, a dispute between two "Call of Duty" players ended in the fatal police shooting of Andrew Finch in Wichita, Kansas.

While swatting originated among "Call of Duty" players, Breslau said, the phenomenon has progressed.

"All the communities do it now," he said.

In Jacksonville, Florida, Sheriff Mike Williams told reporters on Sunday that Katz, who was from Baltimore, was in town for the tournament, though it wasn't clear if he was a fan or a participant.

Asked whether the bar had security, Williams said: "I don't know. We'll have to look at that down the road."

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