Southern California video gamers shaken after Florida shooting raises security concerns
Studio City resident Vance Christopher, 24, was one among dozens of video game fans who showed up to the TCL Chinese Theatre for Hollywood Action Tuesdays, a tournament where gamers come from as far away as Orange County compete in games like Street Fighter V and Dragon Ball FighterZ.
The event is set up on a corner section of the historic Hollywood Boulevard building where restrooms, a full bar, and auditorium rooms all are close by.
For Christopher, it was a moment to reflect.
“Gaming has come a long way,” he said as he recounted the evolution of the e-sport he plays in. “This used to be in some dude’s garage. Now, it’s a theater in Hollywood. Now, it’s a film location. It’s in a giant arena.”
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People from all over the world travel to events such as these. Smaller crowds range from 20 to 50 people, and in larger instances, thousands of people pay their way in. Audiences from the web also join in as competitive video game events like these are often live-streamed. They come for hours worth of play and competitive fun that sometimes results in cash prizes. There can be big money involved in what is rapidly becoming a billion-dollar industry, according to one study. But ultimately, many come to socialize with fellow gamers.
This week, however, Southern California’s gaming community was shaken after a deadly shooting at a Madden video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida.
Two people were killed and several were injured. Among the dead was Elijah “Trueboy” Clayton, a 22-year-old student from Calabasas.
In the days since, gamers and spectators alike have posed a similar question to one that Christopher himself was asking this week: “How do we keep people safe if the threat comes from inside?”
For the moment, some are taking a step back to examine safety at such events.
Electronic Arts Inc., the entertainment company behind the Madden NFL video games, has since canceled the three remaining events to their season’s competition.
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Clayton and the other fallen gamer, Taylor Robertson, were two of Madden’s top competitors, according to a letter from CEO Andrew Wilson.
The Florida event was part of the Madden Classic, the company’s first Madden EA Major competition of the season.
Future tournaments had been planned in Santa Ana on Sept. 15 and 16 at the Esports Arena. Other dates took place in different states.
“We’ve all been deeply affected by what took place in Jacksonville,” read Wilson’s statement. “This is the first time we’ve had to confront something like this as an organization, and I believe the first time our gaming community has dealt with a tragedy of this nature. “
In the Florida shooting, authorities have not determined a motive. But the shooter, David Katz, 24, was an avid gamer himself, with a history of mental illness.
The Associated Press reported that a psychologist once warned a family court that David Katz might become violent.
Katz “could lash out and become so angry that he would hit and hurt his mother,” Dr. Paul Berman told the court.
The divorce papers in Howard County, Maryland, say Katz started obsessively playing video games as a boy, sometimes refusing to go to school or to bathe.
Elizabeth Katz, a toxicologist who worked at the Department of Agriculture, said in court papers that she would confiscate some of her son’s gaming equipment after finding him playing games in the wee hours.
But Southern California gamers don’t want what happened in Florida to tarnish the image of their evolving game.
Gaming tournaments are far from something negative, according to Long Beach resident James Chacon, 31. In fact, for many, they are designed to help people deal with real-life stresses.
In the early 2000s, Chacon and co-partner Champ Tangwongkitsiri began 2GGaming, a Southern California-based business that organizes gaming events and tournaments.
With similar organizations worldwide, gaming events have become de facto after-school programs for many people, according to Chacon.
“A lot of people – have social anxiety issues,” he said, “and because of video game events, [they are] able to overcome that.”
He made note of one person whose speaking and social skills improved so much that even that gamer’s parents thanked the gaming community for providing that space.
“There is a lot of positivity, and unfortunately – the gunman portrays competitive video games in a negative light, at least right now,” he said.
Gamers are all too familiar with the stereotypes and stigmas that society has attached to their hobbies, and for some, passions and careers.
Sherman Oaks resident, Max Sinclair Ollivier, works a full-time job at a camera shop, and on his free time, likes to play first-person shooter games.
Some people assume that he is a violent person because of his gaming interest, he said, but the assumptions are wrong.
“My heart and soul go out to the families of the people who have passed,” Ollivier said. “It’s really unfortunate. I hurt just as much as everyone else does.”
For some gamers, news of the shooting is considered an isolated case.
But in midst of the tragic events, Ollivier hopes to bring awareness to the non-violent people in the gaming community.
“I don’t have a reason to go out shooting people,” he said. “I do it in a video game because it’s not real.”
For other people, security concern linger.
Studio City resident Gayle Dickie, recently launched Gamer World News, an E-sports online news platform.
“Globally, this is the biggest sports entertainment vertical in the world,” she said. “It is being embraced in the U.S. and all around the globe – because it does attract a huge monetary on fiscal value to the world.”
Her platform is split into channels that dive into different topics like: E-sports News, Tips & Tricks, as well as Girls of the Game.
Nobody could have predicted the tragedy in Jacksonville, Dickie said, but now, organizers have become aware of the need for tougher security.
Chacon, a Southern California gaming organizer, agreed but hoped the need for security doesn’t make events less fun.
“[Shootings] can happen anywhere,” he said, “and video game tournaments are no exception. This is definitely an eye-opener for organizers all over the country and world to take security much more seriously, but at the same time not do it in a way that deters from the enjoyment of the attendees.”