Days after the Jacksonville shooting that left three dead and 10 wounded, the conversation surrounding the tragedy has shifted toward the question of security and whether better safety measures can help prevent future incidents within the gaming community. EA is investigating how it can implement better preventive measures at its sanctioned and hosted events going forward. Other events such as PAX have assured attendees that they will continue to enact proactive safety protocols. Increased security will undoubtedly give gamers peace of mind, but given America’s gun crisis, it feels like placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
“I know many of us, myself included, are filled with shock and grief,” wrote EA CEO Andrew Wilson in the announcement last night that the company would be canceling the remaining Madden competitive qualifiers. “Our teams have been working non-stop to do what we can to respond to this terrible situation.”
In the statement, Wilson noted that events like the one in Jacksonville are not directly overseen by EA, but the publisher does work with organizers (or “partners”) to ensure things go smoothly. To this end, EA has vowed that it will “establish a consistent level of security at all our competitive gaming events.” It’s unclear what kind of security was present at the Jacksonville qualifier, which was held in a pizzeria in a waterfront marketplace; the organizers did not return multiple requests for comment. Generally, though, e-sports events have varying levels of measures ranging from bag checks to metal detectors, and some competitive scenes have no security whatsoever.
Players who participate in tournaments certainly want a safer environment and have said as much online in the wake of this weekend’s attack. “We really need security at events,” wrote top Dragon FighterZ competitor Sonic Fox on Twitter. “I will very happily pay more money to know that when I walk into an event, I am 100% safe,” he continued. “Legit considering quitting competing in America,” leading Smash Bros. player Leffen said on Twitter. “I am just so sad and frustrated that people refuse to see the truth time and time again while the body count keeps increasing.”
Generally, many folks within e-sports circles are reevaluating security measures at their events, if not vowing to improve them. “While [Evolution Championship Series] does not comment on security procedures (for obvious reasons), it’s very clear that we need to be more proactive for 2019 and beyond,” tournament organizer Joey Cuellar said on Twitter. “The amount of undercover law enforcement at Evo was unprecedented, and we will be installing metal detectors for ALL days next year.”
These efforts are unquestionably a good thing, and they may make patrons feel safer, but, broadly speaking, additional security measures have done little to help the overwhelming reality of gun violence in America. Schools might enforce rules about clear backpacks and force students to go through metal detectors, but shootings still occur in academic settings with regularity. In fact, one such shooting occurred at a high school football game in Jacksonville the night before the Madden tournament attack. Placing the onus on events like this ignores the real problem: lax laws around things like background checks leaves America with the honor of having the highest rate of firearm homicides in the entire world.
The shooter at the Jacksonville e-sports event acquired his guns completely legally. When estimates place the number of firearms in the country as higher than the actual population, the question of adequate security becomes outrageous: should a local pizzeria install metal detectors? Hire armed guards? Shootings have happened at restaurants, you know. Should malls have better security? People have shot up those, too. At this point, no location or event feels safe. Americans walk around with the dreadful realization that they could experience a shooting at any time, in any place.
In the case of gaming events, added security may not even be possible in many instances. A good chunk of e-sports events are grassroots affairs with limited resources, and security is not cheap.
“While costs can depend on your venue and 3rd parties, generally security rates are usually hourly between $30-50 an hour, plus having police presence with available officers can range in the $40-60 range,” Alex Jebailey, the organizer behind fighting game tournament Community Effort Orlando, tells The Verge. Community Effort Orlando hosted 7,000 attendees this year. “With events lasting a few days, you’re looking at costs around $5-10k per event. This is not something easily accessible by all events.”
Given the rising number of shootings in America, security is nonetheless a growing concern for organizers like Jebailey.
“After the Pulse Shooting in 2016, we looked heavily into security and making attendees in Orlando feel safe,” he says. “We ended up contracting additional 3rd party security as well as on site police presence throughout the weekend. Attendees felt safe and comfortable.” He adds that, generally, participants appreciate knowing that additional measures are in place. While Jebailey encourages organizers to contact venues to ask about security, he recognizes that these efforts do not always get at the root of the problem.
“This begins with gun control and mental health issues needing to be brought up more and less about venue security at every single event,” he says. “If someone plans to do harm to themselves or others, the best way to stop it is prevention, and every attendee, before or after an event, can always keep an open eye to any behavior that may seem out of the ordinary. If someone is intent on doing harm, I feel they will find a way, and making it harder to purchase guns ... or a much heavier background-check process ... can help.”
Gaming events that take care to place preventive measures can help, Jebailey suggested, but they can only go so far.
“It would be impossible to add security to an entire venue including hotel rooms, restaurants, check-in, etc. The best an event can do is protect attendees within their venue space itself with increased security,” he says. “But long-term, rather than trying to protect those in a small space, why not work on how we can prevent this in the first place from happening, [by] tightening up gun control, and offering easier ways for people to report any mentions of causing harm personally, or to others, the moment it is found?
“This happened at a dedicated gaming event,” he continued, “in a safe space where gamers can go to enjoy themselves away from the stress of the world. Now, the outside media world will attempt to blame venues and lack of heavier security moving forward. This will need to be a collective effort where gamers, who are now becoming more mainstream than ever through social media, can come together and bring information to the forefront about guns and mental health issues.”