The deadly shooting at a Madden NFL 19 tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, has shaken the gaming community–and brought broader attention to the intensely competitive, potentially lucrative world of professional eSports.
David Katz, 24, a highly rated Madden player from Maryland, targeted fellow players at Sunday’s regional qualifier, bringing two handguns, one with a laser sight, and extra ammunition to the restaurant where they were competing, police said.
“He walked past patrons who were on other parts of the business and focused his attention on the games,” Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
The shooting, which could be heard on a livestream on the video game site Twitch, left two pro gamers dead: Taylor Robertson, 28, of West Virginia and Elijah Clayton, 22, of California. Nearly a dozen others were wounded or injured, and Katz killed himself.
The violence erupted at a time when more money and attention floods into “eSports.”
In February, games industry analysis group Newzoo predicted that the industry, which centers on competitive tournaments that draw hundreds of millions of viewers each year, would grow to nearly $1 billion in 2018. Dozens of colleges and universities have created eSports teams.
Madden NFL is one of the best-selling games of all time, with more than 130 million copies sold to armchair athletes. But the top players for that game and others are in a league of their own–winning prizes, endorsements and fame.
Gamers who want to make it big often devote their lives to the games, practicing at length for intense qualifier tournaments that can make or break an eSports career, like the one in Jacksonville.
Imad Khan, who writes about the industry, said eSports can foster an intensely competitive atmosphere.
“All the pro players I’ve talked to, win or lose, it’s not even the money they care about,” Khan told The Daily Beast. “It’s just about beating the other guy and just being the best.”
Madden, like others based on professional athletics, lags far behind other video game genres in terms of tournament participation, audience and prize moneyy. While the top players in the most popular games, like the battle game Dota 2, live in team houses and practice full-time, pro Madden players often compete while attending college or holding down other jobs.
“It’s definitely one of those eSports where you can kind of do it on the side,” Khan said.
Still, it’s big business, with the NFL creating a “head of eSports” position to manage the league’s relationship with football eSports.
The Jacksonville gunman had seen some success in eSports, winning a 2017 Madden tournament sponsored by the Buffalo Bills. During that competition, one announcer praised Katz’s intensity. “If I’m the Buffalo Bills, I’m excited that that’s the guy I got representing me,” the announcer said.
In the gaming world, the shooting raised questions about security at esports tournaments.
Justin Wong, a professional gamer, tweeted that his family was urging him to avoid tournaments for safety reasons. The Jacksonville killing, Wong tweeted, made him “scared of going to any event in America.”
“I really hope security measures are stepped up at events now,” Wong tweeted. “I would pay extra just to be safe. Life is priceless.”
In August, video game writer Jason Fanelli complained about lax security at events, writing that one major tournament he attended was “dangerously unprepared.”
In the aftermath of the Jacksonville killings, the head of a major eSports conference tweeted that the shooting had “very clear” that gaming tournaments need better security, saying his event would use more metal detectors in the future.