Esports is a growing trend within the gaming community. Games such as Call of Duty, Madden NFL and Overwatch have been gaining audiences with competitive leagues and high profile venues. The Call of Duty world league finals were recently held at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and I was assigned to cover the event. For you non-buckeye readers, the Nationwide Arena is the home ice of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the venue where the largest concerts and political rallies are held.
The rapid growth in eSports comes with growing pains for everything from logistics to security. This became apparent when a contestant at the southern qualifiers for Madden NFL 2019 lost and shot fellow competitors before turning the gun on himself. Three people, including the gunman, were killed with 11 injured according to USA Today. This editorial is not to harp on the nuances of gun control or how mental illness needs to be better treated, that will be done in countless other articles. My goal in writing this piece is to address whether eSports events are safe enough.
Recently, I was in attendance at the Call of Duty championship as an invited member of the press. Because I was behind the eight ball most of the day, I arrived behind schedule and had to play guess which entrance I was supposed to use around that huge stadium. Of course I guessed wrong because without coffee I apparently lose the ability to comprehend a map, but I digress. I ended up at the audience entrance rather than the press one and was met with a wall of security. Security had four metal detectors set up with twice as many security professionals attached to them. That does not include Columbus’ finest making random patrols around the perimeter and through the main concourse.
So after throwing away my coffee that I, literally, had three drinks of I found my way to the proper entrance. I navigated the labyrinth of hallways and locked doors until I ended up in a security room. The guard did not wave me down and this entrance does not pass through medical detectors. They didn’t even check my name on a list of authorized personnel. That made me, as an army veteran, a little nervous. I could have had two guns, a knife, a crowbar and a chainsaw and was never even asked to empty my pockets.
Don’t get me wrong, Nationwide had incredible security on the inside that was every bit omnipresent as security should be. I just don’t think that they expected a reporter to freak out and start trying to hurt people. But then again, nobody thought a competitor could become the worst type of sore loser and open fire on other teams. When something like eSports grows rapidly there are times when the standard operating procedures will fail to catch up.
I felt very well taken care of by the Nationwide staff, however something similar to Jacksonville could have happened that night. Just to be clear, what happened at Jacksonville is not the fault of the tournament or EA Sports. Sometimes bad things happen. However, this shows a security gap that needs to be addressed to prevent further events like Jacksonville.
It takes events like the Madden tournament to expose some fatal flaws within a security system. From now on I guarantee that members of the press and competitors will have to undergo many of the same screenings that the general public will need to get into their various tournament venues. Unfortunately for Elijah Clayton and Taylor Robertson, they had to lose their lives to this oversight. Going forward, eSports will have to realize that not every gamer can lose with respect. There are bad gamers out there just like any other competition. It just took a tragedy at Jacksonville to provide the wake-up call.
And thankfully, it looks like the industry is responding and taking the security of its players seriously. EA Sports cancelled much of its Madden eSports season in the wake of the Jacksonville tragedy. Most likely, this pause was to give them time to reevaluate security at their events, especially the smaller, regional ones that might not have dedicated security at the level I saw at Nationwide Stadium. And they are already setting aside $1 million to help the victims and their families, so it’s a safe bet that they will also invest in more, and better, event security moving forward.
Let’s hope that efforts to keep players safe will be successful in the future. I never want to see something like what happened in Florida ever again. We need to shore up the security oversights and take potential threats seriously. Only then can we get back to having fun.