After Jacksonville Shooting, Gaming Event Organizers Pledge Better Security

After Jacksonville Shooting, Gaming Event Organizers Pledge Better SecurityPolice outside the GLHF Game Bar in Jacksonville, FloridaPhoto: Joe Readle (Getty Images)

Citing a need to review security plans, Electronic Arts is canceling the three remaining qualifying events for its Madden NFL 19 tournament after two players were killed at one in Jacksonville, Florida on Sunday. Other esports organizations are also talking more about security for their events.

“We will work with our partners and our internal teams to establish a consistent level of security at all of our competitive gaming events,” EA CEO Andrew Wilson said in a statement.

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The organizer for the biggest fighting game event in the U.S., the Evolution Championship Series, also says his team is planning to increase security at next year’s competition.

It’s unclear how much security was in place at the Madden event on Sunday, which was hosted at the GLHF Game Bar. In his statement, Wilson said that “[w]hile these qualifying events are operated independently by partners, we work with them to ensure competitive integrity and to gather feedback from players.” He said the cancellation of the next three qualifiers would be in effect
“while we run a comprehensive review of safety protocols for competitors and spectators.”

EA CEO Andrew Wilson: ““We will work with our partners and our internal teams to establish a consistent level of security at all of our competitive gaming events.”

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Esports tournaments can run the gamut in terms of size, scope, and resources. This Madden event took place in a local arcade and restaurant and had 117 competitors in its bracket. On the other end of the spectrum, the Evolution Championship Series in Las Vegas had 7437 fighting game players competing this year, with the event finals held in a 12,000-seat arena. Smaller gaming competitions often take place in venues like arcades and bars, where metal detectors and bag searches are not always standard. Even in larger venues, these security protocols are not always present.

Joey Cuellar, who organizes the Evolution Championship Series, wrote: “It’s very clear that we need to be more proactive for 2019 and beyond. The amount of undercover law enforcement at Evo was unprecedented, and we will be installing metal detectors for ALL days next year.”

The Evo 2018 finals, held on a Sunday in August, prohibited weapons and firearms, as well as bags over a certain size. Evo did not check bags on Friday and Saturday, but an Evo PR person told Kotaku that security increased on Sunday: “bags were checked at the Evo 2018 Finals,” and the event’s security measures included “metal detectors and bag size limit.” Evo’s PR team provided no further details about security measures or potential updates to the procedure in 2019.

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Joey Cuellar, Evo organizer: “The amount of undercover law enforcement at Evo was unprecedented, and we will be installing metal detectors for ALL days next year.””

Evo has dealt with security threats in the past. This past March, ahead of Evo 2018, a Twitch commenter posted a shooting threat against the event. At the time, Cuellar acknowledged the threat and stated, “We are aware of the threat that was made against Evo 2018, and have contacted the FBI and Twitch regarding this matter. We take this very seriously, and they will be punished to the full extent of the law.” Evo 2018 was located at the Mandalay Bay arena in Las Vegas, the same place where a mass shooting occurred at a concert in October 2017.

While some esports organizations have promised better security, others have been talking more over the last two days about existing measures.

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Riot Games has hosted League of Legends Championship Series events in venues of varying sizes; this year’s Spring Split Finals, for example, were at the Fillmore Miami Beach theater, which seats 2,713. Chris Greeley, NA LCS Commissioner, told Kotaku that “the league utilizes multiple security measures including bag checks, item restrictions, metal detector screenings, and on-site security to ensure the safety of all those in attendance. While we won’t comment on specific modifications regarding our safety and security procedures, we are continuously evaluating and iterating on our security plans for all of our events.” The organizer for another massive competitive gaming event series, Dreamhack, made a similar statement regarding continued work with law enforcement and security experts.

Valve did not respond to requests for comment about this issue. Blizzard’s esports staff told Kotaku that the company is preparing a response.

The Esports Arena in Las Vegas, a 600-seat venue which hosts frequent esports events featuring popular streamers like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, told Kotaku that “security at Esports Arena Las Vegas and all of our venues around the world will always be our top priority, and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure a safe environment at all events at our properties.”

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Alex Jebailey, who heads CEO Gaming’s esports tournament, posted several public statements addressing fans’ concerns about CEOtaku 2018, an upcoming event at the Wyndham Orlando Resort on September 21-23. This past Sunday, Jebailey wrote, “Just like every CEO for the past few years there will be security 24/7, under cover and uniformed police presence as well.”

Fighting game tournament organizer Alex Jebailey: “…no amount of heightened security can stop someone from doing harm if they are determined. Until gun laws change completely in America, this is an ongoing issue that is affecting all of us.”

In a follow-up post on Monday, Jebailey compared this situation the precautions he and his event staff took after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, after which time he met with Wyndham Hotel Staff to “discuss CEO weekend’s additional security.” This year, he says he plans to do the same: “I’ve already spoken to the Wyndham about any additional measures again… I’ve already contracted additional security for our overnight ballroom.”

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Jebailey’s statement continued, “It sucks that this is becoming an everyday issue to even have to think about and in my personal opinion, no amount of heightened security can stop someone from doing harm if they are determined. Until gun laws change completely in America, this is an ongoing issue that is affecting all of us.”

Incidents at or around esports events are rare and had previously not led to loss of life. In December last year, the Call of Duty World League evacuated a Dallas tournament due to a bomb threat. Kotaku asked Major League Gaming and Activision for details about security procedures at their events and has not yet heard back. In 2016, two men who brought guns to a Pokémon World Championship event were sent to prison for two years.

In his statement, EA’s Wilson noted: “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. Please take time to support each other through this challenging time.”

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