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At EA's Jacksonville Tribute: Tears and the First Step Toward Healing

STARTING SCREEN | A community picks up the pieces after an unspeakable tragedy.

Feature by Kat Bailey, .

Disclosure: I was recently invited to speak briefly at a benefit for the victims of the Jacksonville shooting at EA's expense. Owing to the unique circumstances of the event, and the fact that it was for charity, I chose to accept. You can support the Jacksonville Tribute Fund here.

It was 7pm and I was headed back to the airport following EA's impromptu tribute to the victims of the Jacksonville shooting. With me was a Madden esports competitor. Tentatively, I asked if they knew the victims: Taylor "Spotmeplzzz" Robertson and Eli "Trueboy" Clayton. "I knew them well," he responded evenly. "I cried like a baby when it happened."

His response was indicative of the raw emotions surrounding last Thursday's event. There were hugs and a few tears as the Madden competitive community converged on the Sheraton Hotel near LAX. Several of the competitive players were wearing shirts dedicated to the memory of Clayton and Robertson. They clustered together in the hotel lobby as they waited for the event to get underway, making uneasy small talk about the NFL and Madden in general.

I was one of the handful of people from outside the general community invited to the event. I was joined by Geoff Keighley, Kinda Funny's Greg Miller, and a few other streamers and influencers. We were there to say a few words about the gaming community in general as a show of solidarity while EA raised money for the victims of the shooting.

At around 11am we all filed into a hangar not far from LAX that was stocked with consoles loaded with Madden. Before the event began, EA senior vice president and GM of the competitive gaming division Todd Sitrin took to the stage to address the crowd. Visibly emotional, he talked about meeting with the families of Clayton and Robertson, as well as the need to cope as a community. "Yesterday, a bunch of you got together in the hotel bar," he said. "And there were a lot of tears, but a lot of laughter. And that's just part of being a community."

In organizing the tribute, Sitrin said he was told by Clayton's family to "make it a celebration." And so they did.

The stream began with a solemn tribute and a moment of silence, then we all dispersed to the various TVs to hang out and play some Madden while EA's presenters talked on stage. It was an odd atmosphere, to say the least. The events in Jacksonville felt too horrible to discuss aloud, even at an event ostensibly dedicated to healing the wounds they had wrought. It was the first gaming event I had ever been to with grief counselors standing by for those who needed them.

Strange as it was, though, it made sense in my mind. Madden was the one thing all of these people had in common, and playing it strengthened their common bond. When talking on stage during the stream, Keighley mentioned how games could provide escape and solace during trying times. In any case, strange as it felt, we played, and it did provide a bit of relief from the grief.

On the occasion that the shootings did come up, it was usually in hushed whispers. Over drinks later in the evening, I was asked when I had first heard about it. We talked about the members of the community who had been hit hardest. We talked about the fact that Robertson had a wife and child. Then we quickly moved back to safer territory, because talking about it for too long felt like touching a hot surface.

Elsewhere, it feels as if the memory of the events in Jacksonville are already fading. Because the competitive Madden community is comparatively insular, the greater gaming population hasn't been able to feel its pain quite as much. Even the larger Madden community itself is getting back to its daily complaints about the quality of the game. In the stream's chat, there were plenty of comments about how sad it was, but also at least one viewer saying, "RIP but please fix Madden Overdrive." When I later asked one person who would know how the community is handling everything, they shrugged and said, "They're wondering where the roster update is."

Photo by Kat Bailey.

Nevertheless, the wound is very much there. It will be a long time before the community recovers from the sheer horror of one competitor walking into an event with a handgun and shooting another. In setting up the tribute and donating a million dollars to the families of the victims, EA did what it needed to do. But the events of Jacksonville will no doubt leave a lasting mark on the Madden esports community.

Thankfully, the very strange day managed to end on a somewhat upbeat note. After the event concluded, we all gathered in the hotel bar, where the Eagles and Falcons were kicking off the new season. We ate, drank, talked about Super Bowl picks, and ooh'ed as Jay Ajayi burst into the endzone. Football was back, and that too was cathartic.

I don't think I'll ever forget that event. The unique and terrible circumstances behind its hasty organization remain seared into my memory. But it was also an opportunity to see some of the good that can come out of gaming, specifically how its tight-knit communities will rally around its own when the worst happens. What happened in Jacksonville truly was the worst, and now the healing begins.

Looking Ahead for the Rest of the Week

  • Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Blackout Beta [PS4, September 10]: The previous Black Ops 4 beta was interesting, but this is the big one, as it's the first time fans get to try Call of Duty's much ballyhooed battle royale mode. Unsurprisingly, it's already at the top of Twitch, more than doubling Fortnite. This game is going to sell a ludicrous number of copies.
  • NBA 2K19 [PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, September 11]: NBA 2K19 is already available for those who preordered, but it will be available for mainstream players starting tomorrow. This year's version includes a trip to China, which is a rather neat thing to see in an American sports game. As usual, it will be neck and neck with FIFA as this year's most popular sports game.
  • NHL 19 [PS4, Xbox One, September 14]: NHL 19 returns with "World of Chel," which features customizable characters, 1v1v1 free-for-alls, and pond hockey. The hardcore are grumbling, but it feels like a great addition for the casual masses. The secret biggest improvement, though, may be to the physics and skating systems.
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider [PS4, Xbox One, PC, September 14 ]: After three games, Lara Croft finally becomes the Tomb Raider in the conclusion to the Eidos Montreal trilogy. It's received up and down reviews thus far, and it faces tough competition from Spider-Man, but Caty enjoyed it well enough in her review.

Mike's Media Minute

The Conjuring franchise is here to stay I guess. We've now reached the fifth movie in the series, following The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, Annabelle, and Annabelle: Creation. Now all of those film have been great; I'd argue that only The Conjuring is truly great, while The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation are merely solid. At the end of the day though, they still make money while sticking to horror film budgets.

The Nun is the second spin-off. The first were the two Annabelle film, which featuring a haunted doll that appeared in the first film. The Nun is based on a evil painting and adjoining specter that appeared briefly in The Conjuring 2. It's one of two film springing from the second Conjuring, with the other being The Crooked Man.

The Nun bowed with a #1 debut this weekend, with a domestic take of $53.8 million and a worldwide box office of $133 million. That's a fantastic opening weekend, standing as a franchise record domestically and worldwide. Warner Bros already has The Crooked Man, The Conjuring 3, and another Annabelle film on the horizon, but The Nun's debut must make the studio and producer James Wan happy.

Elsewhere in the charted, Peppermint takes the #2 spot with $13 million. It's a generic revenge actioner from the director of Taken, starring Alias lead Jennifer Garner, and reviews haven't been kind. Following that the next three are great continuing performers. Crazy Rich Asians took another $13 million domestically (an amazing 40 percent drop), bringing its worldwide take to $164 million and steadily moving it up the All-Time Romantic Comedy charts. Giant shark film The Meg had a 42 percent drop with $6 million for the week and $492 million in total. Finally, Searching, the internet-focused thriller starring John Cho, only dropped 24 percent, bringing in a worldwide total of $32.5 million. That's low, but given the subject matter and shooting concept, the budget was likely only a few million, so it's a winner.

This Week's News and Notes

  • With review season well and truly upon us, we've got a crazy busy week ahead here at USG, with coverage pending for Spider-Man, Destiny 2, NHL 19, NBA 2K19, the Black Ops 4 battle royale beta, and more. But of course, we're also going to write about why the boss doors in Mega Man 11 are pissing off the community, because that's just how we roll around here.
  • Speaking of how we roll, shoutout to the guy who let me in to my old apartment building over the weekend to pick up some packages and told me that he likes my work with Super Robot Wars. Small world, isn't it?
  • Spider-Man has clearly hit it big as one of the PS4's biggest games of 2018. I shouldn't be shocked in light of how popular superhero films are, but people just seem to legitimately love this game. Also, it has a kicking photo mode.
  • With all the Spider-Man fever going around, you may want to check out our very cool oral history of the original best Spider-Man game: Treyarch's Spider-Man 2. It's a great read from contributor Alex Kane.
  • Nadia interviewed Bloodstained developed Koji Igarashi during PAX West, and she has all kinds of interesting nuggets. Here's something interesting she learned about Symphony of the Night.
  • Moltres was available in Pokemon Go over the weekend, but I sadly was not able to acquire one for myself because I was running errands. I did discover, however, that the Alameda Pokemon Go Facebook community has almost 1000 members. I didn't even know a thousand people lived on this island, much less played Pokemon Go.
  • Valkyria Chronicles 4's review embargo lifted today. But since it won't be out for another couple weeks, we're holding off for now. I've really liked what I've played so far, though.
  • Axe of the Blood God: On this week's episode, Nadia and I catch up with our review of Dragon Quest XI. Don't worry, no spoilers! Subscribe here!

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