(Photo Credit: gameshogun™ under CC BY-SA 4.0)
Following the tragic shooting at a Madden 19 tournament in Florida’s Jacksonville Landing, esports events across the United States have announced heightened security measures. While events like the Evolution Championship Series have boasted metal detectors and security staff during Sunday Finals for years, smaller events - much like the Madden tournament, itself - suffer from a low budget that cannot accommodate such measures.
Controlling the Controllers
The fighting game community presents a special case in the aftermath. While many tournament goers bring backpacks, PC towers, consoles, and other paraphernalia into esports events, fighting game players bring their arcade sticks, as well. These controllers, meant to simulate the experience of playing on an actual arcade cabinet, feature ample room to store firearms, knives, and other weapons.
When unscrewed, players can access the sticks’ central compartments, and make adjustments to buttons, wiring, joystick springs, and more. It isn’t too far out of the blue to think that an unstable attendee could stow a firearm in these spaces. This very possibility is part of why tournament organizer Jimmy Nguyen, co-founder of LevelUp Live and SoCal Regionals, is amping up security at his event.
SoCal Regionals approaches on September 14th - 16th, and will introduce a slew of security measures relatively new to the fighting game community. The event’s improved security policy was released in a statement on the LevelUp Live website, detailing new measures meant to ensure players with the greatest amount of safety possible.
One of these measures dealt with fight sticks, specifically. According to the statement, all fight sticks will be ‘thoroughly inspected,’ with guests required to either open the sticks’ compartments or unscrew them entirely before entering the venue. To aid in this time-consuming process, LevelUp will be working with both volunteers and fight stick store Arcade Shock to provide players with free re-screwing services following inspection.
This policy follows Final Round 2018’s clear backpack measure by about six months. Final Round, known for being the longest-running fighting game tournament in the South, as well as the first major event of the season, introduced clear backpacks in an effort to prevent theft and weapons concealment. Attendees were not allowed to bring any other bags with them, and had to purchase the backpacks for $20 (or receive them free with pre-registration) to stow their belongings. Those with larger fight sticks couldn’t bring their stick bags, either - which lead to a slew of complaints.
SoCal Regionals’ security policy likewise brings change, but after such a tragic incident, this development is largely welcomed - albeit bitterly. Alongside the stick inspections come bag and item inspections, as well as metal detectors. LevelUp’s statement advises players to bring as little as possible to the show floor - as well as to arrive one to two hours in advance.
While getting to pools on time has always been an issue in the FGC (and will likely remain one), measures such as this are highly time-consuming, and present a major cultural change.
A Little More than Bison Dollars
Another issue arises with additional security - money. It’s no surprise that metal detectors, security staff, and other measures will cost tournament organizers a pretty penny. However, they aren’t the only ones affected - this cost will be reflected in sign up and venue fees, as well. Total security costs were calculated by SCR organizers in a handy chart, which added up to $24,969.50 - with just one security guard and Ontario PD officer. Using the Ontario Convention Center’s recommendations of two Ontario PD and three security guards, that total rises to $49,448.50.
Those prices are astronomical for a community delving into esports from a grassroots foundation.
LevelUp suggested an array of funding options for this security increase. By giving Injustice 2, SFV: AE, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 $10 buy-ins, as well as placing a $5 increase on 1-day spectator passes, a small chunk could be whittled off that amount - by $3,430.00. That leaves $46,016.50 to go.
Other funding options considered for the tournament were crowdfunding and sponsorship support, both of which were left with a series of question marks in regards to possible numbers.
The Power to Move Forward
The resulting feeling is one of hopelessness and frustration. Organizers want to provide their players with safe spaces to compete, meet friends, and make lasting memories. The fighting game community is a tight-knit group, coming from a rich history of days in the arcade. They’re cut from a different cloth than that of other competitive gaming scenes - but each scene expresses a similar need for safety.
No matter what the esport, and whatever the tournament, the issue remains the same. Small tournaments for multiple gaming circuits cannot foot the bill for major security, even though many esports personalities have spoken out on the topic. Even larger events for smaller communities, such as the FGC, have a hard time biting down on the numbers.
For now, the American FGC will have to endure higher venue fees and searches - oh, and they'll have to buy a screwdriver, while they’re at it.