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Long Island gamers, tournament organizers eye stronger security measures

Michael LaBombard, owner of AON Gaming in Deer

Michael LaBombard, owner of AON Gaming in Deer Park, plays Super Smash Brothers on Monday. Credit: James Carbone

The deadly shooting at a Florida video gaming tournament Sunday has rattled Long Island's gaming community, prompting local tournament promoters to consider adding metal detectors and hiring professional security staff.

Organizers of these events — which draw anywhere from 20 people on a weeknight to 4,000 at regional competitions — said they are rethinking security after police said David Katz, 24, of Baltimore, killed two  people, injured another 11  and then killed himself.

At the same time, promoters and gamers emphasized that their events draw a peaceful, friendly crowd and that they do not believe these games spur violence.

"This is a fun, inclusive group, having the time of their lives," said Joel Albino, who two weeks ago drew 4,000 people to his Retro Gaming Expo at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.

Sunday's mass shooting, Albino said, "shook people up."

Long Island and New York represent a major center for the emerging world of video gaming tournaments. The industry already has numerous professional players with corporate sponsorships and huge online audiences.

Looking back, Albino said he does not think he provided enough security for his own annual event. Some staffers provided security, he said, but next year he is considering hiring professional security staff and installing metal detectors.

Michael LaBombard, who runs tournaments out of his Deer Park store, AON Gaming, said he plans to hire security for his next regional tournament on Oct. 13.

LaBombard said that he doesn't believe video games cause violence and doesn't think violence is part of gaming culture, which is growing rapidly on Long Island and across the country. Still, what happened is a shock, he said.

"People are going to want to see action taken," said LaBombard, 26, who has run video-gaming tournaments for four years. "So I'm taking action."

Players agree that better safeguards are needed.

"At big tournaments, there needs to be tightened security," said Mike Burd, a gamer and owner of Video Game Trading Post in Levittown. "It's a tough world we are living in."

LaBombard said he holds local competitions virtually every night of the week, drawing anywhere from 20 to 50 players. His monthly regional tournaments can pull in 200.

On Sunday, players were competing in his store when the news broke that the latest in this nation's series of mass shootings occurred at a video gaming tournament.

The shooting cast a cloud over the local event, he said. People felt that their own community of gamers had been attacked. Beyond that, they knew that once again they must battle the claims that video games stir aggression and violence, he said.

As players move from playing these games in their living room to competitive venues filled with people, they become passionate about winning, but not violent, LaBombard said.

"That can include anger when they lose," he said. "I've seen [video game] controllers thrown, chairs flipped over. . . . Then most guys shake and hug."

Claims linking the games to violence hark back to the Columbine shootings in 1999 when the two gunmen were found to be fans of first-person shooter video games. But experts pointed out that the two youths had psychiatric illnesses, had been bullied and had parents who were uninvolved.

Mitch Abrams, a New Jersey sports psychologist and anger management specialist, said studies don't back up any link between video games and violence.

"It's not video games that cause violence," said Abrams, pointing to the vast number of households that have video games. "There has always been violence in children's games — cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians."

Mass shootings rarely boil down to a simple, one-reason explanation, said William Sanderson, a Hofstra University psychology professor.

People looking for cause and effect, he said, might do better to look at the broader messages promoted in American culture, including the glorified visions of revenge in movies, and cinema's acceptance of violence to settle scores.

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