“That brought all the memories back,” Mitich said. “All of it.”
On Aug. 26, 2018, Mitich was among a dozen wounded when David Katz, 24, opened fire after losing a Madden NFL tournament game in Jacksonville, Fla. Two tournament contestants were killed: Eli Clayton, 22, and Taylor Robertson, 28 — with whom Mitich had gone out the night before. Katz, who had psychiatric issues since childhood yet purchased the gun legally, killed himself.
A year later, time has healed in some ways but stung in many others. There have been more mass shootings, more national mourning and even politicians who have blamed video games for the seemingly relentless evil.
“I’m playing Madden,” said Mitich, 24. “It’s a sports game. How is tackling someone on a virtual field leading to shooting people?”
Yet the shooting has caused a fissure between Mitich and the pursuit he once loved.
“Since August 26 of last year, I haven’t picked up a controller,” he said. “For my mental state and my well-being, I need to focus on my senior year in school.
"When I look at the Xbox or the controller, I can’t play. The day I got back [from Jacksonville], I turned the Xbox on, and just the loading screen, the sight of ‘EA Sports’ — I turned it off.”
Turning off the lingering hurt and anger is not as easy, and Mitich clearly recalls the details of the day everything changed.
Travis Scott’s new album was playing in his headphones when his life nearly ended. It was a Saturday afternoon — the second day of a Madden NFL tournament at a place in Jacksonville called Chicago Pizza. Mitich won his first game, and his second opponent had just turned the ball over. That’s when he heard what he thought was a balloon popping.
“I run out,” he recalled. “I didn’t know that I was shot. I thought my side was cramping. Some kid from the tournament — I don’t remember his name — says, ‘Dude, you’re shot.’”
Mitich remembers how Katz wore sunglasses that day, and he still gets anxious when he sees anyone wearing sunglasses indoors. He also locates the exit as he enters a movie theater.
“It’s the sense of being paranoid all the time,” he said. “Sounds ridiculous.”
It doesn’t sound ridiculous at all to his dad, Jim, who has tried to lend support whenever memories of the shooting return.
“He can’t get it out of his mind,” Jim said. “He has extreme survivor’s guilt regarding his friend Taylor, who had so much to live for with a new baby. He seems very sad and down a considerable portion of his days and nights.”
Jacob has considered therapy but hasn’t gone.
“I have the personality where I hold it all in,” he said. “One day every two or three months, I’ll say something to my dad or my brother. There’s a mass shooting every other day. I’m not going to a therapist, having someone tell me how I should feel when they don’t know. For me personally … it’s hard for me.”
Mitich is among the shooting victims who are suing EA Sports for damages. He believes there were many steps the company didn’t take, including alerting the city of Jacksonville about the tournament and hiring only one security guard for the event. Katz carried the gun into the game room in a backpack.
The suit not only asks for a jury to award Mitich compensation but also seeks an injunction against Electronic Arts, ordering the company to revisit its policies and ensure stronger security is in place at future tournaments. Mitich is demanding Electronic Arts be ordered to “coordinate with local law enforcement during tournaments” and “fully vet and inspect the venues in which it hosts tournaments.”
“I’m 100 percent in the belief in my mind,” Mitich said, “that if they cared enough about us, this wouldn’t happen.”
EA, which contributed $1 million to the victims, did not respond to requests for comment.
Mitich has no issue with friends who still compete. He texts them when they play well. He shares their joy. But he doesn’t miss it.
“For me, it’s in my best interest not to play,” he says. “[EA] is still taking advantage of us — everyone who is playing. Thirty-five thousand dollars in prize money seems like a lot of money until you realize the company generates hundreds of millions a year. I don’t have it in me to support that.”
Mitich will be 25 in February — the prime of his life. He just isn’t sure exactly how to spend it.
“I would play [video games] five to six hours a day; now I watch baseball,” he said. “Or sports in general. Or hang out with family. Even that’s tough, though. I’m 24. I get annoyed sometimes.”
He’s a communications major at Towson, and he has added a political science minor. He says maybe he will turn that into a vocation. Maybe he can use all this for good.
“Clearly something has to be done with gun laws,” he said. “No matter what side you’re on, something has to be done. There’s no way that kid should have been allowed to get a gun.”
His mind often goes back to a conversation he had with Robertson shortly before he died.
“Taylor told me keep going in school,” he said. “That’s in the back of your mind. And knowing that my dad always wanted it. I haven’t always been that close to my dad. I realized I couldn’t play video games forever.”
He just didn’t expect to stop so soon, in a moment of terror, in the middle of a Travis Scott song.
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