Over the weekend, Fortnite World Cup Winner Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf was swatted while live streaming matches of Epic Games' battle royale shooter on Twitch. Fortunately, Giersdorf walked away from the situation unharmed, but his swatting demonstrates that after all of these years, and everything that has happened to both swatters and their targets, this life-threatening "prank" remains a problem without a definitive solution.
For those unfamiliar with the term, swatting is the act of tricking emergency services into responding to fictitious reports. Such a report might falsely state that a bomb threat is in progress or claim that an individual is armed and threatening homicide or suicide. The ultimate goal is to spur the dispatch of emergency services, such as law enforcement, to the location being targeted by the person enacting the swatting.
Indeed, a myriad of swatting incidents have occurred, in gaming communities and far beyond, over the past five years, and luckily, a majority of them have not resulted in serious injury to the person being targeted. For example, in August 2014, YouTuber Jordan "Kootra" Mathewson was swatted while live streaming Counter-Strike: Global Offensives matches on Twitch. This swatting was prompted by a 911 call that falsely reported a hostage situation at Mathewson's location, and the YouTuber was pushed to the ground, while firearms were pointed at him, by the raiding SWAT team.
Another popular live streamer, Paul "Ice Poseidon" Denino, has been swatted multiple times during his run as a caster, with the most well know of these swattings occurring in April 2017 when Denino was aboard an American Airlines flight. In this instance of Denino being swatted, the perpetrator falsely claimed that the streamer was carrying a bomb, and Denino was detained by law enforcement immediately upon his landing in Phoenix, Arizona. Notably, this swatting incident led to Denino's permanent suspension from Twitch.
These are just two of the many content creators that have been affected by swatting, and the recent incident with Fortnite World Cup Winner Giersdorf once again shows that live streamers are not safe from being targeted by this practice. While there is some possibility that these instances of swatting are instigated by fans simply looking to "rib" a favorite streamer, those that are targeted are put in real danger, and it is extremely fortunate that none of these swatted streamers have received serious injuries.
Additionally, streamers are not the only ones in the gaming community that have found themselves in these situation, as those in development have been hit as well. In November 2014, for instance, an executive from Bungie, the developer of the Destiny franchise, found themselves targeted by swatting at their residence in Sammamish, Washington.
Similar to the incident with Mathewson, this swatting occurrence was initiated by a falsely reported hostage situation, with the the perpetrator telling the local police that the yard at the location was rigged with explosives. Law enforcement responded by sending officers and sheriff's helicopters to the Bungie exec's residence, and the response lasted for approximately 45 minutes.
As previously stated, none of the aforementioned individuals were harmed in their swattings, but not everyone has been so lucky. Indeed, one of the most notable cases of swatting ended in the death of Andrew Finch, a 28-year-old father of two from Wichita, Kansas. In this incident from 2017, Finch was shot and killed by a SWAT team that visited his residence after a call from serial-swatter Tyler Barriss led them there.
In this call, Barriss falsely reported that a hostage situation was in progress at Finch's address. However, Barriss's intention was never to swat Finch, as he was actually targeting a man named Casey Viner over a conflict spawned by a Call of Duty: WW2 match that the two had a wager on. Unknown to Barriss, the address that he thought would send law enforcement to Viner was false, and it ultimately led them to Finch and his tragic death.
Recently, Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison for this incident, a punishment that may lead at least some would-be swatters to reconsider their decisions. However, it has obviously not put an end to it completely, as demonstrated by the fact that certain individuals still chose to put 16-year-old Giersdorf's life in jeopardy with this malicious and patently unfunny "prank." While Giersdorf's swatting went about as well as it could, due to the fact that he knew one of the officers that was dispatched to his location, it is easy to imagine a far more tragic situation.
Whether it be a person looking for a laugh, or upset about a developer's decisions, or frustrated about a loss in a heated multiplayer match, swatting is simply not the answer. While anti-swatting legislation is attempting to define penalties that will deter the practice, until a system is in place to consistently locate swatters the only hope seems to be that people start thinking long and hard about the possible repercussions of these actions. If this is not done, it is only a matter of time before another innocent life is lost for absolutely no reason.