Without knowing it, countless online gamers could have competed with David Katz, who police named as responsible for a mass shooting Sunday at a tournament in Jacksonville.
Rob Schuster of Alden had a much closer encounter.
Schuster was the only local competitor in a February 2017 video gaming contest in downtown Buffalo that Katz won.
Katz won the Buffalo Bills Madden 17 Series Championship, an eight-player tournament where gamers played the popular Madden football video game. The event was held at (716) Food and Sport, the sports bar inside HarborCenter.
Schuster, a 31-year-old father and husband, moved in the same online gaming circles as Katz, whom he described as a person viewed generally among fellow gamers as "what we would call socially awkward."
"He was kind of like on the outside," Schuster said. "Even though he was a talented player, he was not a popular player among the group of popular players."
According to authorities, Katz killed two people and injured 11 others before fatally shooting himself. The shooting happened during a Madden tournament in Chicago Pizza in the Jacksonville Landing, a riverfront mall in downtown Jacksonville.
Katz, a 24-year-old from Baltimore, had a popular YouTube channel, on which he livestreamed his games, Schuster said. Katz also worked for a website that sold tips to other players, he said.
"A lot of people know him," he said, adding that talented players who competed in serious gaming circles had a good chance of playing against him online.
Congrats to David Katz, the Madden 17 Bills Championship winner!
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) February 27, 2017
Schuster said he's a member of a Facebook group for competitive, professional or sponsored gamers. Katz was not a member of that group, Schuster said.
Katz "seemed unusual" and someone in his life "should have probably noticed," Schuster said.
"He's the type of person that when you're in the room with him, he gives you a really bad vibe," he said.
The Bills were one of eight NFL teams who hosted live Madden tournaments in early 2017. Last year, the Bills hosted a tournament at the ADPRO Sports Training Center at New Era Field in Orchard Park, Schuster said. A spokesman for Pegula Sports & Entertainment, which operates (716) Food and Sport, declined an interview request.
Remembering that February day a year and a half ago, Katz "barely said a word," aside from an interview he did with Bills great Steve Tasker after winning the tournament, Schuster said.
The prize for winning that event – which was about $5,000 and included a free trip to Florida – could be considered a "major life opportunity" for someone serious about gaming, according to Schuster.
But when Katz won, "it was like you loaned him a dollar," he said.
"I guess it's easy now to pin that on somebody," Schuster said later, adding that he thought Katz may have just been an anxious person who was dealing with an intimidating environment.
After Sunday's mass shooting, Schuster was talking to his wife about the Buffalo tournament. Katz ended up winning the Buffalo event on what was basically a fluke play. If that play hadn't happened and Katz had ended up losing in the tournament, Schuster wonders what might have been.
"I would have never thought that he was somebody that could do something like he did yesterday," Schuster said.
Schuster also knew the two men killed in Sunday's shooting – Elijah Clayton and Taylor Robertson.
"Eli was one of the nicest young people anybody in the Madden community could speak for," he said. "Taylor was one of the kindest people you could ever talk to in person."
He said he wants them to be remembered as more than just people who played video games.
"They're real people and we will miss them forever," he said. "It's more than the game. It's way more than that."