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$3 million Fortnite winner—and his parents—become latest swatting targets

Heavily armed men in body armor stand ready behind a van.
Enlarge / Police SWAT Team at work.

Yet another armed police force has been called in on yet another unsuspecting victim, as the recently crowned Fortnite world champion took a break from a livestream to deal with a swatting incident at his own front door.

Kotaku reports that Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf was streaming a Fortnite game late Sunday when he abruptly left his desk and abandoned the game with the livestream still running. The cause? His father coming to tell him that armed police were at the front door.

Fortunately, Bugha returned unharmed to the stream several minutes later. “That was definitely a new one,” he can be heard saying on a recording of the stream. “I got swatted.”

The comparatively quick and peaceful resolution of the issue was in part due to sheer good luck. “I was lucky because the one officer, yeah, he lives in our neighborhood,” Bugha explained on the stream.

Bugha won $3 million for his first-place finish in the first-ever Fortnite World Cup in July and even appeared on The Tonight Show to talk about his win with host Jimmy Fallon. He is also all of 16 years old, and so a threat against him also involved his parents, whose personal information may have been easy to find.

“Swatting” occurs when someone places a hoax emergency call to a police department, hoping to mobilize an emergency response (i.e., a SWAT team) to the victim’s home. Bugha was lucky in that the officers who responded to his address were of a mood to ask questions first.

Not so lucky

Not all swatting victims are so fortunate, as US police are heavily armed, increasingly all-out militarized, and often all too willing to fire. According to a Washington Post database, at least 544 people nationwide have been shot and killed by police in 2019 to date.

Bugha is far from the first player to be targeted, especially when livestreaming for everyone to see. A Kansas man named Andrew Finch was killed during a 2017 swatting event even though he was not the intended target. Police turned up at his home investigating false reports of a hostage situation. The man behind the hoax call was sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year for his role in Finch’s death.

Also earlier this year, a 17-year-old in Ohio was charged with 73 counts relating to his placement of dozens of hoax swatting calls to police nationwide.

The unfortunate trend is on an upswing. Seattle police launched an anti-swatting initiative in 2018, with an accompanying public service announcement asking livestreamers and other heavy tech users who might be targeted to sign up proactively so 911 operators can compare their name against a known list.

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