Shay 'Young Kiv' Kivlen struggling to cope with friend's death after Madden shooting

Elijah "Trueboy" Clayton -- far left, next to his best friend, Shay "Young Kiv" Kivlen -- was one of the victims of the Jacksonville shooting. Provided by Shay Kivlen

Shay Kivlen can't bring himself to unpack his PlayStation 4 console right now, let alone think about playing the video game that transformed him from an ordinary Seattle teenager into "Young Kiv," a star in the esports community and winner of the 2018 Madden Bowl.

All Kivlen wants is to have his best friend, Elijah "Trueboy" Clayton, back so they can hop on one of their group chats. They used to talk for hours, sometimes all night, laughing while Eli attempted some of the gutsiest, most unconventional moves.

Clayton, 22, was one of two Madden players killed at the "Madden NFL 19" qualifying tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, on Sunday. The other, Taylor "SpotmePlzzz" Robertson, 27, was also a friend of Kivlen's.

And now, at 21, Kivlen is struggling with survivor's guilt, asking, "Why not me?"

Kivlen was supposed to be at the venue at The Jacksonville Landing, but a tournament loss sent him back to his hotel room for a nap. Twenty minutes after he left, he flipped on the Twitch livestream and watched in horror as a red laser dot appeared on Clayton's shirt. The screen went black, and then Kivlen heard gunshots and screams.

Kivlen frantically started calling everyone he knew at the tournament. When he finally got an answer 10 minutes later, the voice on the other end belonged to Hassan "Gos" Spall, who was hiding in a bathroom stall.

"He was crying," Kivlen told ESPN. "He told me that David shot up the place and he thought [Clayton] was dead."

The shooter was identified later as David Katz, 24, a fellow gamer from Baltimore.

Spall then delivered chilling news that will likely haunt Kivlen forever.

"He talked to [Ryan Glick of Electronic Arts], who was at the event, and said David had asked [Glick] where I was going and why I was leaving," Kivlen said. "[Spall] told me that he thought I was a potential target and so I should call police."

An officer came to Kivlen's hotel room and stayed with him for about 90 minutes until it was confirmed Katz was dead. (He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.) Police later confirmed Katz was targeting specific gamers.

"It goes through my mind all the time," Kivlen said. "If I win that game, I'm probably standing right behind [Clayton], watching his game. And who knows what would have happened, especially if I was the target."

"That's one of the things that's been really tough for me, trying to understand why would [Katz] do this. Just, why?" Kivlen said. "Like 95 percent of the people in this room had never said a word to this guy. I still don't understand why and it's gonna suck never knowing the exact reason that he did it."

Instead, Kivlen is just trying to pick up the pieces. He has been spending a lot of time with his family -- his parents, sisters and cat.

He has been in touch with Clayton's family, whom he met for the first time before he left Jacksonville.

"He was super genuine, super caring, really kind," Kivlen said of Clayton, who was from California. "Like if he cared about you, he was going to go out of his way [to show it]. If you needed anything from him, he was going to do it."

Kivlen also has been in touch with Robertson's wife, Holly.

Kivlen remembers when Robertson won the Madden 17 Classic just after his son, Reed, was born. It was difficult for Robertson to leave his wife and child to travel.

"He was really loyal to his family. He was really invested in trying to give them a better life," Kivlen said. "He didn't make a lot of money. He worked as a bank teller, and he was trying to do this just to have a little extra income.

"He was one of the nicest people you'd ever meet. Never said anything bad about anyone -- just super positive and a super-positive attitude. Like it was inspiring to see just how kind he was and how nice he was."

When Kivlen first met Clayton, he said, Clayton was confused about the direction of his life and had a temper. Kivlen thinks esports helped him find a purpose.

Clayton had a rebellious nature that he channeled into an unconventional playing style, Kivlen said. He was a maverick, playing random Madden teams instead of the best teams.

Kivlen remembers one time when, in a series of close games that had already gone past 2 a.m., instead of taking a knee with 5 to 10 seconds before halftime, Clayton ran the ball and pitched it backward, trying to go for a highlight play. His opponent recovered the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.

"We were all dying laughing, because it was such a thing that he would do. ... He was like that a lot," Kivlen said. "He was really unique, how he played. He wouldn't do normal stuff.

"It's gonna suck not to laugh and not to hear his voice."

In a tournament last year, with $100,000 on the line, Clayton was in an overtime game with his team trailing 19-16. On fourth down, instead of going for a field goal to tie the score, he faked it, wound up being sacked and turned the ball over on downs.

Sometimes those risks paid off. He placed second at a recent tournament called Muthead, which featured $20,000 in prize money.

"He was one of the best players in the world. And he didn't ride anyone else's wave -- he was his own man, 100 percent," Kivlen said. "It just sucks that he's gone now because he was becoming the person he was meant to be."

As for playing again, Kivlen's not sure when it will happen competitively, but he is participating in a special fundraiser Monday to help Clayton's and Robertson's families cover funeral expenses. Kivlen and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans will play a special game of Madden that will be livestreamed on Tilify. He also hopes esports events can be made safer in the future.

"If there's stuff we can do to prevent this, I'm all for it 100 percent," Kivlen said. "No one should ever have to deal with this."