"He loved football, and out of all the videogames he could play, he settled on and mastered 'Madden,'" Brandi Pettijohn said. "He made a good living gaming, and he saved his earnings so he could afford to go to college to continue his education."
Pettijohn said the family is "devastated by yet another senseless act of gun violence."
“My cousin has to bury her first born and it’s just as terrible as that sounds,” Pettijohn said. “Our family has been forever changed. Nothing will replace the love that we have for Elijah. There is a hole that will never be filled.”
In a video that was livestreamed by the network Twitch, Clayton can be seen playing with a smile on his face. A red laser dot appears on Clayton’s sweater. He scores a touchdown. Then the video feed switches to a kickoff return — and 11 gunshots can be heard.
“Those were his last actions: a touchdown and a smile,” said Damon Kirk, one of Clayton’s gaming friends. “Then the guy started shooting.”
Clayton was at a gaming tournament when he was shot by David Katz, of Maryland, a fellow gamer who had been eliminated from the competition, authorities said.
Before Clayton — better known by the handle Trueboy — rose to the heights of the competitive “Madden” scene, he played football at Chaminade College Preparatory in California in 2012 before transferring to Calabasas High School in 2013.
Teammates said even then they could tell he had a great football mind.
Brad Kaaya, a quarterback who is on injured reserve for the Indianapolis Colts and who played with Clayton at Chaminade, said Clayton could mimic other teams’ defensive squads so well, he thought Clayton could have become a defensive coordinator.
But playing the “Madden” video game was always in Clayton’s future.
“For as long as I could remember, he’d play Madden every day and even during class when we weren’t supposed to,” Kaaya said. “A lot of us had Madden on our school computers and would still play. Eli was always the best.
“He’d always be playing somebody else in class on the laptop. Anytime any of us got caught, they’d take the laptop to the computer lab and wipe it away, but we’d always find a way to get back on. He found a way to make a career out of it, which not many people get to do.”
Clayton placed second at a recent “Madden” tournament called Muthead, earning a share of the $20,000 prize.
“He really was the best ‘Madden’ player this year,” Kirk said. “He probably would have walked away with a half-a-million dollars.”
The Florida Times-Union profiled Clayton in 2017 after he took the local team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, to the Madden finals. Clayton told the newspaper he first started playing Madden when he was 5 and started playing competitively about two years ago.
“It’s about fighting through adversity, just like real football,” Clayton told the newspaper.
Kirk described Clayton as “super funny, super cool, always joking, always laughing. … He was just a carefree person.”
When one gamer tweeted that he was having a “bad mental breakdown” one day, Clayton tweeted: “It happens to all of us at some point. Keep ya head up g. You’ll get through it.”
Gamer Shay Kivlen of Seattle said he met Clayton about five years ago. They bonded because both of them played games on a PlayStation 4 — which put them at odds with many gamers who prefer Microsoft's Xbox.
The two friends would chat daily online and see each other about six times a year at gaming tournaments. About a week before the Florida shootings, Kivlen said, he was visiting San Diego and Clayton drove 2 ½ hours in rush hour traffic to meet him.
"He was one of the kindest people, most genuine guys I've ever met," said Kivlen, 21. "He was super real, and that's what I loved about him. If he was happy, you knew he was happy. He wore his emotions on his sleeve."
Days before flying to Jacksonville, Clayton indicated in a tweet that he was unsure whether he would attend this year’s “Madden NFL” competition. But he had a change of heart.
The competition seemed to have been going well. On Saturday, he tweeted: “Won every game by max no one crossed the 50 or scored a point. Waiting for singles for tomorrow.”
Garrett Scarpace, one of his Chaminade teammates, said he spent much of Sunday refreshing his screen over and over again, hoping to learn that the news was not true.
“The hardest part for me is he was a young guy,” Scarpace said. “His family … will never get to see him grow old, get his first house, get married, have kids. For that to be taken from him over a video game — it leaves me speechless.”