This is a piece written by Erin Giddings, a friend of Hunter’s and also a valued member of our event team. This is his (mostly unfiltered) story about what our annual event means to him. With all of the hype surrounding the tournament and the prizes, we wanted to share a more personal perspective as a reminder of why we work so hard to make the Hunter Burton Memorial Open happen each year!
I have had the honor and the pleasure of being involved with the Hunter Burton Memorial Open since its beginning more than 5 years ago. I recall the day sitting at a BBQ joint with the other people involved and hearing the idea of what the Burton family wanted to do to honor and remember their son. I was excited at the opportunity to finally make a difference for a cause I was passionate about!
To start this story however we have to go back farther than just knowing Hunter Burton. The full picture starts in 2008 when I opened a game store in North Texas. At the time I had been involved in the gaming industry for over 9 years and was excited to start a new chapter of my career as a business owner. A journey that would prove to be very difficult.
I lost almost everything shortly after starting the business. My fiance left me for someone else, financially things were bad, and I had some serious health issues building behind the scenes. I personally struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. With the help of people like my mother, my store manager Mike Stover, and some new friends made through the store, I was able to move forward and get back on my feet.
One of those friends was Brandon Mills. Brandon was one of the brightest parts of my time in the gaming industry. He picked me up when I was down, he had a beer with me when I needed it, and he would light up a room when he was there. B or B-Mills as we called him became a close friend and one I will cherish the rest of my life.
There came a day however that I didn’t think was possible. I hadn’t seen Brandon in almost a month. He was busy with work and working on a promotion, I was busy running a business. On this day however I opened up the store email and a very direct email informed me that Brandon had passed away.
I thought it was a joke, someone’s cruel prank. I showed my manager and said, “no way, who would be such an A$% to do something like that!?” Then it hit me… it wasn’t a prank.
When Brandon’s best friend Collin called me to explain, I found out that Brandon had gone out with co-workers that night and seemed happy as can be. Celebrating the raise he just got at work, why wouldn’t he be. That night Brandon went home and took his own life. He left a note to his family that said, “There is nothing you could have done, I’ve wanted this for a long time.” It was utterly heartbreaking for me that Brandon was someone who helped pick me up and keep me going, and all the while he was struggling to do the same.
I remember sitting in the funeral home during Brandon’s service. I was in the front row and every time they began singing church hymns I broke out crying. Just feet away from me in that casket was a friend that saved me, and I couldn’t save him. I helped carry his casket to the grave site and I just kept looking at his mother and thinking, “I can’t even imagine the pain she feels. I can’t understand how this could happen.”
William Brandon Mills passed away on May 4th, 2011. He was 26 years old.
So let’s fast forward now. Hunter Burton was a Magic player in my store for a few years. He was a member of our first store sponsored MtG team and always had what I called his “entourage” with him. There were always some Magic players following him around. I my experience with him he was always respectful to me and in the times I got to know him he struck me as a pretty nice guy.
I remember one night I was outside the shop talking to a new player who was discouraged due to not doing very well in an event. Hunter was nearby smoking a cigarette at the time. I told the new player that “Hey, it takes time to get better at these card games. Time, practice and patience is the key.” Hunter was just sitting there smoking his cigarette and I looked over and said, “Hey Hunter, how long did it take you to get good at playing Magic? I’m trying to explain that people shouldn’t get discouraged not being good right away.” You know what Hunter said? “Uh, I was just kinda naturally good at it, but yeah practice doesn’t hurt.”
I look back now and laugh at that every time. He wasn’t trying to be a jerk, he was just being Hunter, straightforward and honest. He wasn’t wrong by the way, he was just naturally good at Magic the Gathering.
The rest of Hunter’s story is one better told by his close friends and family. However when I learned of Hunter’s passing and received the invite to Hunter’s funeral I was once again heartbroken. The moment I pulled into the funeral home parking lot, the memories of Brandon came rushing back. I walked in, I sat down, and I couldn’t stop thinking about why these two young men’s lives had ended so soon and what could I have done. After the service I walked out, said pleasantries to friends and family and then left fairly quickly. I wanted to stop by Brandon’s grave and pay respects.
Yes, you read that correctly. I was sitting in the same funeral home, at the same cemetery to see another friend, a customer, a gamer, put into the ground way before their time.
When someone asks me, why do you volunteer for the Hunter Burton Memorial Open my answer is easy. I do not want anyone to ever have to sit and think, “What if I could have done something?! What if I had just known?!” My goal is to spread the word to everyone I can, that no matter what you are going through or what life has thrown at you, there are options to help and there are people who care. Just speak up!
Dona, Greg, and Casey Burton have honored me with a platform to help spread this awareness and to honor their son in the best way possible. Alongside the other volunteers, the ever-growing list of sponsors, and all the friends and family that support the event, I am confident we are making a difference in someone’s life… and that’s all I need. Just one life to be saved so that a friend doesn’t have to suffer the way I did and that a person doesn’t have to hurt the way Brandon and Hunter had.
I want to bring gamers together and talk about a topic nobody wants to discuss. I want to make sure we stand together as support for women and men in the gaming community who might be suffering. I want to have a difficult conversation without people feeling uncomfortable admitting they are hurting or depressed. I want to let people know it is and will be okay.
What does this event mean to me you ask? It means everything.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story and by doing so show support for this cause. I truly hope that regardless of if you play games or not, you will stop by the Hurst Conference Center on Sunday February 25th and join us as we celebrate Hunter Burton and spread awareness that hopefully helps save a life.