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Keep reading for Stephen Totilo's take on what Microsoft play to buy Activision Blizzard means for esports. I also talked more about the pending deal on the Recode Media and Axios Today podcasts, both out today.

Today's newsletter is 1,198 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Big Tech lobbies hard against looming antitrust bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big Tech CEOs, including Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai, have been jawboning lawmakers as a Senate committee takes up a key antitrust bill Thursday, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold report.

Why it matters: The bill prompting this lobbying frenzy could upend how tech's giants do business, and tech's critics see this as a "now or never" moment for Congress to check the industry's power.

  • Direct involvement by tech executives shows real concern that these bills could become law.

Driving the news: The Senate Judiciary committee is set to mark up the American Innovation and Choice Online Act today and another bill focusing on app stores, the Open App Markets Act, within weeks.

  • The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is positioned to prohibit Big Tech companies from favoring their own services in an anti-competitive way.
  • Apple and Google came out strongly against the bill Tuesday, with both companies saying it would kill privacy and security features users love.

The intrigue: Cook and Pichai have reached out to lawmakers since late last year, sources tell Axios.

  • Judiciary Committee member Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) recently met with Cook and Pichai, an aide confirmed to Axios.

Yes, but: The bill's backers on both sides of the aisle seem unfazed by the Big Tech outreach.

  • "They're spending hundreds of millions of dollars, dispatching CEOs and it's all doomed," Garrett Ventry, a former staffer to House antitrust subcommittee Ranking Member Ken Buck (R-Colo.), told Axios. "It shows a shift in Big Tech's disintegrating influence on Capitol Hill."
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), leader of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, called Apple's argument against the bill a misrepresentation that "won't change reality."
  • However, criticism from tech that the bill could jeopardize services and exclude companies like ByteDance's TikTok prompted tweaks to the bill ahead of today’s markup, Axios learned.

The big picture: Anyone with skin in the game is geared up for battle. Multiple groups aligned with Big Tech have launched local polling initiatives and seven-figure digital and TV ad buys in an attempt to drive home their message.

  • Chamber of Progress, a Big Tech defense group, exclusively shared polling with Axios about how the topic of tech antitrust is resonating with voters.
  • That polling, conducted by firm Normington Petts, surveyed about 40 registered voters in each of 20 battleground congressional districts last November. It found that Democrats and independents do not broadly prioritize tech as a policy issue, and that few battleground voters (26%) want "aggressive government intervention."

The other side: Anti-Big Tech groups are also swarming.

  • Dozens of small and medium tech companies, including Yelp, Sonos and DuckDuckGo, wrote to Senate Judiciary leaders in support of the bill on Tuesday, arguing dominant tech company behavior prevents "companies like us from competing on the merits."
2. Esports' role in Microsoft-Activision Blizzard deal

Overwatch League action. Screenshot: Activision Blizzard

Microsoft and Activision executives said plenty about the so-called metaverse as they promoted yesterday's planned video game mega-deal, but little about another recent gaming buzzword: esports, Axios Gaming's Stephen Totilo reports.

Why it matters: Competitive video gaming, aka esports, may be big, but Activision's portion of it hasn't dominated the way its Call of Duty games have in the traditional gaming marketplace.

What they're saying: "I think that their esports idea was half-baked and has always been directionally wrong," Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter told Axios.

  • Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick's "mistake," Pachter said, "was that he presumed that because Call of Duty and Overwatch were popular games, there would be huge viewer interest to watch them as esports (not true)."

Between the lines: Part of what has kept esports a going concern at Activision is Kotick's relationships with rich team owners, said journalist Jacob Wolf.

  • "Kotick's cult of personality attracted billionaires and ultimately maintaining those relationships always felt like a top agenda item when discussing the leagues," Wolf said.
  • The key question to ask, Wolf said, is "How will Microsoft view taking a very expensive loss on those projects?"

What's next: Neither Wolf nor Pachter believe the Microsoft acquisition will end Activision's leagues, but they expect new thinking at the top.

  • "It's a rounding error for Microsoft [officials], and while I don't think they will abandon the business, I'm skeptical that they will adopt the same model for other games," Pachter said.
  • He expects Microsoft to use esports as some other big publishers do — not as a sport but as marketing for their games.
3. Cyberattack on Red Cross compromises data

Headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. Photo: MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The personal data of more than 515,000 "highly vulnerable people" were compromised in a cyberattack on a contractor used by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Axios' Yacob Reyes reports.

Why it matters: The attack compromised data from at least 60 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies worldwide. As of yet, there is no indication that the information has been leaked, according to the ICRC.

  • The vulnerable individuals whose information was compromised in the attack include people separated from their families due to conflict or disaster, missing persons and people in detention, per the organization.
  • ICRC director-general Robert Mardini appealed to the unknown perpetrators of the attack, asking them not to "share, sell, leak or otherwise use this data."

What they're saying: "An attack on the data of people who are missing makes the anguish and suffering for families even more difficult to endure," Mardini said in a statement.

Go deeper: 2021 was the year cybersecurity became everyone's problem

4. House cites environmental toll of crypto mining

A new memo from House Energy and Commerce Committee Democratic staff lays out why the panel is exploring cryptocurrency-related energy demand and carbon emissions, Axios Generate's Ben Geman reports.

Why it matters: The memo cites estimates that the 2021 CO2 emissions from digital mining for bitcoin and ethereum is "equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from more than 15.5 million gasoline powered cars on the road every year."

What's next: That's one piece of the wider memo that lays the foundation for tomorrow's hearing on the topic in the committee's Oversight and Investigations panel titled, "Cleaning Up Cryptocurrency: The Energy Impacts of Blockchains."

Yes, but: Weighing the carbon footprint of cryptocurrency mining is not an exact science.

  • It's also a moving target as efficiency grows, mining locations change and power mixes evolve, among other variables.
5. Take note

Trading Places

ICYMI

  • Crypto.com said it was hit with a security breach that led it to need to reimburse around 400 customers, though it hasn't yet shared full details. (Bloomberg)
  • Google is ending the free version of its G Suite tools for businesses, requiring companies to sign up for a paid version by July. It will maintain a free option for schools and nonprofits. (9to5Google)
6. After you Login

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