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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Video games were once considered a distraction. Now, they are the soil upon which a thriving esports industry has been built.

By the numbers: Esports generated nearly $1 billion in revenue last year, according to research firm Newzoo. As for eyeballs, Goldman Sachs projects viewership to reach 300 million by 2022, putting it on par with the NFL. As a result of this explosion, investors, media partners, sponsors and (insert pretty much any industry here) have been scrambling to capitalize on what should be an extremely lucrative new industry.

Here's the crazy part: All of this — from the endless buzz, to the lucrative sponsorship deals, to the industry's first crossover star — has taken place within an ecosystem that has very little infrastructure.

  • Put it this way: Think about what the NFL would look like if virtually no high school or college students played football in an official setting. Yeah, maybe they'd toss the pigskin around on the weekends, but there was no "pipeline" leading to the pros.
  • That's basically esports at the moment. The professional leagues are succeeding despite the fact that there is no overarching amateur system to bring young people in and churn out talent.
  • In other words, a massive hole still remains: competitions to engage the millions upon millions of American high school and college students who already play video games (let's not even get started on youth leagues). If that hole is filled, just imagine what it could do for an already burgeoning industry.

Driving the news: That hole is being filled.

  • High school: PlayVS (pronounced play versus) is an esports platform that lets high schools create official esports leagues. Thanks to an exclusive partnership with the NFHS (basically the NCAA of high school sports), the company is set to kick off its inaugural season next month in high schools across 12 states.
  • College: Marquette University just announced that it will launch a varsity esports team in the fall, the first in the nation run by a major conference D-I athletics program. The team "will be run like any other varsity sport: there will be tryouts, a coach will be hired, regular practices will be held and the team will represent Marquette at esports tournaments."

The big picture: If the NCAA eventually decides to include esports, it would change everything — from the infrastructure to the rules (Title IX, etc) to the mainstream appeal (would games be broadcast on conference networks?).

  • But don't count on that happening anytime soon. NCAA president Mark Emmert voiced strong concerns about esports recently, saying the content is "hugely misogynistic" and "violent."

Go deeper ... Pro Rata Podcast: The Future of eSports

Go deeper

Don McGahn agrees to closed-door interview with House panel on Russia report

Former White House counsel Don McGahn during a discussion at the NYU Global Academic Center in Washington, D.C., in 2019. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former White House counsel Don McGahn agreed Wednesday to speak with the House Judiciary Committee about the Russia investigation that led to the impeachment trial of former President Trump — with certain conditions, per a court filing.

Why it matters: The agreement ends a two-year standoff after McGahn, a key player in former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, repeatedly refused to agree to a subpoena for testimony — resulting in the matter being taken to court.

Updated 30 mins ago - World

Over 70 dead in worst bombardments between Israel and Hamas for years

Smoke and flames rise after Israeli fighter jets conducted airstrikes in Gaza on May 13, 2021. Israeli forces said on May 12 they had killed a senior Hamas commander and bombed several buildings. Gaza's health ministry has said children are among the dead. Photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

At least 67 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed in fighting between Israel's military and Hamas since Monday, per Reuters.

The big picture: The worst aerial exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas since 2014 come days after escalating violence in Jerusalem that injured hundreds of Palestinians and several Israeli police officers during protests over the planned evictions of Palestinian families from their homes.

1 hour ago - Health

COVID-19 pandemic was "preventable disaster," WHO-commissioned report says

A health worker gives a COVID-19 test to a woman in Oakland, California. Photo: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

The COVID-19 pandemic was a "preventable disaster" that exposed weak links "at every point" of the preparedness process, according to a World Health Organization-commissioned report published Wednesday.

Why it matters: The report by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response criticized governments worldwide for being unprepared for the pandemic despite the prevalence of past "global health threats," such as Ebola, Zika, and SARS outbreaks.