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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

CDC lets child migrant shelters fill to 100% despite COVID concern

Intensive care tents at overflow shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Photo: Sergio Flores/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control is allowing shelters handling child migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border to expand to full capacity, abandoning a requirement that they stay near 50% to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The fact that the country's premier health advisory agency is permitting a change in COVID-19 protocols indicates the scale of the immigration crisis. A draft memo obtained by Axios conceded "facilities should plan for and expect to have COVID-19 cases."

8 Senate Democrats vote against adding $15 minimum wage to COVID relief

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Eight Democratic senators on Friday voted against Sen. Bernie Sanders' amendment to ignore a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian and add a $15 minimum wage provision to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

The state of play: The vote was held open for hours on Friday afternoon — even after every senator had voted — due to a standoff in negotiations over the next amendments that the Senate will take up.

CDC: Easing mask mandates led to higher COVID cases and deaths

Customer at a supermarket chain in Austin, Texas. Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Easing mask restrictions and on-site dining have increased COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to a study out Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: The report's findings converge with actions from governors this week easing mask mandates and announcing plans to reopen nonessential businesses like restaurants.