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Practice, Perseverance, and Madden: The Professional Journey of NFL Network’s Scott Cole

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This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration

By: Joe Londergan, @joehio_

Scott Cole, ESPN broadcaster & CBS Radio Host

At the risk of stating the obvious, the world of sports and sports broadcasting is a vastly different place than just a couple of decades ago. This is in part due to the rise of new internet broadcasting platforms, ESPN3 perhaps being the most prominent, and the esports scene growing into a now billion dollar industry. Scott Cole is considered a pioneer of esports broadcasting, as well as a seasoned veteran of traditional sports broadcasting with 18 years of experience.

Currently, Scott hosts Madden NFL Live on the NFL Network, regularly broadcasts college sports on the ESPN family of networks, and hosts The Scott Cole Show where he and co-host Ryan Alford discuss Scott’s beloved Clemson Tigers, among other sport topics, with a variety of guests. Before this, however, he was a student of John Brown University’s budding digital media program in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

“I was all lined up to go to a Clemson or a Furman University and study computer science or something crazy like that, but John Brown was one of the first schools to have a digital media program. So in 1997, people had never even heard of this interactive digital media world. I pretty much found out that I could get a degree in digital media and broadcasting because there was so many crossovers between the two. It was a unique opportunity because the school had a 100,000 watt radio station on campus too. It was a very hands on university and that’s the reason I chose it. I got to go there and broadcast sports and essentially be the voice of all the JBU sports teams for all four years. It just felt like it was four years of working and gaining experience and not just learning from books and dissecting Paul Harvey or Vin Scully.”

After calling over 200 sporting events as a college student, Scott was hired by the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars in graphic production. Here, he continued to pursue broadcasting by filling in on radio broadcasts when possible and networking with industry figures.

“It’s funny that Mark Cuban was the one writing my checks at the time, but internet broadcasting had still not really caught on. So I had to put it on the shelf as I realized, while I was driving Al Michaels and all these people around during the Stanley Cup playoffs, that I was a long way away from the opportunity that these guys have. So I sort of put broadcasting as a hobby and went into the advertising world, which is where the digital media degree came in.”

While waiting for the right opportunity to pursue his true passion for broadcasting, Scott worked in creative advertising for brands like American Airlines, Fossil, and Match.com. It was during this time that he became a highly involved member of the esports community and further stretched his broadcasting muscles. For those unfamiliar, Cyber Professional League, which has been described as the Mecca of the esports world, takes place in Dallas every year. At this event, and many like it, Scott provided commentary for the highest levels of video game competition.

“This was before video. What we would do is called “Shoutcasting” where we do play by play and color, just like you would over radio, but it was going out over the internet as an audio file. But in 2008, there was a sort of esports bust. It got big, people were putting a lot of money into it, but there wasn’t any infrastructure in place to handle player salaries and broadcast rights. So once again I go back to the advertising world, even though I traveled the world from Germany to Korea covering esports from the mid to late 2000’s.”

“To go from being on the internet in your bedroom to being on a million dollar platform in a million dollar studio and spending your Thursday nights watching football with Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin and Coach Mariucci, and then me: some random guy hanging out with Hall of Famers, it’s just kind of surreal.”

— Scott Cole

In 2014, however, Scott’s luck changed upon his introduction to the gaming live broadcasting platform Twitch.tv, which had recently been purchased by Amazon for $970 million.

“A former colleague, who is the director of broadcasting for Twitch, got me into Twitch and I didn’t even know what it was at the time. It is no different than starting your own internet radio station or video podcast except it’s live streaming.”

Scott quickly established a strong presence on Twitch providing gameplay and commentary for EA Sports’ Madden NFL games, among other titles. He eventually became a paid partner for Twitch and his talent and charisma caught the attention of EA Sports and the NFL.

“As esports started becoming more popular, they were looking for professionals. So out of nowhere, Twitch, EA Sports, and the NFL got together on a project called Madden NFL Live. Because I had met those Twitch guys two years earlier in New York, who had recognized my work doing college sports on ESPN3, and because of my work as a partner for Twitch, they decided to give me an audition. So I went on that audition and the second audition and somehow got the job. I just told my dad that I was going to see the studio, maybe meet Rich Eisen and Michael Irvin, and say it was a cool trip.”

“Twenty something episodes later, the show has nearly half a million viewers on a Saturday and it is the number one weekend show on the network and hopefully it is coming back for season two. To go from being on the internet in your bedroom to being on a million dollar platform in a million dollar studio and spending your Thursday nights watching football with Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin and Coach Mariucci, and then me: some random guy hanging out with Hall of Famers, it’s just kind of surreal.”

This opportunity prompted Scott to leave the advertising world and pursue broadcasting full time.

“Up until last October, I’ve always had a day job. When I got the national television job with NFL network, that is what pushed me to make the jump and try to make a run at my dreams. I’ve started now filling in on radio shows and hopefully I’ll have my own show launching this summer that reaches the Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, area and parts of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. It’s not work to me. A three to four hour show feels like five minutes. I’m sure you get worn down over time, but some people were made to talk.”

Scott’s presence on Madden NFL live, along with his active presence on gaming platforms like Twitch and XBOX Live, have provided him with unique networking opportunities with prominent figures of the football world, such as Cam Newton and Maurice Jones-Drew.

“With these athletes, if you call their agents, you are probably going to get the run around. But since I have a commonality of being a sort of gaming celebrity, especially in sports games, I can see Cam Newton and say ‘Cam, let’s play a game of Madden some time.’”

This has also taught him some of the finer points of relationship building. One of the most recent guests on Scott’s podcast was former Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers running back Ahman Green. Scott and Ahman’s friendship was mostly grown over interactions on XBOX Live.

“He came on the first episode of Madden NFL Live and we talked about playing games together, and now we’re doing projects together. I’m helping out with his charity, and he came on my radio show. Agencies want to know what the situation is with money but building relationships is what these players are doing. People think they’re going to clubs and all that, but these guys are actually going home and playing FIFA, Madden, NBA 2K and Call of Duty. They just want to be regular people. That’s what I’ve found out meeting guys like Joe Montana or Herschel Walker. They just want to be people. They’ve had people worship them long enough. When it comes to the younger generation of players, they just want to find some buddies to game with who don’t want anything in return.”

Gaming and esports have provided for many, like Scott, the opportunity to pursue their dreams. However, some traditional sports media figures, such as Colin Cowherd, have been adamant in their dismissiveness towards esports’ legitimacy.

“Everyone is susceptible to change. For example, when NASCAR got popular, people were questioning whether those guys were really athletes when the car is doing a lot of the work. In some sort of way, the computer is doing some of the work in esports. I think they realize, and even Colin Cowherd has come back to admit, that these guys have amazing reflexes and the way their brains work… it’s fatiguing. You have to be in shape. You even have teams now that are going to IMG Academy in Florida to train (for esports). They’re mixing in cardio and physical activities and brain testing, working on their reflexes. I’ll admit it isn’t football and no one is going to hit you, but any time you’re doing something professional for money, you have to be in shape for it. For most people it is just ignorance, the uneducated about what is really happening. It’s hard for people to understand what’s going on, but for a lot of teens and twenty somethings, that’s their world.”

Because of esports’ massive popularity amongst younger demographics, Twitch has the potential to be a training ground for the next generation of broadcasters in many facets of entertainment. Scott can personally speak to its effectiveness.

“It’s great practice for being live on camera. There’s no other feeling like that. There is no start over, there is no hold ups. There’s no take two. It is a live platform. Whether you are trying to get into radio or TV, having that pressure of having your brain think about what you are going to say because it is out there forever is good. As far as sports goes, I think play-by-play for a game like Rocket League or play-by-play for college soccer is pretty close. Having any ability to describe something live is a great platform, especially for someone that’s younger. The funny thing is a lot of times, when I’m broadcasting, let’s say on the SoCon digital network, it’s about a tenth of my viewership than if I was playing on Twitch. So sometimes Twitch is a larger platform, but for some reason broadcasting college baseball seems more legit than broadcasting MLB The Show on Twitch, even though 500–1,000 people might be watching concurrently on Twitch, maybe 10,000 people pass through in an hour.”

“A college baseball game on the SoCon Digital Network, if you go over a couple hundred people that feels like a pretty big deal. It’s just that stigma you talk about like ‘this isn’t real’ or ‘video games aren’t real’ or ‘esports isn’t real’ or ‘real broadcasting’, but I think there’s so much money involved that it will be. Now these shows, like the one I do, are hitting national television and there’s now Counter Strike on TBS. They’re playing for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. People are going to expect better production not only from the quality of the production but from the quality of the broadcasting.”

“The difference between esports and college football or baseball is there is a precedent with college sports, like Brad Nesler or Kirk Herbstreit for example. There are guys who are household names. There isn’t that in esports so when people tune in to listen, who may not be familiar with it, they have nothing from their past to be able to base it off of because it is so new and so foreign to them.”

With his love of gaming and sports appealing to audiences that may not always intertwine, Scott has struck a balance with his public presence between being authentic and professional.

“The easiest thing to do is be you. It’s hard work to be something you’re not, and I’m just too lazy. Somebody calls in and wants to talk about the Kentucky Derby and I’m like ‘I appreciate it, but I don’t know anything about it.’ But if someone called in and wanted to talk about the ’85 Bears and how they compare to last year’s Broncos’ defense, I can talk about that passionately for an hour. I think if you’re true to you, you build an audience that has an affinity for the topics that you like to talk about around you.”

“It’s been tough, I’ll be honest. With my social media, this is probably the first year where I’m going all in on sports and sort of leaving a little bit of the esports behind because you have to find your lane and stay in it. When you’re all over the place, people don’t know what to do. At one point I’m like ‘Yeah! Clemson is ranked again in Baseball!’ and the next moment, I’m like ‘I can’t believe there’s a new Halo coming out.’ People are just like ‘who is this guy?’ Some of those are just lessons learned.”

While hard work, perseverance, and passion have lifted Cole to the level of success and status that he enjoys today, he acknowledges that his journey as a broadcaster has been an unconventional one.

“I sort of do feel like I skipped a step, going from my bedroom to national television. Where was my small local broadcast? Where was my local sports show that lead to the NFL network? It was just all of a sudden because it’s niche programming. It’s not another show with three guys in suits; it sort of skipped over all of that. I think for a lot of the veteran broadcasters, they don’t understand it. They ask ‘how do you have 100,000 followers?’ And I said I gained 30,000 in one episode on national TV. That’s the difference of having the NFL retweeting you and being verified on Twitter overnight compared to being some local guy. I felt like now I got to go back and find my roots and find what my broadcasting baseline is. One night I’ll be broadcasting women’s soccer to 50 people, then the next I’m on national TV to 500,000. But it still feels the same to me and that lets me know that it’s my right profession.”

When building your own path to broadcasting success, saying yes to everything is undeniably essential. Mr. Scott Cole is living proof of this.

“Even if you’re doing a local radio show at two in the morning, don’t turn down any opportunity. Even if that means you might have to miss something that you want to do. The one time you say no might be the last time they ask you. It’s such a select group of people and so many people want to do it, there’s going to be someone that says yes. Where you had your own seat, all of a sudden you’ve lost it. It’s that competitive. Broadcast anything you can. 100 people watching me on Twitch turned into a national TV job.”

Follow Scott on Twitter here.

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn here.

This interview was presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration


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How Players Associations Could Help Improve Esports’ Infrastructure

As players associations start to form within esports leagues, leaders are hopeful they can start to help solve the issues facing players in the industry.

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As the esports industry continues its ascent into big business, the players are beginning to realize the importance in the growth.

Multiple esports leagues have started to form players associations, most notably a global Counter-Strike union and League of Legends Players Association. The associations are forming in large part to fight for player rights and establish uniformity in the sport.

“At a 20,000-foot level, most player and team contracts are team-sided in all things,” said Scott Smith, who spearheaded the Counter-Strike association and is a longtime esports figure. “These young athletes sign away all their rights for a paycheck, X-amount to play a game.

“Players are starting to realize there’s money out there and they’re not replaceable. There’s a skill gap in these games.”

Counterstrike players formed its players association internationally, and thus won’t have the same leverage as a legalized labor union like the NFLPA, Smith said. Its main mission, at least currently, is to leverage the players’ voices and form some standardized tournament specifications.

“The business side is growing up,” Smith said. “We all figured out how to make it entertaining like a sport, but behind the scenes, infrastructure is playing catchup.”

READ MORE: The Boom of Implementing Esports Classes in College Has Begun

Unlike the Counter-Strike association, Riot Games brought in Hal Biagas to help lead a union of its League of Legends players. Biagas, the executive director of the NA LCS Players Association, has more than 21 years in sports industry experience, including 12 years working with the NBA Players Association as the assistant general counsel.

While doubts have been cast about the ability for the union to operate independently from the business. Smith, for one, believes associations should be started by angsty players looking for outside help to spark change. Smith pointed to Overwatch selling broadcast rights to Twitch for $90 million, with players getting no cut as a situation that could spur a union.

“It might just take some guys getting burned to get them truly activated,” Scott said.

Biagas seems optimistic Riot’s connection is not an issue.

“[Riot’s move] is very progressive and in some ways altruistic of Riot to suggest and advocate for it,” Biagas said. “It’s an interesting dynamic. I think from Riot’s perspective, they felt for the healthiest ecosystem, all the parties should have, maybe not equality, but there should at least be a level playing field.”

He also said he believes the company might have felt it would be beneficial to be ahead of the curve with the association model, with so many other esports leagues potentially set to follow suit in the future. For now, Biagas will focus on leading the association in growth and player involvement for when issues to present themselves to press the league on with a “unified voice.” A potential early issue will be moving the league’s teams toward a more uniform contract, he said.

For the four major sports leagues in the U.S., it took decades for player associations to form, but the cycle has accelerated in the recent past, with WNBA and MLS associations forming almost immediately in the 1990s.

Smith equated the esports industry MLB in 1900 when players were just excited to get paid to swing a bat.

The historic formation and power of some major sports player associations do provide a good framework, said Robert Rippee, executive director of the hospitality lab at the International Gaming Institute at UNLV.

“They have the ability. To look at plenty of case studies and learn from those and, potentially, do it better and faster,” Rippee said.

The relative delay of the creation of esports player associations against those two new sports leagues might be in part due to people not considering esports traditional sports, Biagas said.

Also involved is the youth of players, and a six-figure salary to play a video game rather than playing recreationally can be enticing. The youth and ability to play for money also could make selling the appeal of a union more difficult, even if they’re to the benefit of the players.

But selling away their rights poses one of the largest issues Biagas has seen and said it will be an issue he examines more thoroughly in the near future and is high on the list. Those lack of rights can be limiting in individual endorsement and sponsorship deals. Biagas said the youth of the sport and players, as well as inexperienced agents in the space, are the main reasons those rights were initially negotiated away.

“Most of the players rights are controlled by the teams,” he said. “Contracts are very limiting in what players are able to do with their images and other marks.”

From the team side of the players rights deals, Smith, who once owned a team, said he understands the early practice as the teams and leagues needed the control as they needed more revenue streams. Now as the industry as matured and more and more lucrative revenue streams have opened up, it’s less vital to the teams and leagues.

Smith said now he believes teams aren’t activating individual players enough and there’s an avenue to give players their rights back, pay them less and, ultimately, make more money. There are also plenty of verticals teams have no interest in selling, like socks, watches and shoes.

“No one uses them, let a kid try to go out and sell them,” he said. “Not every kid will be an entrepreneur, but there are quite a few who could activate that stuff. Teams wouldn’t lose money, they’d make money.”

READ MORE: Looking Into the Crystal Ball: 3 Esports Predictions for 2019

A major challenge within the esports industry is the vast amount of leagues across the globe and differences among the genres of game and demographics interested in those specific games.

“The issue is we use the term esports like sports. Sports is a huge word,” Smith said. “Counter-Strike and its ecosystem is way different than Rainbow Six and Rocket League and League of Legends.”

The idea of a standardized players associations bridging those gaps seems unlikely, Rippee said, but he believes the idea of the community will string through whenever esports players form associations.

“It’s a sign of maturation in the industry,” Rippee said. “But it’s not the peak. If you look at the history of esports, it began as a community construct, people playing together, and competition formed organically. These associations are an extension of those roots, they want to retain their input, involvement and control within the community.”

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New Sponsorship Maintains Trend of Quality Over Quantity for Riot Games

For Riot Games, the sponsorship strategy isn’t about stacking up sponsorship partners, but rather finding companies with aligned philosophical values.

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A recent partnership between League of Legends Esports and Dell Alienware launches the new year for Riot Games with another quality sponsor.

For Riot Games, the sponsorship strategy isn’t about stacking up sponsorship partners, but rather finding companies with aligned philosophical values, said Naz Aletaha, head of esports partnerships at Riot Games. Aletaha oversees League of Legends global sponsorships, strategic partnerships, business development, and media rights.

Along with Dell Alienware, Aletaha mentioned the Mastercard sponsorship launched at the League of Legends World Championship last year as the two prime examples of quality over quantity.

“Ultimately, we focus on finding partners who can do right by our fans and our sport — partners who share our fan-first philosophy and who want to stand side-by-side with us for the long term to deliver meaningful and authentic experiences to the entire ecosystem,” Aletaha said.

READ MORE: Inside Riot Games’ Partnership with Mastercard and What It Means for the Future of the Publisher

“Both are world-class brands who prioritize their customers and celebrate their passions. They both recognize by combining our efforts, we can take League of Legends Esports — which has scaled to a global, premier sport — to new heights.”

The multi-year partnership with Dell Alienware makes the computer manufacturer the “Official Competition PC and display partner” for the two leagues: League of Legends Championship Series and League of Legends European Championship. The partnership gives Dell Alienware the same title for four other international competitions, including the League of Legends World Championship.

The World Championship had 99.8 million unique viewers for the World Finals, showcasing the potential brand value with the esports league.

The deal will bring League of Legends a fleet of hundreds of Alienware Aurora R8 desktop computers with cutting-edge gaming monitors. Along with the computers will be Dell’s SupportAssist diagnostic, helping detect and prevent technical issues before they impact a match.

The computers will be deployed across the globe and “establishes a consistently high-performance standard, much like traditional sports have done in the past across a range of equipment such as game balls, bats, sticks and pucks,” Aletaha said.

“We are thrilled to be able to tap into Alienware and Dell’s unmatched expertise in hardware and technology services to set the gold standard for the official equipment that will power our sport,” she said.

Mastercard has a long history of sponsoring traditional sports, like Major League Baseball, PGA Tour, Rugby World Cup, and UEFA Champions League, among others.

“Esports is a phenomenon that continues to grow in popularity, with fans that can rival those at any major sporting event in their enthusiasm and energy,” Mastercard Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Raja Rajamannar said at the time of the 2018 Mastercard announcement. “Our Priceless platform is built around connecting with people through their passions.”

Like Mastercard, Dell Alienware will also work with Riot Games for onsite fan activations at all the major League of Legends Esports events to help further the fan attraction of the events.

Along with Alienware and Mastercard, Riot Games is bringing a similar approach to sponsors at a regional level across the globe. In the U.S., the regional sponsorship is State Farm.

Riot Games also has partnerships with Kia in Europe, Mercedes-Benz, and KFC in China, and Gillette in Brazil. The major brands have recognized the growth and significance of esports across the globe and are buying into the industry and its potential opportunities.

READ MORE: Looking Into the Crystal Ball: 3 Esports Predictions for 2019

“The growth of the business of esports overall is incredibly exciting,” Aletaha said. “We’re very encouraged by the meaningful commitment that such respected and recognized brands are making in the space.”

Aletaha said the partnership has roots dating back to CES 2018, when she met key decision makers from the company for the first time. She said major industry conventions are invaluable to her job.

“We very quickly realized as that first meeting that we are both relentlessly committed to elevating the gaming experience for our audience and to the continued technological innovation and overall growth of esports.

“We knew right then and there that partnership was a no-brainer.”

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Looking Into the Crystal Ball: 3 Esports Predictions for 2019

We figured out what fans and gamers can expect from the world of competitive video games in 2019 with the help of a few industry professionals.

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In 2018, fans worldwide watched 6.6 billion hours of esports. With the ability to stream competitions becoming easier to access, the rise of newer games like “Fortnite,” and more fans coming on board, that number will most likely rise once again.

With the new year upon us, we took a look at what else fans and gamers can expect from the world of competitive video games in 2019 with the help of a few industry professionals.

Player welfare will take on more importance

In the past decade or so, the world of esports developed some habits that would probably be considered unhealthy. Players would all live and train together in a single facility. Not many resources were made available to players in terms of mental or physical wellness. Esports organizations also rarely made it a point to help players transition into a different career once their playing days were over.

Now, large organizations like Gen.G are changing the conversation.

At its newest facility in Seoul, Gen.G offers players access to resources like a nutritionist, a psychologist, a full gym, and streaming resources once players are done playing competitively. Players also work in this facility while commuting from their homes around the city in an effort to avoid mental burnout.

READ MORE: Gen.G Is Leading the Highly Competitive Esports Arms Race

In a recent interview, Gen.G Chief Growth Officer Arnold Hur spoke to the importance of his company dedicating resources to improve player welfare.

“I really don’t understand it when I see other organizations that aren’t as focused on player welfare,” Hur said. “It’s our top priority to make sure that a player can be more successful with us than with any other organization. In any sport, your number-one cost is going to be your talent, your players. Making sure that they’re able to perform at their best should be your biggest investment. Since they are our most important investment, we’re going to give it our best shot, so that our athletes can be the best that they can be.”

More non-endemic brands will come on as sponsors and investors

Brands like Alienware and Razer are deeply embedded in the sponsorship space of esports due to their long-established credibility with gamers.

Thanks to esports continuing to dominate the attention spans of the highly coveted 18-35 demographic worldwide, brands that offer products or services that aren’t specifically tied to gaming will likely be moving into esports at a quickened pace. Nike, for example, signed Chinese League of Legends player Jian Zihao to an endorser contract early in the year.

Based on this and other similar deals, fans can especially expect this in esports leagues adjacent to traditional sports like the NBA 2K League.

“We’ve seen a number of large, non-endemic brands and investors come into the space over the past few years, but most recently in 2018,” said Grant Paranjape, director of esports business and team operations for Monumental Sports & Entertainment. “For those who have entered with a thoughtful approach and an ability to integrate endemic esports knowledge into their organizations, I think they’ve been well rewarded by the reception from a very difficult to reach audience. During 2019, I would expect more brands to investigate the space, learn from the mistakes and successes of others, and bring a level of investment into the industry that further professionalizes every aspect, from organizations to individual teams and players.”

READ MORE: Study Confirms Esports Has Graduated to the Big Leagues

Chris “Chopper” Hopper, Riot’s North American head of esports, echoed this sentiment.

“There was a lot of discussion in 2018 with non-endemic brands in terms of sponsorship. That will turn into more closures in 2019. There’s a lot of value here in esports, and brands are aware of that,” Hopper said.

Riot has names like State Farm Insurance and Mastercard sponsoring its major competitions. Expect more larger brands to follow suit in the new year.

Esports will gain more traction in traditional athletic competitions

The 2019 Southeast Asian Games will take place from November 30 to December 11 this year. For the first time in its history, esports will be a part of the competition alongside 55 other athletic events. Games included are “Dota 2,” “Starcraft II,” “Tekken 7,” “Arena of Valor,” “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,” and one yet to be announced.

The Southeast Asia Games are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This competition will mark the first time that esports is a medaled event in a competition sanctioned by the IOC.

Does this mean that we will see video games make their debut in the next Olympics? Not necessarily, but the IOC is opening the door here for other regional athletic competition to include video games in the program, which means the process is underway for esports to be an Olympic competition at some point in the next few years.

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