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Caseythoughts There seems to be plenty to absorb and think about as the news continues to flow like a high pressure fire hose, and plenty to comment on as well. The insanity of tit-for-tat tariffs (read: new taxes to eat up your tax cut), the Democratic Party's lunge/lurch to the farther left, the Republican party's effort to appease the alt-right, understated worries about inflation while emerging markets (South Africa, China, Argentina, not to mention fragile Mediterranean economies) continue to roil and jitterize market watchers, all combining to give many of us our own case of contrarian goose bumps.

So, in the interest of more entertaining speculation, I present two 'stories' which you may not have heard about, and will help you idly speculate on a topic that many of us know next to nothing about (or don't understand how many people can actually think it's important). I speak of 'sport' as it evolves in the 21st century into unknown shape.

Have you heard of e-sports? I put the hyphen there to help with saying or reading it....current 'style' is just to write esports, like ecommerce, email, ecurrency, etrade, ebay....esports? Try this on your brain: one of the newest crazes in reality and investing is esports. I'll do my best to explain the phenomenon.

Let's take, for a local instance, the Lansing sports rink/arena which is currently used for soccer, lacrosse, ice hockey, etc. Now, suppose it could be turned into (either temporary, or even permanently, which would make economic sense, just for a visual example) into an arena with jumbo-tron TV screens hanging from the ceiling, and a high tech array of paraphernalia necessary for 'gaming': high tech (and high stakes, which we'll discuss in a moment) games with multiple players, say, five or ten, set up at tables and consoles, with cameras on the players that also beam up the images of the players 'playing' against the other players along with the actual real-time screen shots of the game as it progresses.

Anyone who has played these real-time competitive games against unseen others, or watched their kids play, know this scenario (Gee, I just realized it's like, on a smaller scale, watching someone play you hear Tommy in your brain right now?). But, here's the kick, if you're able to imagine this competition between teams on jumbo-tron screens.....the arena is full of spectators who get their jollies, like football, or soccer, watching this spectacle in real time, cheering on their favorite competitors, munching hot dogs (or a vegan equivalent?) popcorn from vendors, beer, etc.

Now, with the advent and legalization of betting on your smart phone, you can place bets on your favorite player, or team of players, wagering on their success, their moves, their evasions of 'death'. Who will win? Who has the most clever moves on a game you may have played but never imagined the stakes, as well as the cheers and jeers of thousands of spectators, ringing in your ears, and garnering a paycheck as well as adulation of the fans. Yes, there are such 'pro' gamers, some of them making six figures from playing and being sponsored. Check out 'Twitch' to see how many live feeds are being sent out to thousands of people on their phones. It's called, what else, 'professional video game playing' and Wall Street sees this aberration of sitting in your pajamas and playing Minecraft all day as the 'next big thing'.

Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., has invested in Immortals, LLC, who (which?) owns and operates the Los Angeles Valiant, a videosports team that works in an actual league run by video game publisher 'Activision Blizzard Inc.' that started up in January. The Valiant team is reportedly tagged with a valuation of $100 million. The audience can't be big, you say? Ms. Whitman says the global audience is now estimated (and how easy it is to know a number such as this) at 400 million viewers. That's a lot of eyeballs, as they say in the advertising business. The annual revenue of this esports business, from sponsorships (heck, even Tide detergent sponsors NASCAR, for crying out loud...they know who their audience is), media/broadcast rights (think ESPN, for instance), and ticket sales (the arena audience ) is supposed to be $800 million and growing. AND GROWING!

Arlington Texas is the home of the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers and the WNBA's Dallas Wings. According to one of my recent 'reads', Arlington is supposed to begin construction of a 100,000 square foot esports facility. Most esports fans watch on their smart phones via Twitch, YouTube and Mixer with live stream of competition and related 'content'. Some of these semi-professional players are pulling down six figure 'salaries' by sponsorships, etc. I couldn't make this up.

Since 2015, six major esports venues have already opened in the US. The Arlington facility will have, in addition to stadium seating and massive, state of the art video screens/sound, areas much like current sport venues, retail areas, public gaming consoles (called the e-cade?) and even training academy facilities (there are already gaming tutors available that kids are begging their parents to pony up for). The facility opens in November, and its estimated cost is $10 million (at least taxpayers aren't paying for these, yet). China and Germany have already joined California and Texas in this newest and weirdest of fads...or is it more than a fad, like the slot car race joints of the sixties? Las Vegas, of course, is already there: a 30,000 square foot arena that opened in March.

I suppose I can see one positive note about this, or maybe two. It could be the vehicle to get thousands of gamers (from a little anti-social to the truly isolated and pale) out of their bedrooms or basements and back into a social setting larger than their minuscule so-called lives based on four inch screens (maybe in my crotchitiness and cynicism I'm missing out...) while a crowd of game lovers get together the same way baseball, or football games are enjoyed in a stadium setting. Being in recovery for years, however, I know that the addict (and there are plenty of them in esports and the internet in general) can be lonely even in the Carrier Dome.

But, a positive? I imagine another great and burgeoning field of enterprise would be chiropractic which specializes in problems of the hand, wrist and thumbs, generated from hours, days, months of gaming, not to mention the face down posture of the crooked neck syndrome. The spoils and rewards can be shared and distributed among orthopedic specialists who will then invest in esport auditoriums/stadiums, or at least team sponsorships and advertising for 'trigger finger' and other arthritic conditions.

But, in keeping with the sports theme, there is another somewhat wacky idea being floated about in baseball; you know, that wonderful sport loved by millions that has always resisted any change. The designated hitter (heresy!) still isn't in place in the National League, and it used to be four strikes and you're out and nine games in the World Series, both changed about a century ago).

As you may know, baseball has been suffering from noticeable declines in attendance, as well as TV viewership. Attributable to several varied and arguable reasons, the cure has been elusive. How to get more people in the actual stadium to enjoy what has been called America's Pastime? TV and online viewing may be different issues, though gambling on baseball (Pete Rose, and the Black Sox notwithstanding) may save it from total oblivion.

Solution? Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal has proposed letting fans pitch: Yes! A fan randomly picked from the stands. Say, the score is hopelessly one-sided, and the losing (or winning?) team's manager decides to spice the game up in, say, the eighth inning with the following rule change:

  1. A raffle drum (see my previous column on the military draft!!) with all the ticket stubs from the evening's attendance is brought out to the pitcher's mound.
  2. The manager picks a stub: 'Section 18, Row 4, Seat F'. 'Come on down!!!'
  3. The fan quickly dons a uniform (this is one of the realistic thrills, you know, the thrill of a lifetime, worth the price of a ticket)
  4. A few warm-up pitches.
  5. A net is set up like batting point or chance of our 'pitcher' getting beaned by a line drive.
  6. No walks allowed, one strike is an out, and a foul is an out. Keeping it simple, you see.

Gay opines, "Who wouldn't want to watch that?" It would be especially valuable in games where the score appeared a blow-out, say, a nine run gap in the 9th inning. Since it's the winning team at bat (though this isn't a necessary part, it could be the obverse), it could give the losing team another shot at bat, or, regardless of who is winning or losing it might go hand in hand with the New York Lottery cliche 'Hey, ya never might be you on the mound in a Mets' uniform facing the league batting champion!!' Near the end of a hopeless season, it would certainly get the attendance numbers up for the hapless team in the last few weeks of a miserable season.

Both esports and 'fan pitching' are interesting variations on a couch-potato society. Maybe it's a way for us to find that 'Bread and circuses' are a variant on obliviousness and a way to ignore the chaos outside the stadium. After all, we love sports for both the randomness and the order of rules. Don't forget to bring your smartphone. Wouldn't be the same if you weren't able to bet on the outcome, unless you actually enjoy the game for the game itself. What a concept.

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