Journalism Showcase

ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – January 20, 2017

The leading art from Shaun Assael's e-sport gambling story in ESPN the Magazine's Super Bowl issue.
Shaun Assael’s eSports gambling story appears on Sunday’s edition of OTL, online now at ESPN.com and in ESPN The Magazine’s Super Bowl issue published next week.
There is a $5 billion illicit economy in a video game token, and nobody is talking about it. It’s happening right under our noses, but parents don’t know about it, state and federal regulators don’t seem to know about it. So that was a challenge.
– Shaun Assael

ESPN The Magazine investigative journalist Shaun Assael takes readers into the world of eSports gambling with his new story “Skin in the Game,” which is part of the magazine’s Super Bowl preview issue out next Friday, Jan. 27 and available now on ESPN.com. Assael reports on this Sunday’s Outside the Lines at 8 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

How did you first come to know the eSports world?
Well, the first time I played e-games is when my son bought me a Xbox360 this past Christmas. But a few months before that I came across a story online that I was sure had to be wrong. It said there was a $5 billion world of gambling around eSports, which is 25 percent larger than daily fantasy. I was just amazed at the size of that. With the help of our e-sports unit, we were able to dive into what I think is the future of gambling.

How did you find someone who was willing to talk about becoming addicted to gambling?
A lot of parents are embarrassed by this. And the last thing they want to do is talk to a reporter about it. But once it gets to a point where somebody is filing a lawsuit, in this case, a class action suit, a teenage gambler like Elijah Ballard is willing to step forward.

Shaun Assael previewed Sunday's show on Friday's Outside the Lines program.
Shaun Assael previewed Sunday’s show on Friday’s Outside the Lines program.

What did you find most challenging about this project?
That there is a $5 billion illicit economy in a video game token, and nobody is talking about it. It’s happening right under our noses, but parents don’t know about it, state and federal regulators don’t seem to know about it. So that was a challenge. But we investigated like anything else we do.

One of the best people that ESPN has hired is also the youngest person ESPN has ever hired, Jacob Wolf, who is 19 years old and works in our eSports unit. He led me into this world. At one point I found myself saying to him, “Jacob, talk to me like a fifth grader, then I stopped myself and said no, “Talk to me like a 50-year old.” I think it’s that hard for somebody like me to learn this but with the help of people like Jacob and our eSports unit, they welcomed me into their world.

What did you discover from working on this story?
What I discovered working on this story is that there is a whole new world we are about to encounter. It’s a world of digital currencies that knows no bounds. In this case, the digital currency was born in – of all things – a video game, which seems so innocent. But it’s turned out to not be innocent. The amount of work ahead of us I find staggering.

Journalism on Display

  • Outside the Lines will receive the ETHOS award on Tuesday, Jan. 24. The ETHOS award, presented by the Institute of Sports Law and Ethics, is given to honor a specific decision, for an exemplary action, or for an initiative or program that has contributed to the ethics of sport and its positive role in American society. Reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru will accept the award on behalf of OTL.
  • Senior writer Elizabeth Merrill tells the story of how quarterback Aaron Rodgers saved the Green Bay Packers’ season on ESPN.com. After the Packers had lost their fourth straight game 42-24 to the Redskins they were 4-6. Many lost hope in making it to the playoffs, let alone the NFC Championship. As they prepare to take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, Merrill tells the story of how Rodgers helped turn the season around.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell began his season suspended. Now he’s a Super Bowl contender as the Steelers prepare to face the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tells readers why his coach Mike Tomlin calls him the Steph Curry of the NFL on ESPN.com.
  • Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (8:30 a.m., ESPN2, 9:30 a.m., ESPNEWS) will be Mike Lupica (host), Mitch Albom, Jackie MacMullan, and Ben Volin.
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