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Esports become mainstay in Dane County during pandemic

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DANE COUNTY (WKOW) -- While the pandemic took a toll on many industries, Esports was not one of them.

Video gaming continues to grow and has now become a mainstay in the Madison area.

"I like gaming because it's an escape," commented Codey Severance, the assistant commissioner of XP League Madison.

The escape and the socialization are why four out of every five US consumers played video games last year, according to the 2020 Evolution of Entertainment Report.

"Overall, I think we're starting to see this trend very well established," said David Gagnon, the director of Field Day Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Gagnon said he's seeing gaming cutting into other forms of entertainment, like TV and sports.

"It's the biggest media that exists, you know it's much larger than the Hollywood kind of world."

And that's what spurred a new video gaming league to take off in Dane County called XP League Madison.

"We're a youth Esports program for kids 7 to 15," explained JD Uhler, the commissioner of XP League Madison.

Lucas and Lilly joined the team when their sports and other activities were canceled due to COVID-19.

"We get cool jerseys," they said excitedly.

"Kids are still looking for an outlet to be competitive and have a team and socialization was such a huge thing. And so they could find it in a safe environment with a non contact sport in video games," said Uhler.

They meet every week in Sun Prairie to play games as coaches help the children work through difficult levels.

"We teach them how to play the games, how to get better, how to win games," said Severance.

They take those skills and compete against others across the country and in some cases, the world.

Colleges, including the University of Wisconsin-Stout and Madison College, have created Esports teams and some are giving scholarships to students.

"I think Esports is the future, I think that, especially with the pandemic," said Severance. "It's proven to be the next thing that's going to stick.

The XP League Madison teams recently competed in the regional tournament and qualified for nationals. They will head to Raleigh, North Carolina to compete in August.

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