Urbana Conference Draws Thousands of Young People Eager to Play Role in Great Commission

(St. Louis, Missouri) – Urbana 18, InterVarsity’s 25th student missions conference, has drawn over 10,000 college students and others to St. Louis for a 5-day conference. The conference, which is held every three years, has been challenging each generation of college students to find their place in the Great Commission for 75 years.

Tom Lin, InterVarsity President, said, “It is important for this generation to have a challenge. What does it mean to be a faithful witness, to model our lives after Christ, the faithful witness as we live our lives.”

“Faithful Witness” is the theme of the conference this year. The theme is based on the book of Revelation. Over the course of the five-day conference, attendees will have the chance to interact with more than 200 seminar leaders, 200 mission organizations, and seminary representatives.

InterVarsity began with a movement of students at the University of Cambridge, England in 1877. The students consistently met to pray, study the Bible, and share their faith with students. As more groups began to form across other college campuses, they began a coalition called “British Inter-Varsity.”  

According to their website, “British InterVarsity sent Howard Guinness, a medical school graduate and vice-chairman of the British movement, to Canada in 1928. Students helped raise the money to provide Guinness with one-way passage to Canada. Between bouts of seasickness, Guinness led his cabin mate to Christ during the crossing. As God supplied the funds, he slowly worked his way across Canada, starting up and assisting evangelical student groups.”

By 1938, college students in the United States were asking InterVarsity in Canada to expand. 

The website states, “Today, there are more than 1,000 InterVarsity staff serving more than 40,000 students and faculty on 600+ campuses nationwide”. 

Besides their triennial conference, the organization produces training materials, camps, books, and media tools which serve both church and campus.

Morning and evening general sessions are streamed online at urbana.org from The America’s Center in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Tesla is keeping 44 U.S. stores open until midnight in year-end Model 3 sales push

Some Tesla employees will ring in the New Year on a sales floor this year as the automaker tries to liquidate its inventory of Model 3 sedans — and even its more expensive Model S and Model X vehicles — before the federal tax credit for EVs is cut in half.

In a list of updated hours, 44 of the stores, including locations in California, Minnesota, Nevada, New York and Ohio, are open until midnight Monday. Tesla has more than 100 stores and galleries in the United States. Calls made to several of these stores indicate these locations have a mix of Model 3 sedans available for pickup today. Sales associates didn’t provide specific numbers.

After midnight Monday, the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit will drop to $3,750 for anyone buying a Tesla vehicle.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been using Twitter to warn of the expiring tax credit for months now. Recently, the pace of promotion has escalated as Tesla’s inventory of Model 3 vehicles in the U.S. has persisted.

The company reportedly had more than 3,300 Model 3 vehicles in inventory in the U.S. as of Sunday, according a blog post by Electrek.

Now with just hours left before the federal tax credit drops, Tesla and Musk are making a special effort to reduce the Model 3 inventory in a final sales push.

Earlier this year, Tesla hit a milestone when it delivered its 200,000th electric vehicle. The achievement was a noteworthy occasion for an automaker that didn’t exist 15 years ago. However, it also activated a countdown for the $7,500 federal tax credit offered to consumers who buy new electric vehicles.

The tax credit begins to phase out once a manufacturer has sold 200,000 qualifying vehicles in the U.S. Under these rules, Tesla customers have to take delivery of their new Model S, Model X or Model 3 by December 31.

After December 31, the federal tax credit is cut in half to $3,750 for new Tesla customers. The tax credit is reduced again after June 30 to $1,875 before disappearing altogether at the end of next year.

Noa’s new Alexa skill has human narrators read news from NYT, FT, Economist & others

News junkies who want something more in-depth than Alexa’s Flash Briefing now have a new option for listening to the day’s news – as well as features and other reporting – right from their smart speaker. A company called Noa has just launched an Alexa skill that uses human narrators to read you the news from top publishers like The New York Times, Financial Times, The Economist, and others. With the skill, you can catch up on the stories you missed while you’re doing other things – like cooking, cleaning, commuting or exercising, for example.

The skill is aimed at those who already enjoy listening to longer-form audio, like podcasts or talk radio, on their Amazon Echo or other Alexa-powered device.

The use case here is also similar to that of “read it later” apps like Pocket or Instapaper, both of which have added an audio playback option for listening to your saved articles.

However, those apps currently rely on text-to-speech functionality, not on human narration.

Noa, meanwhile, employs a team of half a dozen narrators based across the U.S., U.K., and Ireland who read the stories published by the company’s current partners. These include: The New York Times, Financial Times, Business Insider, The Economist, The Independent, Bloomberg, The Irish Times, and the Evening Standard.

That list will grow in 2019 to include more news organizations and magazine partners, the company says.

To use the skill, you must first enable it on your Alexa device by saying, “Alexa, enable Noa.” (It’s pronounced like the “Noah” from the Bible – the one with the Ark.)

You can then ask Noa to read the news by published, journalist or category.

For example, you can say “Alexa, open Noa and play ‘The New York Times;’” or “Alexa, ask Noa to play Tim Bradshaw;” or “Alexa, open Noa and play ‘Technology.” 

Not all articles from the publisher partners will be available, explains Noa CEO Gareth Hickey.

“Only a limited subset of articles lend themselves well to audio – namely, the opinion and feature style stories.  Essentially longer-form journalism,” he says.

The skill also employs a metered-access paywall that allows listeners to stream up to ten articles per week for free. To listen to more, you have to subscribe at $7.99 per month (or €/£7.99 per month, depending on location) for unlimited access. The company doesn’t currently support Amazon Pay, so you’ll have to sign up at Noa’s website or through its mobile apps, if you want to upgrade.

The Alexa skill is the latest from the Dublin-based startup Noa, founded in 2015 by Hickey and Shane Ennis, with the goal of providing access to audio journalism.

“While audio-journalism is a core part of our offering, personalised discovery and quality curation are equally as important,” Hickey says. “The goal isn’t to inundate users with audio articles, but instead to help them learn and understand the news,” he adds.

Given Noa’s focus on audio, smart speakers make sense as the next big platform to address – especially now that they’ve reached critical mass. The startup raised $600,000 last year, Hickey notes. 

It’s not the only company working to provide human narration of the news for the booming smart speaker market. SpokenLayer, for instance, currently powers “Spoken Edition” podcasts for many news publishers, including TechCrunch. And Amazon’s Audible Channels launched with spoken-word recordings from publishers like the The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Foreign Affairs, Charlie Rose, McSweeney’s, The Onion and other periodicals.

Noa’s Alexa skill is called “Noa – Journalism, narrated,” and is free to install and use for up to 10 articles per week.

Noa also has a limited presence on Google Home, allowing listeners to hear four Editors’ Picks each day. But its next version will allow for journalist, publisher and category navigation – the same as on Alexa. Noa will soon launch on Android Auto and CarPlay, as well.

Nation’s Oldest WWII Vet Dies at 112

The nation’s oldest World War II veteran has died.

Richard Overton, an African-American soldier who fought during segregation, was 112 years old.

Overton was believed to be the oldest living citizen.  The Texas native died last week after being admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve with pneumonia.

Overton was born in 1906, near Austin, Texas. In 1940, he joined the Army. Overton was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. During his time in in the 1887th Aviation Engineer Battalion, a unit made up of black soldiers, he served overseas in Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition in 2015, he spoke of his service, stating “it was difficult”.

“I’m glad I didn’t get like some of the others,” Overton stated. “Some got their arms off. Some got their leg off. Some lost their body. Some lost their soul.”

Later in his life, Overton was praised for his service. In 2013, he received an invitation from President Obama to attend a ceremony on Veteran’s Day at Arlington National Cemetery where he received a standing ovation.

“Everybody, I want you to know a little something about Mr. Overton here,” Obama said. “He was there at Pearl Harbor when the battleships were still smoldering. He was there at Okinawa. He was there at Iwo Jima, where he said, ‘I only got out of there by the grace of God.’ “

In 2014, the U.S Coast Guard Mid-Atlantic honored Overton for his service. “He fought and risked his life in service to his country despite the fact that he was not yet treated as an equal back home,” said Capt. James O’Keefe.

After his service, Overton spent many years in the furniture business in Austin. He married twice; divorced his first wife in the 1920s and outlived his second wife who died in the 1980s. He did not have any children but was cared for by a cousin until his death.

The U.S. Army offered prayers via Twitter, stating “Today we mourn not just a hero, but a legend.”

Bloody Christmas Season for India’s Persecuted Christians

Instead of Christmas being a season of joy and glad tidings, it became a time of horror and persecution for some of India’s Christians.

According to the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), there were at least 18 confirmed assaults against Christians in recent weeks.

“Both the frequency of the attacks and their intensity has increased in the past few years,” Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the EFI and the national director of the RLC, told Morning Star News. 

One of the most severe attacks occurred during a Christmas gathering on Dec. 23 in Kowad village, Kolhapur District in Maharashtra state.

Seven worshippers were sent to the hospital after 20 Hindu extremists charged inside New Life Fellowship Church with makeshift weapons and began attacking people.

“They barged into the worship hall and began to throw big stones and empty beer bottles at the worshippers,” Milton Norenj, coordinator of the New Life Fellowship Jadhinglaj told Morning Star News.

Norenj said the men were screaming, “Jai Bhawani, Jai Shivaji,” a phrase that means victor to the Hindu goddess Bhawani and the Hindu King Shivaji.

Pastor Bhimsen Ganpati Chavan, 36, said there were about 40 Christians present when the attack took place. Many were left injured and required stitches or surgery to recover.

“I have been living here since the year 2000,” Pastor Chavan told Morning Star News. “We have faced some opposition before, but never an attack of this kind.”

He said the attack lasted five to seven minutes until the terrorists left.

Local media report that police arrested several people and filed charges against the attackers.

This attack is just one of many against Christians and confirmed fears that India is becoming increasingly dangerous for believers.

CBN News previously reported that attacks against Christians have been on the rise in southern India.

According to Alliance Defending Freedom, in the first nine months of the year the Indian southern states of Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala have reported at least 60 cases of attacks against Christians. In contrast, 36 attacks against Christians were seen in the first nine months of 2017.

Earlier this year, members of the US Congress sent a bipartisan letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to oppose the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities by members of his own party.

Modi is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) political party, which is notorious for promoting Hindu nationalism and working against those who spread any religion other than Hinduism in the country.

In July, one of India’s parliament members, Dinesh Kashyap, said a tribal people known as “Advasis” should be barred from government aid if they convert from Hinduism. Kashyap is a member of the BJP party.

Despite the growing persecution of Christians, Pastor Joseph D’Souza, who works tirelessly for human rights in India, told CBN News said God is still at work in India.

“Persecution has never stopped the growth of the church. In fact, when we are attacked, when we are persecuted, we become stronger,” he said. “They’re standing strong and they’re not recounting.”

Netflix stops paying the ‘Apple tax’ on its $853M in annual iOS revenue

Earlier this year, Netflix was seen testing a bypass of iTunes billing across dozens of markets worldwide. As 2018 draws to a close, Netflix – the App Store’s top grossing app – has ditched the ability for new users to sign up and subscribe to the streaming service within its iOS app across all global markets. The change means Apple will miss out on hundreds of millions in App Store revenue per year – money it would have otherwise received by way of its standard cut of in-app transactions.

According to new data compiled by Sensor Tower, Netflix grossed $853 million in 2018 on the iOS App Store. Based on that figure, Apple’s take would have been around $256 million, the firm said.

To date, the Netflix iOS app has generated over $1.5 billion through its in-app subscriptions, with Apple’s cut coming in around $450 million-plus, Sensor Tower estimated.

Before the change, Netflix on iOS was grossing an average of $2.4 million per day in 2018 – meaning Apple was making around $700,000 by doing nothing other than allowing Netflix to offer subscriptions in its app.

(Note, however, that Sensor Tower’s figures are based on the App Store’s 30 percent cut of transactions. After the first year, Apple’s cut on subscription renewals is lowered to 15 percent. That’s not being factored in. But it gives you a rough idea of Apple’s losses here.)

Netflix’s iOS revenue has been climbing steadily over the years.

In 2017 its gross subscriber revenue was $510 million – up from $215 million users spent in the app in 2016 – which earned it the No. 1 spot on the Top Grossing Chart for non-game apps. It snagged that position again this year, trailed by Tinder and Tencent Video.

In fact, Netflix has earned the bragging rights for being the top grossing iOS App of all time, App Annie reported this summer.

The streaming service’s decision to bypass the App Store isn’t a first. Many companies today direct their users to the web or other platforms, in order to avoid marketplace fees.

For example, Amazon has historically restricted movie and TV rentals and purchases to its own website or other “compatible” apps, instead of allowing them to take place through its Prime Video app. The same goes for Kindle e-books, which also aren’t offered in the Kindle mobile app. Spotify also discontinued the option to pay for its Premium service using Apple’s in-app payment system.

And Epic Games this year bypassed Google’s Play Store altogether – as well as its 30 percent cut – when it launched Fortnite for Android as a sideloaded app. That decision resulted in Google’s loss of $50 million+ in marketplaces fees.

Netflix earlier this year had dropped in-app subscription sign-ups in its Android app on Google Play. That signaled its intentions to later take back the so-called “Apple tax” for itself, too.

However, Netflix still earns money on Google Play through existing subscribers. That totalled around $105 million in 2018, with Google earning close to $32 million of that. But the number has been declining consistently, Sensor Tower said. Apple could soon be in the same boat.

VentureBeat was the first to notice the change to the Netflix iOS app. It would be surprising if Apple took action against Netflix, given it has not done so with other major tech companies that made similar moves.

Polite Fortnite Society

My parents are approaching 60. When they were young, they hung out at diners, or drove around in their cars. My generation hung out in the parking lot after school, or at the mall. My colleague John Biggs often talks of hanging out with his nerd buddies in his basement, playing games and making crank calls.

Today, young people are hanging out on a virtual island plagued by an ever-closing fatal storm. It’s called Fortnite .

The thread above describes exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, people most certainly log on and play the game. Some play it very seriously. But many, especially young folks, hop on to Fortnite to socialize.

The phenomenon of “hanging out” on a game is not new.

Almost any popular game results in a community of players who connect not only through the common interest of the game itself, but as real friends who discuss their lives, thoughts, dreams, etc. But something else is afoot on Fortnite that may be far more effectual.

Gaming culture has long had a reputation for being highly toxic. To be clear, there is a difference between talking about someone’s skills in the game and making a personal attack:

“You are bad at this game.” = Fine by me
“You should kill yourself.” = Not fine at all

But many streamers and pro gamers make offensive jokes, talk shit about each other and rage when they lose. It’s not shocking, then, that the broader gaming community that tries to emulate them, especially the young men growing up in a world where e-sports are real, tend to do many of the same things.

A new type of community

But Fortnite doesn’t have the same type of community. Sure, as with any game, there are bad apples. But on the whole, there isn’t the same toxicity permeating every single part of the game.

For what it’s worth, I’ve played hundreds of hours of both Fortnite and Call of Duty over the past few years. The difference between the way I’m treated on Fortnite and Call of Duty, particularly once my game-matched teammates discover I’m a woman, is truly staggering. I’ve actually been legitimately scared by my interactions with people on Call of Duty. I’ve met some of my closest friends on Fortnite.

One such relationship is with a young man named Luke, who is set to graduate from college this spring.

During the course of our now year-long friendship, Luke revealed to me that he is gay and was having trouble coming out to his parents and peers at school. As an older gay, I tried to provide him with as much guidance and advice as possible. Being there for him, answering his phone calls when he was struggling and reminding him that he’s a unique, strong individual, has perhaps been one of the most rewarding parts of my life this past year.

I’ve also made friends with young men who, once they realize that I’m older and a woman and have a perspective that they might not, casually ask me for advice. They’ve asked me why the girl they like doesn’t seem to like them back — “don’t try to make her jealous, just treat her with kindness,” I advised, and then added “OK, make her a little jealous” — or vented to me about how their parents “are idiots” — “they don’t understand you, and you don’t understand them, but they’re doing their best for you and no one loves you like they do” — or expressed insecurity about who they are — “you’re great at Fortnite, why wouldn’t you be great at a bunch of other things?” and “have more confidence in yourself.”

(Though paraphrased, these are real conversations I’ve had with random players on Fortnite.)

There is perhaps no other setting where I might meet these young people, nor one where they might meet me. And even if we did meet, out in the real world, would we open up and discuss our lives? No. But we have this place in common, and as we multitask playing the game and having a conversation, suddenly our little hearts open up to one another in the safety of the island.

But that’s just me. I see this mentorship all the time in Fortnite, in both small and big ways.

Gaming culture is often seen as a vile thing, and there are a wide array of examples to support that conclusion. Though this perception is slowly changing, and not always fair, gamers are usually either perceived as lonely people bathed in the blue glow of the monitor light, or toxic brats who cuss, and throw out slurs, and degrade women.

So why is Fortnite any different from other games? Why does it seem to foster a community that, at the very least, doesn’t actively hate on one another?

One map, a million colors

First, it’s the game itself. Even though Fortnite includes weapons, it’s not a “violent” game. There is no blood or gore. When someone is eliminated, their character simply evaporates into a pile of brightly colored loot. The game feels whimsical and cartoonish and fun, full of dances and fun outfits. This musical, colorful world most certainly affects the mood of its players.

Logging on to Fortnite feels good, like hearing the opening music to the Harry Potter movies. Logging on to a game like, say, Call of Duty: WWII feels sad and scary, like watching the opening sequence to Saving Private Ryan.

Moreover, Fortnite Battle Royale takes place on a single large map. That map may change and evolve from time to time, but it’s even more “common ground” between players. Veterans of the game show noobs new spots to find loot or ways to get around. As my colleague Greg Kumparak said to me, “Every time you go in, you’re going to the same place. Maybe it’s skinned a little different or there’s suddenly a viking ship, but it’s home.”

Of course, there are other colorful, bubbly games that still have a huge toxicity problem. Overwatch is a great example. So what’s the difference?

Managing expectations

Battle Royale has introduced a brand new dynamic to the world of gaming. Instead of facing off in a one-versus-one or a five-versus-five scenario as with Starcraft or Overwatch respectively, Battle Royale is either 1 versus 99, 2 versus 98 or 4 versus 96.

“It isn’t as binary as winning or losing,” said Rod “Slasher” Breslau, longtime gaming and e-sports journalist formerly of ESPN and CBS Interactive’s GameSpot. “You could place fifth and still feel satisfied about how you played.”

Breslau played Overwatch at the highest levels for a few seasons and said that it was the most frustrating game he’s ever played in 20 years of gaming. It may be colorful and bubbly, but it is built in a way that gives an individual player a very limited ability to sway the outcome of the game.

“You have all the normal problems of playing in a team, relying on your teammates to play their best and communicate and to simply have the skill to compete, but multiply that because of the way the game works,” said Breslau. “It’s very reliant on heroes, the meta is pretty stale because it’s a relatively new game, and the meta has been figured out.”

All that, combined with the fact that success in Overwatch is based on teamwork, make it easy to get frustrated and unleash on teammates.

With Fortnite, a number of factors relieve that stress. In an ideal scenario, you match up with three other players in a Squads match and they are all cooperative. Everyone lands together, they share shield potions and weapons, communicate about nearby enemies and literally pick each other up when one gets knocked down. This type of teamwork, even among randos, fosters kindness.

In a worst-case scenario, you are matched up with players who aren’t cooperative, who use toxic language, who steal your loot or simply run off and die, leaving you alone to fight off teams of four. Even in the latter scenario, there are ways to play more cautiously — play passive and hide, or third-party fights that are underway and pick players off, or lure teams intro trapped up houses.

Sure, it’s helpful to have skilled, communicative teammates, but being matched with not-so-great teammates doesn’t send most people into a blind rage.

And because the odds are against you — 1 versus 99 in Solos or 4 versus 96 in Squads — the high of winning is nearly euphoric.

“The lows are the problem,” says Breslau. “Winning a close game of Overwatch, when the team is working together and communicating, feels great. But when you’re depending on your team to win, the lows are so low. The lows aren’t like that in Fortnite.”

The more the merrier

The popularity of Fortnite as a cultural phenomenon, not just a game, means that plenty of non-gamers have found their way onto the island. Young people, a brand new generation of gamers, are obsessed with the game. But folks who might have fallen away from gaming as they got older are still downloading it on their phone, or installing it on the Nintendo Switch, and giving Battle Royale a try. Outsiders, who haven’t been steeped in the all-too-common hatred found in the usual gaming community, are bringing a sense of perspective to Fortnite. There is simply more diversity that comes with a larger pool of players, and diversity fosters understanding.

Plus, Fortnite has solid age distribution among players. The majority (63 percent) of players on Fortnite are between the ages of 18 and 24, according to Verto Analytics. Twenty-three percent of players are ages 24 to 35, and thirteen percent are 35 to 44 years old. However, this data doesn’t take into account players under the age of 18, which represent 28 percent of overall gamers, according to Verto. One way Fortnite is like other games is that 70 percent of players are male.

There aren’t many scenarios where four people, from different backgrounds and age groups, join up under a common goal in the type of mood-lifting setting that Fortnite provides. More often than not, the youngest little guy tries to make some sort of offensive joke to find his social place in the group. But surprisingly, for a shoot and loot game played by a lot of people, that’s rarely tolerated by the older members of a Fortnite squad.

All eyes on Fortnite

The popularity of the game also means that more eyes are on Fortnite than any other game. Super-popular streamer Ninja’s live stream with Drake had more than 600,000 concurrent viewers, setting a record. The more people watching, the more streamers are forced to watch their behavior.

Fortnite streamers are setting a new example for gamers everywhere.

One such streamer is Nick “NickMercs” Kolcheff. Nick has been streaming Fortnite since it first came out and has a huge community of mostly male viewers. I consider myself a part of, albeit a minority in, that community — I’ve subscribed to his channel and cheered for him with bits and participated in the chat. In short, I’ve spent plenty of time watching Nick and have seen him offer a place of support and friendship for his viewers.

I’ve seen Nick’s audience ask him, in so many words, how to lose weight (Nick’s a big fitness guy), or share that they’re dealing with an illness in the family, or share that they’re heartbroken because their girlfriend cheated on them.

In large part, Nick says he learned how to be a mentor from his own dad.

“I remember being in those kinds of positions, but I have a great father that always sat me down and let me vent and then shared his opinion, and reminded me that it isn’t supposed to be easy,” said Kolcheff. “It feels good to bounce things off other people and hard things always feel much easier when you know you’re not alone, and I can relate to my chat the way my dad relates to me.”

Nick always has something positive to say. He reminds his audience that even if they feel alone IRL, they have a community right there in his Twitch channel to talk to. He sets an example in the way he talks about his girlfriend Emu, and the way he treats her on screen. When Nick loses a game and his chat explodes with anger, he reminds them to be cool and to not talk shit about other players.

And it’s easy to see his example followed in the chat, where young people are treating each other with respect and answering each other’s questions.

Nick wasn’t always like this. In fact, the first time that NickMercs and Ninja played together on stream, they brought up the time that Nick challenged Ninja to a fight at a LAN tournament years ago. But both Nick and Ninja have matured into something that you rarely find in online gaming: a role model — and it’s had an effect.

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, far and away the most successful Twitch streamer ever, decided to stop swearing and using degrading language as his influence in the community and his viewership grew. When his audience said they missed the old Ninja, he had this to say:

I’m the same person, you guys. 2018 can’t handle old Ninja and… guess what, I can’t handle old Ninja because the words that I used to say and the gaming terms I used to say… they weren’t ok, alright? I’ve matured.

Jack “Courage” Dunlop is another Fortnite streamer who uses his influence in the community to mentor young people. He has befriended a young fellow named Connor. Courage helped Connor get his first win and has since continued playing with him and talking to him.

Not only is he being kind to Connor, but he’s setting an example for his viewers.

“In comparison to games like Call of Duty and Gears of War and Halo, the top content creators like Ninja, Sypher PK, Timthetatman, are a little older now,” said Kolcheff. “They’ve come from other games where they already had a following. If you look at me five or six years ago, or any of us, we’ve all chilled out. We were more combative and crazy and had a lot more words to say, but I think we just grew up, and it bleeds through to the community.”

These guys are the exception in the wider world of gaming and streaming. But they represent the future of gaming in general. As e-sports explode with growth, pro players will undoubtedly be held to the same behavioral standards as pro players in traditional sports. That’s not to say that pro athletes are angels, and that’s not to say that bad actors won’t have a following. Just look at PewDiePie.

A matter of time

The e-sports world is realizing that they can’t let their professionals run their mouth without consequences. As the industry grows, highly dependent on advertisers and brand endorsements, with a young audience hanging on every word, it will become increasingly important for leagues, e-sports organizations and game makers to start paying closer attention to the behavior of their top players.

We’re already seeing this type of policing happening on Overwatch, both for pro players and amateurs alike.

There is plenty more work to do. But the problem of removing toxicity from any platform is incredibly difficult. Just ask Facebook and Twitter. Still, it’s only a matter of time before e-sports decision-makers raise the stakes on what they’ll allow from their representatives, which are pro players and streamers.

Toxic behavior is being rejected in most polite society anywhere (except Twitter, because Twitter), and it surely can’t be tolerated much longer in the gaming world. But Fortnite maker Epic Games hasn’t had to put too much effort forth to steer clear of toxic behavior. The community seems to be doing a pretty good job holding itself accountable.

Winning where it counts

Believe you me, Fortnite is not some magical place filled with unicorns and rainbows. There are still players on the game who behave badly, cheat, use toxic language and are downright mean. But compared to other shooters, Fortnite is a breath of fresh air.

No one thing makes Fortnite less toxic. A beautiful, mood-lifting game can’t make much of a difference on its own. A huge, relatively diverse player base certainly makes a dent. And yes, the game limits frustration by simply managing expectations. But with leaders that have prioritized their position as role models, and all the other factors above working in harmony, Fortnite is not only the most popular game in the world, but perhaps one of the most polite.

We reached out to Epic Games, Courage and Ninja for this story, but didn’t hear back at the time of publication.

What to expect from CES 2019

The timing is… less than ideal. Just as the industry is recovering from a holiday-induced hangover, we’re thrust into the country’s largest consumer electronics show. The timing, of course, is not coincidental. The show is intended to offer a preview for the tech year to come.

Many companies thrive on CES’s pace. It’s a five-day deluge of tech news, and, for many, it’s the largest platform they’ll get all year. The show is fairly unique in its ability to juggle announcements from all sizes of companies, from Samsung to startup, all vying for a little mindshare.

In recent years, its focus has shifted. Many larger companies have opted to make announcements on their own stages — and their own terms. CES, meanwhile, has changed accordingly, offering smaller companies a platform through showcases like Eureka Park, while making automotive and transportation a more essential plank of the show.

We’re about a week out from CES really kicking off in earnest, so it’s time to take a look at some of the trends that are beginning to emerge in the lead-up to the big show.

5G beyond the phone

5g illustration taken during the inauguration of the Media group Altice' s Campus in Paris on October 9, 2018.

5G illustration, taken during the inauguration of the Media group Altice’ s Campus in Paris on October 9, 2018. (Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP)

The big tech story of the year will no doubt also be the centerpiece of CES. The major U.S. carriers have already committed to rolling out 5G in 2019, so the show marks a perfect opportunity for hardware companies to get in on the action, as well.

Expect to see a lot of news out of component makers on this front, Intel especially. Qualcomm mostly showcased its 2019 offerings at its summit earlier this month, but the company will no doubt drill down on specifics, including the ways in which next-gen wireless will push IoT, automotive and other devices beyond the smartphone (more on that below).

In fact, I anticipate that’s going to be the big story here: 5G’s role beyond mobile. The big carriers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint — are intent on demonstrating how the faster technology will keep us gulp more connected than ever. That’s going to apply to everything from enterprise products to health-monitoring wearables and smart home devices.

It’s a future where everything is always-on — and tapped directly into your bank account.

AR/VR

Barring any unforeseen trends, VR’s going to mostly have to sit this one out. We’ll likely see a trend toward cheaper, standalone headsets à la the Oculus Go, but most companies are currently a lot more interested in what augmented reality holds in the short-term.

AR’s immediate future is two-pronged. Most developers are focused on leveraging existing devices like smartphones and tablets, using ARKit/ARCore. But a number of headsets/glasses have already begun to pop up on the periphery. Expect plenty of these to be on display at the show as startups attempt to convince us that it’s an experience we need to bring directly to our collective faces.

Automotive

As noted, automotive/transportation has become an increasingly important presence at CES over the past several years. Car stuff now comprises a full hall and several of the keynotes, as automakers invested more in tech breakthroughs and the consumer electronics side of things.

A number of key trends are already starting to emerge ahead of the event. As in past years, expect to see a focus on on-site demos of EV and self-driving technologies. Augmented reality — including head’s up displays  — will be a big part of the showcase, as will smaller transport products, including delivery robots.

Smart Home

The smart home ruled last year’s show. 5G is expected to take the title in 2019, but connected home products won’t give up without a fight. They’re going to be EVERYWHERE. From door locks to cameras to microwave to wall clocks — if you can name it, there will be a smart version at CES this year.

It’s the one category that practically every company both large and small will have a hand in. That said, two big names with an increased presence are going to drive much of the conversation. Since bringing the Echo and Home to market, CES has become an increasingly important show for both Amazon and Google. Expect Alexa and Assistant on everything at CES.

Smartphones

Much of this has, admittedly, already been detailed in my recent “Top smartphones trends to watch in 2019” post. Of course, what actually gets announced at CES is a different conversation altogether. For one thing, more companies are opting to make big announcements at their own events. For another, Mobile World Congress is just over a month away, and it’s been known to take plenty of smartphone wind out of CES’s sails.

That said, I’d expect to see a handful of 5G handsets on display at the show. And while CES 2019 probably won’t be a watershed moment for the future of foldable smartphones, we’re going to get a closer look at the final version of Royole’s handset. I would also anticipate seeing plenty of foldable concepts hinted at, even as the final product will still be a ways away.

2018 was the toughest year for smartphones in recent memory. As such, a lot of companies are feeling the pressure to do some soul-searching and go back to the drawing board. If nothing else, at least we’ll get some interesting concepts out of the deal.

TVs

Another year, another K. This year, 8K will very much be the thing. It’s like 4K, but with more Ks. Is it a gimmick? Kind of. Is it cool? Sure. Mostly, however, it’s the latest reason to get you to upgrade that three-year-old TV that cost you three months’ rent.

Companies have been showing off 8K sets for half a decade now. This is the year manufacturers will really get serious about the technology — though the same probably can’t be said for content.

California Church Grieves After Pastor Suddenly Dies on Ski Trip

A Northern California church was shocked to learn Sunday that their pastor suddenly had died during a skiing trip just a few days earlier. 

Craig Jutila, 53, of Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, California, suffered a major heart attack while taking his family skiing in Lake Tahoe on Dec. 26. 

“We are grieving the loss of our family ministry pastor, teaching pastor, Craig Jutila,” Tim Lundy, senior pastor at the church, told the congregation Sunday morning. The announcement was live-streamed on Facebook. 

“We found out that Craig passed away from a heart attack on the slopes,” Lundy said.

A press release from the ski resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, said he Jutila was found unconscious and paramedics tried to resuscitate him but he was later pronounced dead by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.

“This sudden and terrible news has stunned us all, and we are grieving with Craig’s family. Please keep his wife, Mary, as well as their kids, Alec, Cameron, and Karimy in your prayers. Their loss is immeasurable and we want to surround them with love and prayer,” Lundy wrote in a statement on Facebook. 

“Craig’s leadership as pastor of Family Ministries has made such a difference in our church. His writing and speaking ministry to families has helped countless homes and lives around the world. He will be missed as a pastor, leader, and teacher, but most of all, as our friend. This news is so hard to believe, as just a couple of days ago he was hosting all our Christmas services. Now he is gone,” Lundy added. 

Jutila was an international speaker and author. 

He wrote several books, including Hectic to Healthy: The Journey to a Balanced Life, and Faith and the Modern Family: How to Raise a Healthy Family in a ‘Modern Family’ World.

Before serving at Venture Christian Church, he worked as a youth pastor and teaching pastor at The Gove Community Church in Riverside. He also worked at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. 

Jutila is survived by his wife, Mary, and their children, Alec, Cameron, and Karimy.

Craig’s Celebration of Life service is Monday, Dec. 31 at Venture Christian Church. 

The church is live streaming the service on Facebook. 

Elizabeth Warren Announces She’s Officially Thinking About Running For President

Elizabeth Warren announced Monday that she’s forming an exploratory committee ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The early morning New Years Eve announcement — 13 months ahead of the Iowa caucuses — makes Warren the first high profile Democrat to take steps toward launching a presidential run to take on Donald Trump in 2020. The launch of the exploratory committee allows her to raise money and fill staff positions ahead of a likely campaign.

Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, became a star of the progressive movement by taking on Wall Street and helping the Obama administration launch the Consumer Financial Protection Board after the 2008 financial crisis. Throughout her career in the Senate and as she’s geared up towards a presidential run, Warren has leaned heavily on the themes that launched her into prominence.

“I’ve spent my career getting to the bottom of why America’s promise works for some families but others that work just as hard slip to the cracks into disaster and what I’ve found is terrifying: these aren’t cracks that families are falling into, they’re traps. America’s middle class is under attack ” Warren tells supporters in her announcement. “How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie and they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice.”

“But this dark path doesn’t have to be our future,” Warren says. “We can make our democracy work for all of us. We can make our economy work for all of us.”

The race for the 2020 Democratic nomination is likely to be a crowded one. Several of Warren’s senate colleagues, including Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar, are likely to launch bids themselves.

Warren joins a group of potential candidates who have endorsed policies, like Medicare for All and free college, pushed by progressive groups and Monday’s announcement was greeted warmly by activists.

“Elizabeth Warren is the most electable among many potential contenders with progressive positions, and it will be a victory for all progressives as candidates race to the top on issues we’ve worked for years to push into the mainstream,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founders Adam Green and Stephanie Taylor said in a statement. “Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate who would enter the White House with an army of heavy-hitting allies accumulated over a lifetime of fighting powerful interests.”

Two other Democrats, John Delaney and Julian Castro, have already announced that they are exploring presidential bids.

Warren still faces hurdles ahead of a likely campaign. In October, Warren released DNA test results to prove she was Native American — to rebut years of criticism from Donald Trump and others who say she lied about her ancestry. Instead of putting the issue to rest, the move was met with ire from tribal leaders and grassroots groups. Cherokee Nation released a statement calling Warren’s decision to release her DNA test “”inappropriate and wrong.”

“A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News.