Inspired by the recent New York Times story of a football side that allows their fans to take on the role of manager, Lee Davy ponders whether the same concept could apply to the Global Poker League.
Fabrice Soulier plays for the Global Poker League (GPL) Eurasia Conference side Paris Aviators. According to statistics robbed from the league’s website Soulier has played six matches, winning a possible 0.22% of points available.
The suave and sophisticated Frenchman can play poker. His World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet and $6m in live tournament earnings are a testament to that fact so we can put his woeful start down to being on the wrong side of variance. But let’s be honest, with stats like that, he wouldn’t be your first choice to step into The Cube.
The manager needs to drop him.
But he is the manager.
When the league debuted The Cube in Las Vegas, Paris Aviators squared off against LA Sunset. It was the GPL fans first (and possibly last) opportunity to see the former Breaking Bad star, Aaron Paul in action. The choice of his opponent was an important one. The Aviators sent in Soulier.
Was it the right choice?
Had you been the manager, who would you have sent into the lion’s den to face him?
When Alex Dreyfus first unveiled plans to have 12 franchise managers I was an excited fan. I could see Daniel Negreanu or Phil Hellmuth as good figureheads. Beyond that, I assumed the managers would come from outside of the poker playing pool.
My excitement waned when I saw the chosen 12. I wasn’t expecting the players to take on the role of the Gaffer, and I certainly wasn’t expecting them to compete.
Choose a sport, any sport, and long term; the ‘Player Manager’ concept doesn’t work. Only Philipp Gruissem and Andre Akkari were able to put ego to one side and do the right thing. In doing so, they have the ability to look at the team, objectively, and it removes the likelihood of internal bickering over the selection of the manager over a player who deems themselves to be more worthy.
You may not think the position of the manager matters, and if we go all Eckhart Tolle, and stay ‘in the now,’ you are probably right. But I am looking to the future when Alex has achieved his goal of ‘sportifying’ poker, at a time when the manager’s decisions will be the difference between losing and winning the title.
The current set up doesn’t work for me.
I want to see a change, and I am drawing my inspiration from an amateur football side from the UK.
Thinking Outside of the Box
United London F.C. Chairman, Mark North, knew that playing in the Essex Alliance Football League he would be lucky to get more than ten fans watching his side on the weekend. But if he could somehow create more fan engagement, he could change that number. After a moment of sheer brilliance, he turned a gate of 10 into 2,000+, and none of them ever turn up to watch the match in person.
After watching Reality TV with his wife North started to brainstorm ways to incorporate the fan engagement present in the likes of The X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing and came up with the idea to create the world’s first football team managed by the fans.
And it seems to be working.
United London F.C., has a database of 2,000+ fans who act as managers, interest from the New York Times have made them the most famous amateur football side in the world, and they have had an unbeaten start to the league campaign winning two and drawing one of their first three matches.
Poker can learn from this success story.
A Brief History of Poker Fan Engagement
Once upon a time, the only way that a ‘fan’ could get involved in a poker game, was to stand next to a rail, so far away from the table, that you wouldn’t be able to see anything except the back of someone’s head.
The invention of the hole camera changed all that and TV shows like Late Night Poker, The World Poker Tour (WPT), and the World Series of Poker (WSOP) allowed fans a more immersive viewing experience.
Those three shows were groundbreaking, but fans of the WPT and WSOP always knew who would win in advance.
Poker needed live coverage, and it arrived in the form of streaming on the Internet. The early adopters were crude. I remember watching WSOP live streams and not having a clue what cards people had. We were back to the shots of people’s heads again.
The technology improved, and suddenly, we had live action, with hole cards, on a delay. It was brilliant, except it wasn’t, because poker is boring as hell as a spectator sport. There are more folds than a tablecloth in the hands of an OCD tablecloth folder.
Then Twitch turned it’s attention to poker. Stars like Jason Somerville took full advantage of a new form of fan engagement. Now you could watch your favourite poker player competing, see his hole cards, and also hear him talk through his reasoning. In between hands, Somerville would entertain you in other ways by going through hand histories, interacting with fans questions on the stream, and telling bad jokes.
How can you top that?
It turns out you can.
A few years ago, a social media poker site called Global Poker Link began hiring some of these new age streamers and created an auction site so fans could buy pieces of the action and then watch them compete with the added emotion of having money riding on the outcome. The Global Poker Link became StakeKings and Antonio Esfandiari signed up as an ambassador only this week.
Can we go deeper?
I think we can.
Sack The Global Poker League Managers
I love them all dearly, and they have done nothing wrong, but I think the way forward would be to go all Eddard Stark on their necks.
If we are going to take fan engagement to the next level, the GPL needs to take a leaf out of Mark North’s book and turn the world’s only professional poker league into the world’s only managerless professional poker league.
I already know, after talking with Dreyfus, that the GPL have plans to deepen engagement with fans by offering a Daily Fantasy Poker style game, and we can take that concept further with a little sprinkling of United London fairy dust.
Let the Fans Manage
Why not remove the need for a manager, and instead let the fans vote for their favourite players on a game by game basis. Fans registering to become a manager can only pick one franchise, and the GPL could create private strategy forums.
The managers can choose to select players based on two criteria – they could choose players based on merit, or based on the character versus character style of match that would provide more entertainment. To provide the managers with enough information to choose the in-form players, the GPL could create HUD style player databases that incorporate EV results as well as match results.
Here is a quick brainstorm of categories for scoring:
• Points for starting a match
• Points for correct EV plays
• Points for successful bluffs
• Points for finishing positions
• Points for the MVP of the week/month
• Points for fan engagement score
• Deduct points for missing a game
• Deduct points for unsuccessful bluff
Before each game begins, the GPL statisticians update the player profiles, and the fans select the player they want to represent their side based on the current GPL rules of selection that prevent managers from picking the same players continually.
If you include a scoring mechanism for ‘fan engagement’ it could also drive more interactive behaviour from the player, thus improving the experience for the fan. Daniel ‘Jungleman’ Cates would score highly in this category because he is hilarious to watch when he plays. The GPL needs more characters like Cates, or to bring some of the fun out of the existing ones if the GPL is to be a success. If managers aren’t selecting a player because they are ‘boring’, then it may create a desire to come out of their shell.
The creation of player profiles based on individual HUD like statistics allows the fans to compete in Daily Fantasy Poker games, either daily or throughout an entire season. You can even create a set of Top Trumps for the fans who want a quick game around the kitchen table. And the Draft would be a new and immersive experience with the poker fans choosing the teams and handling the transfers, etc.
Back to United London F.C., and North wants to continue with his innovative idea by allowing the fans to take control of some of the in-play decisions such as making substitutions and taking set plays. I believe the GPL will need to make poker more exciting for the fans, and one way would be to allow them to make some of the decisions during gameplay. A good example would be to hide the hole cards for some of the hands, allowing the players to play a card that forces their opponent’s managers to play the hand via a voting system.
I know what you’re thinking?
Lee Davy is going slightly crackers.
But then again, could you imagine Mark North sitting in a pub with his friends explaining how he was going to create the first managerless club in the world?
There is something here.
I can feel it.
What do you think?