The World Poker Tour is the latest poker company to partner with an esports outfit, and Lee Davy questions the purpose of such a move.
When I think about Fedor Holz, I always think about Scrabble, and it’s not because he has a “Z” in his name.
The first time I ever saw the young man who makes every other poker player feel like a toilet plunger was in 2013 at the Casino Austria in Baden. I was working for the World Poker Tour (WPT), and Holz made a deep run, finishing in tenth place.
It was one of the first events where the WPT tried something different bringing games like Scrabble and Chess into the fold in partnership with Mind Sports International.
But it wasn’t the free for all you would imagine.
The Scrabble players played Scrabble, the Chess players played Chess, and the toilet plungers stuck to poker.
In the past few days, I learned that the WPT is trying something similar, only this time they may get more traction. Scrabble and Chess are games that have a vast and virulent following, but esports is the fastest-growing sport in the world, and the two sports will share a platform in the coming weeks.
The WPT will partner with ELC Gaming, the European arm of Allied Esports, to produce a multi-day, multi-sport event as part of the WPTDeepStacks festival due to take place at the Holland Casino in Valkenburg, Netherlands Oct 9 – 15.
Allied Esports, a company owned by the WPT owners Ourgame International, will roll out their 18-wheel mobile esports arena “Big Betty” for an event that will see action taking place both inside the casino and on the Big Betty mobile platform.
The star of the show will be the €1,100 WPTDeepStack Main Event, Oct 12-15, and players can qualify for the event via specially organised esports events taking place on “Big Betty.”
But what does this achieve?
I’m not sure.
Yes, esports is going to become more popular than Chess and Scrabble, but is there any difference when your only plan is to have them play in a truck outside your event?
Unibet is currently in the Wynn, Las Vegas for the European Open, and Andrew Neeme won the sixth Battle Royal where esports stars and poker players compete in a special Sit n Go, but I don’t get it.
So far, both sports/games are involved in a spot of heavy petting, but once the heavy breathing leads to full-on intercourse what will the baby look like?
It’s obvious that poker needs esports much more than esports needs poker. Relationships of one kind or another are sprouting in various guises. But for poker to capitalise on esports’ resurgence, poker companies are going to have to take significant risks.
Inviting esports enterprises or players to compete in your poker festival is risk-averse. It’s playing safe. It gives off the illusion that something magical is happening when nothing is happening.
The one company that seems to have nailed it is PokerStars. Rather than invite the likes of ESL Gaming to host an event within the framework of a PokerStars Championship, the biggest player in online poker has created an entirely new game called Power Up that incorporates the best of both worlds.
I believe this is the way forward for online poker operators. Poker, as it stands today, doesn’t belong in the $108 billion video game industry, of which esports is a niche market. But something like Power Up does.
Back to my experience in Baden.
By the time, Vladimir Bozinovic settled down for his heads-up confrontation with Paul Berende; the crowd consisted of the cleaner and a few media folks (there was more watching the Scrabble final).
Contrast that with the 45,000 people who watched the League of Legends (LOL) World Final in Seoul, 2014, and you can start to see for yourself what route poker needs to take if it’s going to grow in popularity and as a money making machine.