So as some of you may or may not know, I work for both the Epic Poker League and the World Poker Tour (although Epic may cease to be by mid June when they go to bankruptcy auction). And through both those jobs, I've learned a little bit about how much money there is in this business, and how much untapped potential there is to poker in general.
I believe in my last blog I mentioned how I was going to talk about the battle for television dominance, but I think in this blog I'm going to slightly steer away from that and focus more on the direction I think televised poker and poker in general need to go.
So let's get down to brass tacts whatever that means. Online poker and live poker are now forever intertwined. I'm sorry if you're old and a poker purist and you have some autographed pictures of Puggy Pearson on your fridge, but that's just the way things are. And more and more it's looking like Party Poker and Pokerstars are becoming the only two players in the online game.
And Stars is winning the game.
Pokerstars as we all know and appreciate has done everything right by the poker community, but we forget that Party has done everything right as well. We forget simply because they backed out of the U.S. market once they felt online poker was illegal. Something we can all respect if not necessarily agree with.
Well, as Stars and Party both built their clienteles and rosters, they started sponsoring televised poker to attract customers. They did this so well, that eventually they thought "Well hot damn, we should just make our own shows and tourneys!"
And viola, they did. The EPT and the Big Game and NAPT and all the others were born.
And as poker has picked up in worldwide likability, so has the desire to be at the forefront and to be the most trusted name in the game. Online it's Pokerstars and Live I believe it's the World Series of Poker. Not to take away anything from Party Poker or Lock or the World Poker Tour, but I think those others are at the top of their respective fields.
But let's look behind before we look forward too much. A lot of people forget that the World Poker Tour actually came BEFORE the poker boom. Yes, the Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio that Gus Hansen took down? That happened in May of 2002 and aired well before Moneymaker smashed the '03 Main.
And ever since the WPT and WSOP blew up television ratings at the beginning of the century, everybody has since been trying to cash in on their success. We all remember the endless amount of poker on television around 2005. Celebrity Poker Showdown and Poker Superstars and the like.
But as the UIGEA was passed and then Black Friday happened, the number of poker shows on television has dwindled down to what started it all: the WSOP and the WPT. Those are the only two names in the game right now, but I suspect that may change. But honestly, I hope it doesn't.
Televised poker in nature has a really big problem. There's no simple way to do it live. "We'll do it live!" may sound nice in theory, but I was bored to death watching Pius Heinz win the Main Event last year. And so was everyone else. Even Pius Heinz!
You can't make it live because final tables take way too long to play. Solution: speed up the final tables. No, you can't do that because it's unfair to the players who are playing for millions of dollars. Now obviously, I'm not the first person to realize such things. Early on for the WPT, they had great structures until the final table and then all hell broke loose. Blinds would go up virtually every hand, and players were all in like crazy and it was awesome and I loved it. Hence we had a slew of random winners and some who even won twice and then fell off the Earth (Enter Tuan Le).
But they were more fun to watch. I have a friend who plays super turbo SNGs online with a pretty decent success rate. And it's so much fun to watch him. Watching people flip their cards and gamble is a lot more fun than slowly grinding someone down. The all-ins are great to watch, but awful to play. And no one's going to play structures like that for that much money. The WPT realized this and changed for the players. Poker on TV will probably progress to the point of virtually live. But the only way to do it truly live is to sequester the players, and where's the fun in that?
These are just general rambling concerns of mine though. What I'm more interested in talking about is who's going to be in charge of these television shows.
Look, EVERYBODY wants a piece of the proverbial poker pie. I work(ed) for the Epic Poker League and Daniel's absolutely right. It's no secret that Epic wanted to get in on the online action. They wanted to be a major online presence, a major live presence, and have a major website where NVG was discussed and news was reported. It seems that won't work out. But I wouldn't at all be surprised if some of these sites joined up together somewhere down the line. If 2+2 teamed up with Pokernews or if Stars bought the World Poker Tour, etc. Not necessarily those things, but some consolidation would be great. In my own opinion, poker needs to have one unified poker league and it be the only one people cared about. All other sports have this. MLB, NFL, PGA, NBA, etc.
It would just be nice to have one mammoth league that holds tournaments around the world year round and they culminate in the Main Event during the summer. I'm not saying it should be the WSOP or WPT or EPT. It would just be great for players and fans to have One League and One Ranking system. Let everybody agree on what the biggest tournaments are and who the best tournament players are.
I think in the years to come this will happen and I think it may carry over to online as well. Here's what's going to happen online. All players are going to realize that the biggest tournaments and most money to be made are going to be on just one site. And everyone will play there. It's just more money for everybody. The pros, the poker sites, the countries that tax them. Literally everybody wins. Except the fish. But the fish always lose.
Pokerstars is leading this charge into battle already. They appears to have a business model unlike any other. And it looks as if they're prepping themselves to take over poker in all aspects. TV, live tourneys, and the online market.
In fact, the NAPT, unless I'm mistaken, had their events scheduled right around the same time as the WPT events. And if that trend had continued, WPT might not have been able to survive. They might have had to shut their doors and the NAPT would have become the new WPT. But then the DOJ stepped in.
Again, Pokerstars' growing poker monopoly isn't a problem for me. People may fear monopolies, however monopoly's are generally bad because the company sets their own prices. And a poker site can't really change prices that much. Maybe raise the rake or registration fees, but I don't think that would happen. Especially since players make the game, and honestly, nobody NEEDS to play poker.
So I suppose that's the general direction poker needs to go or will hopefully go in my opinion. But maybe not. Or maybe I'm wrong.
Remember when the mega millions lottery hit something absurd like $700 million or something a few months ago. Do you have any idea how much money that is? That's like $70 million $10 bills!
Anyway, the point is people want to gamble, gamble. Why? Because it's fun and awesome. And poker is simply the most fun gamble out there because you have the most control. I've said before that poker is just as competitive as any actual sport. The only problem is that it's 100% mental whereas most real sports are both mental and physical with varying combinations of that balance. (Golf being more mental and less physical than hockey for example).
This means poker doesn't need time off and big games and tournaments can run all the time. This supersaturation of poker tournaments causes diminishing returns in the ones that are played. I still think a bracelet and a WPT title mean a great deal. But with so many events, they mean less and less.
If you're reading this blog, then you love this game. Or maybe you just love me and are reading my blog. Either way, you have excellent taste. Anyway, the point is that we all want poker to be mainstream, to be as good a game as possible, and for others to share in the competitive joy it can bring.
I can't wait for it to get there, and to see poker's second Golden Age. It's on its way.
PS I promise my next blog will be much more coherent and ramble substantially less. My heartfelt apologies.