Alexander Dreyfus, founder of the Global Poker Index, sees poker as a big brother to the esports industry. It’s not hard to see why. Ever since legendary StarCraft player Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier crossed over into the world of poker and became a superstar of the game, eventually leading to the recent capture of his signature by Team partypoker, the link between the two has been growing.
Online gaming and online poker both developed at a similar pace, leading to similar age demographics at the top of both fields. Both are accessible, authentic and entertaining. Both have widespread broadcasting and sponsorship appeal. In other words, they are the future. Here, we look at seven reasons why:
1) Increasing Media Coverage
When Sky Sports start showing two blokes playing FIFA, then you know that esports are starting to hit the big time. That’s exactly what happened last weekend, with the FIFA Eclub World Cup Final live on prime time when Brondby eSport took on Team Envy. There were a few bemused football fans on Twitter, but it’s just another milestone in the seemingly inevitable rise and rise of professional esports.
With big media beasts like Sky and the BBC, who showed the League of Legends World Championship in 2015, starting to take notice, and realising that they now need to get on board or get out of the way, mainstream media coverage of esports is only going to grow and grow. In a similar way, poker has enjoyed lots of coverage over the years, with ESPN showing comprehensive coverage of the WSOP, and regular coverage of the biggest stories in the mainstream media. That’s unlikely to stop any time soon.
2) Money, Money, Money
While most of the top esports prizes are still dwarfed by the millions of dollars regularly sloshing about at major poker tournaments, the gap is closing. The International 2017 smashed the record for the biggest esports prize pool, with Valve’s Dota 2 Championship giving away $24,787,916, with $10,862,683 of that going to winners Team Liquid.
The top dogs in esports can now sign professional contracts where they are paid separate salaries to what they earn in prize money, in a similar way to the top poker players signing sponsorship deals with poker sites. Where the money goes, players, audiences and broadcasters follow.
3) Accessibility, Authenticity, Interactivity
Esports, much like poker, allows fans to connect with its stars in a much more direct way than traditional sports. No cosseted, media-trained megastars here. In both poker and esports, online live streams on platforms like Twitch are coming to prominence. They show popular players live streaming as they play, providing entertaining commentary and showing off their expert skills all the while directly interacting with their legions of fans.
TonkaaaaP in poker is one example of an incredible online streamer attracting a big audience, with his brilliantly funny streams connecting with his viewers, Team NeverLucky, in a big way. Esports streamers like Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, who streams his Fortnite sessions to millions around the world on Twitch, have also become big stars, earning hundreds of thousands a month by streaming and from his 11.5M YouTube subscribers. Young people feel connected to their heroes, who often stream every day, in a way they wouldn’t with traditional sports stars who are almost impossible to interact with.
4) Big Business Wants In
Big business is starting to take notice of esports. Gilette announced last year that they would be sponsoring EDward gaming, one of the best League of Legends teams in the World, after earlier partnering with the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship. Some reports have suggested that by 2021 there will be a $1 billion advertising spend in the global esports industry.
Big names in the business world have been sponsoring poker tournaments and players for over a decade now, and there is every chance that big business will continue to put their backing into both esports and poker.
5) Enduring Links Between Sport, esport and Poker
Qatari-backed French giants PSG has earned a reputation for splashing the billions in football, but they entered the world of esports in 2017 with sponsored teams in League of Legends, FIFA and Rocket League competitions. Manchester City, West Ham, Wolfsburg and the New York Red Bulls were also among the football teams to sign FIFA players to represent them at tournaments.
While there have been no sports teams putting poker players into major tournaments just yet, the big poker sites, including partypoker, continue to sign big-name players to represent them. Huge names of sport like Boris Becker, Carl Froch and Usain Bolt have been signed by partypoker and other sites to promote them. The link between poker, esports and traditional sports is not going away.
6) Bigger and Better
Esports list of accomplishments in 2017 was impressive. There was the Overwatch League that signed 12 teams for the first ever global city-based esports league, which featured owners who own teams and franchises in the NFL, Premier League, NBA and MLS, the Intel Extreme Masters held the biggest ever esports event in Katowice, Poland, that attracted an on-site audience of 173,000, and the League of Legends World Championship reaching 60,000,000 unique viewers online.
In a similar way, poker, and particularly the partypoker LIVE tour, was setting records of its own. A brilliant first season of the MILLIONS tour saw incredible events in glamourous destinations all over the globe. With amazing events coming up like MILLIONS World at the Caribbean Poker Party in November, with a $10M guarantee for a $25,000 buy-in event, both poker and esports will continue to break records going forward.
7) Young Audiences Love Them
Deals are increasingly being made between poker tournament organisers and esports competitions with significant streaming partners like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Twitch. And when you look at the younger audience demographics, it’s easy to understand why esports and poker have found a home on these platforms.
An example of this phenomenon was the huge streaming figures from the partypoker Big Game at MILLIONS North America, where audiences flocked to follow the live-streamed action on YouTube and MPPL in their droves, with a million views across all platforms. Similarly, Ninja Vegas 18, a live-streamed Fortnite tournament featuring Ninja taking on all-comers at Fortnite Battle Royale from the Esports Arena in Las Vegas, broke Twitch streaming records.
Expect the popularity of esports and poker to grow and grow, especially amongst young people.
Would you like to write for partypokerLIVE? Every article we publish will be rewarded with a ticket worth $109 on partypoker. Read all about how you can become a writer for partypokerLIVE here!
18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org. Play responsibly.
- Rob Godmon
- Paul Seaton