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Over the weekend, poker’s all-time tournament money winner Daniel Negreanu (Kid Poker) defeated fellow Team PokerStars Pro Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier in a Hearthstone exhibition match at Blizzcon 2015 in Anaheim, California.

The friendly 3-out-of-5 duel was part of the festivities during the 2015 Hearthstone World Championship hosted by the popular card game’s license holder, Blizzard Entertainment. Swedish player “Ostkaka” claimed the 2015 championship along with its $100,000 first place prize.

Negreanu vs. ElkY Gameplay Arena

Famous Poker Players Cross Over Into eSports

With so much emphasis being placed on the game of poker becoming a “sport” along with the debate over whether poker players should be considered athletes, it was great to see two of poker’s top personalities hit the eSports stage in Anaheim.

Grospellier, for his part, is no stranger to the video game community — having earned a solid reputation as a StarCraft player years ago as a professional gamer with the AMD/Hexatron franchise in 2002 — before he got involved full-time in poker.

On the other hand, Negreanu has only recently gained interest in video games and has grinded his way to “Legend” status in the Hearthstone card game, which now has an estimated 40 million players worldwide according to video game news website Polygon.

There are several interesting parallels that can be seen between poker and Hearthstone in the 50-minute cast of Negreanu’s victory over ElkY in a YouTube video clip. For one, the card game is highly strategic with an enormous luck-of-the-draw factor that can enable beginning players to sometimes defeat the best professionals.

Similar to online poker, Hearthstone doesn’t require an ultra-quick APM (Actions Per Minute) rate but rather capitalizes on fast-paced gameplay where the fate of one player can change with a single card. Other popular web-based competitive video games such as League of Legends and Call of Duty are somewhat less attractive to the mainstream poker community because they require lightning physical reflexes in conjunction with strategic critical thinking.

A typical online poker grinder is unlikely to be at his or her best in such an APM-based game after a long session of multi-tabling, but Hearthstone offers a more relaxing yet fun and competitive online experience.

If you’ve taken a look at Negreanu’s exhibition match against ElkY, one of the things that sticks out is Blizzard Entertainment’s gameplay arena. The heads-up battle was decked out in fantasy-based props (including an eye-catching fireplace in the background) that made for a highly entertaining setting.

Negreanu vs. ElkY Hearthstone Exhibition Match

The arena is similar in nature to The Cube, which will debut early next year as part of Alex Dreyfus’ Global Poker League.

The live play-by-play commentary provided by the Hearthstone World Championship casters was respectful and accommodating — with all three personalities communicating a profound admiration for two poker players who are on the elite level of their craft. This is due to the fact that while top-level eSports pros normally compete for 5 and 6-digit prizes, their poker counterparts are routinely involved in decisions that revolve around millions of dollars.

This of course is offset by poker players having to risk real money in order to acquire such wealth.

“ElkY” Will Dress Up as “Sludge Belcher” As Part of Friendly Wager

Since Negreanu bested “ElkY” in the Hearthstone exhibition match, Grospellier has agreed to put his cosplay skills to the test by dressing up as one of Hearthstone’s characters, Sludge Belcher.

Negreanu Wins Hearthstone Exhibition Match

The rare minion card that forms part of the Naxxramas set in Hearthstone was an interesting choice for Grospellier to select as part of his defeat, and could draw plenty of chuckles (along with increased interest) from crossover poker or video game fans.

ElkY Cosplay Sludge Belcher

More On The Global Poker League And The Cube

Many in the poker industry are taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes to Alex Dreyfus’ vision of futuristic live poker. “The Cube” is very similar to the arena utilized during the 2015 Hearthstone Championship, and has massive potential to become a dazzling set piece for those who attend inaugural Global Poker League matches.

It is important to point out that many of GPL’s first broadcasts will coincide with eSports events, and will frequently take place within the same sports stadium to maximize audience potential.

Will serious video game fans (those who purchase tickets and apparel in support of video game tournaments) be attracted by the real money lure of poker? Or will it be the other way around, with poker fans being exposed to the more popular video game segment of eSports? After all, mainstay video game championships routinely draw live crowds in the tens of thousands, something that even the 2015 WSOP November Nine could not.

The question lends further credence to Dreyfus’ statement in September that video games will be poker’s biggest competition in the future. But for now, we’re “waiting and seeing” what the Global Poker League has in store in 2016 along with the rest of the poker world.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as "dhubermex" online, David's poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.