First, the new realities came for the virtual felt. Now, they have come for its legacy.
The spigot of easy money that flowed for players and operators alike during the boom was turned off long ago. But despite a new economic reality, the boom-years business model of rewarding high-volume players continued to lurch along. That definitely ended last month with the removal of Supernova Elite from the PokerStars VIP Club.
After years of debate, the functionality of the model is no longer the question. The question is what comes next – and all options are on the table.
The Dream is Dead. Long Live the Dream
The goal of poker moving forward must be to keep the game culturally relevant. If that objective is met, profit for all the game’s various stakeholders will follow.
In 2002, cultural relevancy came from enticing grinding out a path to stardom. Today, that dream is dead. But poker, like its more talented players, always adapts.
Lots of ink is being spilled debating if all the developments of the last five years – the pervasive HUD’s, the training sites, the war on winning players – has destroyed the very possibility of there even being an online poker dream anymore. How can anyone find room to dream in a game that is so ruthlessly advanced, so optimized, so sterile? Where could poker possibly go from here?
The answer – and this is one man’s opinion – is very, very, very far.
Streaming is the Beginning, not the End
I’m on the front-end of the millennial generation (dating myself, I know). I grew up with computers and video games (Tecmo Football, FTW). But they were a part of my life – not my entire life.
In 2016, video games have gone global as entertainment – ravenously consumed by a generation for whom the internet is ubiquitous. Today, watching people playing video games is just as popular as tuning in to a sporting event. That’s the new cultural reality. And that’s also where poker can find its pivot point away from what has become a soulless, joyless, adversarial grind and back towards something exciting, fun, and relevant.
Reimagined, online poker is a perfect fit for this culture. Twitch poker streaming by the new brand of poker celebrity like PokerStars’ Daniel Negreanu and Jamie Staples has already proven the business case for this model.
But individual streamers gaining a following is (or at least, should be) just the first iteration of this concept – not the only, or last. Jason Somerville said as much in an interview with PokerUpdate’s David Huber.
There is a world of potential for the game not only to survive, but to boom again if a site is willing to take a risk and truly shift the paradigm.
Making 2016 a Big Year for Poker
Leverage streamer branding through new, interactive opportunities for players
Streamers attract huge followings that have strong brand loyalty. But as much as people value the experience of living vicariously through their heroes on screen, they still crave interaction as well.
Jason Somerville giving away seats to his Run it Up event in Reno is a perfect example of this. A site with a solid roster of celebrity streamers has endless opportunities for this type of live-event collaboration with players. But there is so much more that could be done here.
As a start, I’d like to see a site experiment with ways that loyal fans could win an opportunity to make guest appearances on the stream. This could take the form of bringing people “in-studio,” but shouldn’t be limited to that.
Another idea would be to have the streamer cycle through screen-sharing with loyal fans playing in the same tournament. This would create engagement, as well as a dynamic, multi-faceted view of a single tournament that would be compelling to new and old players alike.
Capture the imaginations of the growing number of people who view video games as a sport
The Global Poker League (GPL) is a great, innovative concept that I believe will be a success. Therefore, a site that wants to have a big year in 2016 will make sure to attach its name in some way to it.
It’s true that Alex Dreyfus is creating buy-in for it from business interests within poker by promising GPL will not compete, but rather augment, what everyone else is doing. However, that shouldn’t exclude the possibility of branding partnerships, event ticket giveaways, and even “play-in” events with a forward-thinking site.
Develop content strategies to take advantage of the other revenue sources having a large player pool creates
A site that wants to make it big in 2016 will realize that the value of micro-stake player pools does not come only from the rake they pay. It also comes from the revenue streams that are available to a gatekeeper that holds the attention of the coveted 18-30 years old demographic.
A site that uses a streamer sponsorship to push innovative, off-stream content will create new revenue sources and do very well. This could include podcasts, strategy guides sold as traditional books, online training sites, and more. Really, the possibilities here are endless.
There are a lot of things that could make 2016 a big year for a poker site willing to challenge the old way of doing business and try something different.
After a lot of years of nothing but doom and gloom, there is a new emerging model. Whichever site can best capture the new symbiosis between poker and internet celebrity will lead the charge into a new era.