Things are looking up for online poker. I’m confident 2016 will be a year spent developing the new growth strategies that emerged in 2015. This year will be an important inflection point for the industry, and I expect that the changes made will set the tone for a new era on the virtual felt.
Here are my top 5 online poker predictions for the coming year:
Online Poker Returns to the Public Consciousness
The old model of a closed, tight-knit internet poker community will definitively give way to the era of globalized internet entertainment. A core group of hardcore players will always exist, but the game will open up considerably to the mainstream.
Poker entrainment is currently being reimagined by Twitch and Poker Central. And while these two will undoubtedly attract new viewers right now, I don’t think that will be their biggest contribution to the future of the industry.
In 2016 I expect to see the beginning of what amounts to a total reimagining of what it means to consume poker content. New ways to engage with a new generation of poker enthusiasts over both streaming and traditional episode based formats will begin to take shape.
I’m anticipating the emergence of an immersive, interactive experience to transform the current landscape.
Poker Goes After the Video Game Crowd
Look for the synergy between “gamers” and “grinders” to flourish in 2016. Video games attract legions of fans just as interested in participating in the culture as they are in playing the games themselves. They are a natural fit for a poker industry that would love nothing more than to grab the attention of even a fraction of them.
Daniel Negreanu waded into these waters in 2015 by playing Hearthstone during a live Twitch stream. But the poker industry hasn’t even scraped the surface of the potential opportunities for collaboration.
I’m predicting that the games themselves will have some cross-over innovations in 2016. One example of this kind of collaboration might be having poker tournaments that award video game level-ups instead of cash. Another might be to have the top X finishers in an online poker tournament form a team that will compete in a video game against a roster of pro gamers.
PokerStars Dominance is Challenged in the US
Currently, the segmentation of the global online poker player pool makes it nearly impossible for anyone to challenge the PokerStars monopoly. But with California and Pennsylvania inching towards online poker licensing and regulation, the same cannot be said for the US market.
I predict that there will be fierce competition when PokerStars hits the NJ and NV markets. Resistance will be strong in every single state that has land-based casino interests.
In the Amaya conference call last week, they were saying first half of 2016 for PokerStars entering New Jersey. https://t.co/ApZvYP0lFX— Kevin Mathers (@Kevmath) November 15, 2015
Amaya’s choice to add casino games to their poker client makes this clash inevitable. Brick and mortar properties such as the Borgata in NJ may have been less geared up for a battle over online poker rake, but will absolutely fight to keep their share of online casino revenues.
Poker Puts Its Status as a Sport to a Public Vote
Alex Dreyfus’ new Global Poker League (GPL) will be the biggest story of 2016. His vision to package and present poker to the masses as a sport is the industry gamble of a generation.
Although streaming obviously is shaping up as the main driver of future growth in online poker, finding a way to generate real-world revenue streams from online players would be the holy grail of industry profitability.
The Global Poker League Kicks Off in 2016. Get ready for some action packed Team Poker! pic.twitter.com/7ZMZppkFJf— Global Poker League (@gpl) December 11, 2015
I don’t anticipate a revolution overnight, but I predict that GPL will prove itself to be a viable business model and survive into 2017.
Online Poker Lobbies Are Changed Forever
This year is the year seating scripts that allow the user to instantly sit to the left of any recreational player taking an open seat at any table in the lobby are rendered obsolete.
Banning these programs won’t get rid of the problem because those willing to use them aren’t ethical to begin with. Instead, the solution will come in the form of a fundamental reimagining of the online poker lobby.
This already happened on sites with anonymous tables and table name changes. PokerStars won’t go that route, but I’m predicting it will achieve the same objective in 2016 by removing table selection entirely.
Players will choose a game, pick a stake, and get a seat at a table when one is available- the same way it happens at your local casino.
Overall, I predict that after years of worrying if the online poker industry would even continue to exist, 2016 is shaping up to be nothing but positive. New models will be tested, new revenue streams will be explored, and new US markets will be opened up.
I can’t wait for it to get started.