One week after revealing details related to the upcoming Global Poker League, GPL chief and Global Poker Index CEO Alex Dreyfus has ensured his name and the League’s brand remains amidst poker industry headlines for at least another seven days.
The source of Dreyfus’ latest foray into sharing space with the 2015 WSOP Europe, PokerStars Knockout Week, and Tuesday’s Run It Up Reno Poker Event hosted by Jason Somerville is an op-ed piece Dreyfus wrote for the Huffington Post UK. The title of his blog post is: Hearthstone and Video Games Are the Biggest Threat to Online Poker.
Dreyfus’ option-based article, if nothing else, further reveals his vision of the direction the online poker industry must pursue in order to survive — and potentially thrive once more. There are significant implications to the online poker industry following the Global Poker Index CEO’s lead on “sportifying” the game. Not only will it require abandoning many traditional, old-school methodologies for monetizing virtual poker — it could also alter how players are attracted to the platform as a whole through prioritizing achievement-based progress over real money profit.
That’s quite a bit for the industry and online poker players to swallow, yet we’re about to see this scenario play out — like it or not.
Online poker’s initial boom days are behind us. Whether that’s due to a lack of direct profit opportunities for a growing percentage of players, poker site rake fees, Black Friday, regulation costs, past scandals that resulted in online poker players having money stolen from them, antagonistic rhetoric and actions between poker sites and their “regular” customers — or a combination of all those factors — is for You the Reader to decide. What is clear is that online poker must dosomething differently to expand its player base.
So is Alex Dreyfus a genius visionary who’s going to lead online poker into a second era of prosperity, or a madman snake charmer whose tune won’t strike the correct chord needed to successfully guide the game out of its cozy, albeit restrictive, basket?
If you’re looking for a Yes/No answer (or even an educated guess) to that question from this writer, then I apologize now. I just don’t know. Instead I’ll utilize one of the most time-proven poker phrases of all time: It depends. However, I do have some thoughts on a general timeline along with incremental steps that will pave the way for Dreyfus’ maneuvering of the game into the “sports & gaming” realm.
As a video game critic, longtime gamer, industry writer, and paid Customized Gaming News Feed provider whose tips and troubleshooting guides are published on several websites, I’ve been hawking my video game knowledge since the early 1980s — when I got in trouble trading hand sketched Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord maps for candy bars with our elementary school counselor at the age of seven. (Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson).
And then there’s my decade-plus experience as a poker industry representative — as a former professional online poker player, podcast host, forum manager, head moderator, and writer. With that authoritative background, here are my thoughts on Alex Dreyfus’ concept, the Global Poker League, online poker, and its potential as a video gaming platform rather than a for-profit lure.
The Global Poker League: Two Years to Prove Itself
How effectively can Alex Dreyfus market the League, The Cube, and the realization that poker has evolved since your grandparents’ nickel & dime 7 Card Stud home games? You can wager that major online poker sites will have at least one person whose task is to evaluate the Global Poker League’s audience growth during its first season.
Barring dismal numbers coupled with an overwhelming yawn from the majority of the League’s live attendees (not likely), it will then be up to Dreyfus & Co to learn from any mistakes, and quickly adapt for GPL’s Season Two. If there is no organic fan support growth via ticket sales and apparel by the end of the second season, the Global Poker League will likely cease to exist — that’s my opinion.
But it could work. Will a soundproof see-through box engage live audiences enough that they’ll naturally purchase tickets, t-shirts, card protectors, and more importantly, post their experiences on social media via selfies, photo-ops with well known players and smart device live streaming apps such as Twitter Periscope? That remains to be seen.
If the GPL doesn’t improve on its Season One ratings and if it doesn’t spark intrigue among a large percentage of its infant fan base, then that’s probably going to be all she wrote for the project. If the League can’t gain enough momentum while piggybacking off of more established “sports” event by renting a salon within the same venue, then the concept may be picked up by future investors looking to improve further upon Dreyfus’ brain child.
The Cube, in all its glory, will go for about 25 cents on the dollar along with that black tarp they hung on the rafters in one of the promotional images so courteously provided to poker media outlets by GPL parent company Mediarex Sports & Entertainment (Dreyfus runs that, too).
That would be a regrettable conclusion to what may indeed save online poker, so let’s look at a potential chain reaction of events that would likely follow a successful run for the Global Poker League.
Global League Poker Success Would Proliferate Subscription-Based Online Poker
There you have it. And… in case you’re wondering, this scenario would be bleak for most of today’s “for-profit” online poker players. Why do you think so much focus has been placed on Rising Poker Live Streaming Personalities such as Jaime Staples, who by his own admission isn’t one of the “elite” high stakes pros in the game at this time? It’s because online poker, if sportified, will further proliferate a growing trend among successful players to seek out innovative methods to generate revenue through things other than situation-based poker equity.
Direct support models, high score achievements, viewership ratings, social media followership and advertising revenue will emerge as viable bankroll builders while equity-based poker software calculations, actual poker skill, and most number crunching mass tabling players are correspondingly forced into the background.
There would be another culling of mildly-talented poker players like myself who were sent to the rail years ago when online poker ceased to be profitable, and a subsequent jump in stakes necessary to make for-profit play an income generating endeavor.
In this environment, Subscription-Based Online Poker would become an industry standard within a few short years. Raked online games would continue to attract professional high rollers, but the small stakes games would see increased rake percentages previously available only in brick & mortar casino Sit & Go tournaments. That would be the norm: $15+5 SNGs and unbeatable $2/5 online cash games with severely capped max buy-ins.
Why would online poker sites make such drastic rake changes in this hypothetical future, you ask? They would do so because recreational subscribers would far outnumber traditional online poker grinders.
No more negative, high-traffic forum threads from mid-level poker pros who feel entitled to the industry providing them with a job (that’s the way many major poker site representatives see most pros’ plight). No more overhead dedicated to kowtowing to enraged “regulars,” and no more sidestepping of online poker’s obvious path to renewed profitability.
In a matter of months, major online poker sites would swiftly exit stage left with little more than a tip of the proverbial hat as they allocate human resources to gaming concepts such as Micro Transactions, Subscription Loyalty Levels, and ensuring their new user base is paying for the Experience rather than clear cut Profit.
This is the future of online poker if the Global Poker League catches fire. And yes, in that case virtual poker would face its stiffest competition among video games and online card games.
This brings us to Dreyfus’ reference to Hearthstone as the “other” card game poker will have to face-off against in years to come.
Online Poker’s Biggest Threat: Gwent Will Prevail Over Hearthstone
Hearthstone is a would-be “biggest threat” to online poker now, but the future we’re peering into is still at least a year away. As with most trends, it’s timing that will determine which card game creates all the rage by the time online poker transitions in this again — hypothetical scenario.
As I see it, there are five card games that could come out on top by mid-2017. They are: Gwent (a mini-game introduced for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt), Hearthstone (by World of Warcraft and Diablo developer Blizzard Entertainment), a revamped version of Final Fantasy VIII: Triple Triad or Final Fantasy IX: Tetra Master, or an unforeseen game that has yet to hit the market. Magic: The Gathering may not enjoy the exponential growth it once did, but remains among the most widely-played card games, so don’t count a remake of that card game completely out.
When it comes to predicting Gwent‘s future popularity over Hearthstone, there’s one aspect that supersedes all others —Hearthstone has historic ties to PC Gaming, while Gwent does not.
In case you haven’t spent a large portion of your time keeping up with the video game industry, PCs are quietly (yet viciously) shunned by the video game industry as much as for-profit online poker players are blamed for decreasing the game’s fish pool. This is in spite of the fact that the PC gaming community has an even more fervor-filled base of what some would call “entitled” individuals than its online poker counterpart!
After all, it’s the Modding community‘s unpaid effort that has lengthened the staying power and long-term marketability of blockbuster titles such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Minecraft. Add the Steam community into the mix and you have a hefty portion of video game enthusiasts who have squandered days of their time (along with thousands of their own dollars) to the improvement of Early Access games that will never see the light of day.
Be that as it may, the PC Master Race is no longer viewed in such high esteem by the video game industry it has supported over the years. Mobile Free-To-Play games may have had a lucrative run, but that business model could be dying as well (despite what higher-ups at The Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain publisher Konami think — they’ve decided to abandon Triple A titles altogether and focus on mobile). Mobile gaming grows tiresome even among many casual gamers, especially when they have been exposed to tedious Farming, Pay-To-Win and Micro Transaction schemes for several years now.
That leaves us with Console Gaming — and that’s where Gwent has a leg up on its competition. In fact, the issue facing Gwent at the moment is, ironically, none other than math. Fortunately, that can be altered much easier than other PC card games making a massive console port entry. Once the game’s Weather Cards are bulked up and the Tight Bond and Spy Cards are “nerfed” (a gaming term used to describe a “decrease in effectiveness”), there will be an even playing field with nearly infinite strategic possibilities for console gamers to compete against each other with.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt card game Gwent will have to be PG-13 to ensure widespread appeal, but there’s just enough softcore T&A action in the main game to retain its mostly adult fan base while drawing in a full-fledged community of recreational players. (For my 12-year old twins who are sharing this article on those social media accounts you think I’m unaware of, T ‘n’ A is a slightly more derogatory way of expressing Butts & Breasts, but I’m sure you already know that).
Final Fantasy has had success on consoles, but the two card games mentioned at the beginning of this section have been around for far too long. Gwent is new, focuses heavily on storytelling in its core gameplay, and has no other Multi Player elements other than itself — and that MP version hasn’t been released yet despite incessant forum requests. The only reason is that they’re working out the mathematical balance before launching it for Multi Player on the PlayStation 4 and XBOX One consoles.
Role Playing Game (RPG) Elements in Online Poker
Back to the assumed success of the Global Poker League, and what it would mean for online poker by late 2017. As Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) bears the full brunt of government regulation, popular online poker sites will likely look to introduce more advanced RPG elements into their virtual offering.
Could this mean that sites such as PokerStars would consider the purchase of game development companies and design assets? Yes, it does. The recreational online poker player, which by this time would be encroaching upon online poker in numbers that would marginalize most for-profit players, would be poker sites’ main focus.
All that is needed to make a compelling RPG-based online poker experience for recreational players is an addictive achievement scheme, some clever script writing, and 16-bit graphics (think Super Nintendo).
You may think online poker leveling-up is a dramatic change from how the game has traditionally been played online (and it is), but this concept is already being attempted in a variety of ways by just about every poker site through their respective VIP tiers. And if you haven’t noticed, those attempts haven’t exactly resurrected the online game to its previous glory days. Something extra is needed — and RPG elements just might be the variable to complete the equation.
Conclusion: It’s All or Nothing for Alex Dreyfus
So much is riding on Alex Dreyfus’ shoulders with the Global Poker League, and I’m sure he knows it. Staying true to poker’s to-date mantra of taking calculated risks, the Global Poker Index head who has already been instrumental in shifting the direction of poker is wagering heavily on the fulfillment of his vision.
In doing so, Dreyfus has cemented his fate as some sort of GOAT. Whether that is an acronym for Greatest Of All Time or a laughable all-caps reminder of vintage Let’s Make A Deal contestants who insisted on staying with their original choice — only time will tell. Either way, the 94-year old, self proclaimed ex-CIA agent, and former LMAD show host Monty Hall would be proud.
For those slightly-winning online poker players who may find themselves riding the wave of the Dreyfus Machine, perhaps its time to work on those Twitch Poker Streams sooner rather than later.
What is Your opinion?