Prior to the recent Global Poker League draft and American Poker Awards, the Global Poker Index hosted a morning conference. The four panels and topics were important ones to the poker community. The discussions among panel members, conference participants, and the community at large are ones that should continue.
One of the most imperative questions to come from the conference is: How do we broaden the overall poker audience? Each panel offered answers to varying degrees, and they can be summarized along with some personal insight.
Make Poker Content and Games Interactive
From the first panel on eSports, with its focus on Twitch, to the last about players impacting the industry, many ideas were floated to invite players to the game. More than that, the idea is to make players feel that they are a part of the industry, that their opinions matter, and that they are not merely spectators to others’ fame and fortune.
Twitch is a great tool to help achieve this goal. Poker players who use Twitch to its fullest potential make the audience feel as if they are a part of the show through the most efficient utilization of the interactive chat. They answer questions from the audience, accept their suggestions, and engage in various ways.
Numerous poker podcasts do the same, but it can be more difficult for audiences to commit to in-depth broadcasts that can last well over one hour. Twitch seems to be more accessible and doesn’t require a long time commitment.
Social media accounts can also become more engaging. For example, PokerStars uses Twitter to offer prizes via contests on a regular basis, even to the point that followers can count on regularly scheduled offers. Even if poker companies use social media to ask the audience about their interest in various types of content, audiences will feel more involved in the entire process.
Be More Inclusive of Women and Non-Millennials
The second panel focused solely on ways to bring more women into poker. Many ideas were the same as have been debated for years, such as women-only tournaments, more media focus on female players, and ridding the industry of sexist stereotypes as epitomized by the WPT’s Royal Flush Girls.
Few things so clearly signal that poker is a man's game as the Royal Flush Girls. I've told WPT I will not do photos with them tomorrow.— Cate Hall (@catehall) September 29, 2015
Some of the ideas floated in the discussion were not as commonly discussed, though. For example, companies should market poker to women as a mind sport instead of a video game, as a hobby instead of a career, and as a fun activity instead of a serious task.
Another good point is that many women are unaware of Twitch and other industry-specific modules for poker fans. Combining the marketing of free online poker with Twitch might be a good way to introduce new players to Twitch while introducing them to poker at its most basic level.
Other than the panel of and about women, however, there were no women included in any of the other three panels. In fact, there are very few female poker writers or industry leaders. That leads to very male-centric discussions about poker in general. When the third panel talked about the future of poker media, there were an incredible number of mentions of “these guys” and “him” and “he” and “the guy” when talking about everyone from media to players to audiences. This furthers the exclusivity of the industry. And when the panels consist of mostly younger men, they often fail to realize how many people are dismissed by their words, ideas, and even the industry as a whole.
Women must be included in discussions at all levels and on all topics. And poker companies must begin to target women and older audiences in order to truly expand the game.
(Side note: The Global Poker League is quite diverse. Of the 12 franchise teams, three managers are women, and the commissioner of the GPL draft was Kara Scott. This type of inclusion is progressive and should be copied.)
Tone Down the Lingo
As mentioned before, Twitch is not something with which non-gamers are very familiar. Lingo and technical jargon used when talking about poker is also something that often escapes the realm of the newcomers to poker.
The third panel did touch on the subject of attracting non-millennials to the game by offering basic explanations of some of the lingo and methods of information delivery. The women’s panel also discussed taking poker down to its most basic level to make more people feel welcome.
While the hardcore players are usually the ones who tune in to Twitch streams and watch hours upon hours of WSOP coverage, there needs to be a way to mix the basics of poker with the language of the experts. When terms like three-bet or cut-off are used, television broadcasts could use on-screen bubbles to offer definitions, and written articles can offer quick definitions as footnotes or on an appendix-type page. There are ways to cater to all levels of players at the same time.
Push Free-Play Online Poker and Home Games
Several panels mentioned the importance of free online poker. It is imperative that players know there are numerous sites that offer free games that are legal and free of hard-sells to deposit real money.
Poker fans who watch poker shows like the WPT or the WSOP need to know that they can take their poker interest directly to their tablets, phones, or laptops. The same goes for people who follow poker-related companies on Twitter or Facebook. And those free sites should offer information about current legislation and why real-money online poker is not legal to audiences in places like the United States.
Garnering interest from new players is one job, but keeping their interest requires giving them an outlet for their newfound interest.
Show and Highlight Emotion in Poker
Many professional poker players treat the game like they should… like a profession. And in many cases, that consists of controlling their emotions and becoming numb to things like money.
However, to new players as well as those with a lot of experience in the industry, it is hopeful and refreshing to see players exhibit emotion and show feelings.
It happened when Fedor Holz was chosen by Maria Ho at GPL Draft Day. He was picked during the first round for the LA Sunset team, and he came to the stage to say a few words. He was clearly emotional.
For many of us who regularly see poker players win millions of dollars and barely smile for the winner’s photo, it was refreshing to see a player care so deeply about the game.
Poker media should highlight more of these moments and support players who outwardly love poker. These are the people that draw others to the game, and they are one of the major keys to its longevity.