Global Poker League Q&A Highlights

Alex Weldon : October 15th, 2015

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Yesterday, Global Poker Index (GPI) CEO Alex Dreyfus hosted a Q&A session to clear up some misconceptions about his plans for the Global Poker League (GPL) as well as reveal some additional details about it. Dreyfus first announced that he was working on the GPL late last year, but was very vague about the specifics until earlier this month, when a press release went out, revealing the basic structure of the league, the planned business model, etc.

It was a lot of information packed into a relative short document, however, and so a lot of the ensuing debate about the GPL was rooted not so much in differences of opinion as in differences in understanding about what was actually being proposed. It quickly became apparent, then, that a more thorough explanation was going to be needed, which came in the form of yesterday’s Twitch broadcast, consisting of an approximately 90-minute keynote by Dreyfus, followed by another 90 minutes of questions and answers, with the questions coming in through a mixture of Twitch chat, Twitter and Skype.

WATCH THE ARCHIVED STREAM HERE: PART 1 (SKIP TO 30:30) / PART 2

If the press release erred on the side of brevity, however, yesterday’s session had the opposite problem. Before Dreyfus was even halfway through his presentation, many of the 300ish people watching on Twitch were already getting antsy and wondering when they would be allowed to pose their questions. Twitch is also, by its nature, a bit distracting, as one tries to follow both what’s happening on the stream, and the simultaneous discussion taking place in chat; by the end of a three-hour session like we had yesterday, I suspect most of us were suffering from information overload.

That being the case, the following shouldn’t be taken as an exhaustive recap of everything which was discussed yesterday, but rather a highlight reel of the details which seemed most interesting and important to me.

The GPL is a long-term investment

Probably the most common criticism or question about the GPL is how it is expected to be a money-making endeavor, given that the players need to be compensated for their time, but are not asked to put up any money of their own. Dreyfus has said all along that the plan is to make money through ticketing, sponsorships and the sale of branded merchandise to fans, but many have rightfully expressed doubts about the viability of making enough money through these channels to pay the high costs of putting on live events, as well as paying the players.

One fact that Dreyfus stressed in the Q&A session, then, was that he does not have any illusions about the GPL being profitable in the first season or two. The early goal will be to attract attention and develop a viewership and eventually a dedicated fan base. Once the fans are there, then the next goal will be monetization and eventually, hopefully, profitability. He acknowledges that there the chances of failure are still high, but wants it to be clear that the GPL is not going to be abandoned after (or during) the first season, as many fear. He says that he, his investors, and potential team owners are all committed to rolling money into the endeavor for at least three seasons, to give it sufficient time to gain traction and see whether the potential is there in the long-term.

Custom, third party-certified software

As was stated in the press release, many of the regular-season matches for the GPL will be played online, and even the live matches (whether in studio or in front of a live audience) will use digital cards. During the Q&A, Dreyfus clarified that the GPL has had all the necessary software custom-developed, rather than striking a deal with, say, an existing online site for the use of a modified version of their software. The reason, he says, is that existing software is inevitably designed with the player experience in mind, whereas for the GPL, it is important that everything be designed with the viewer experience in mind. The GPL software, then, will allow the commentators to do things for the audience’s benefit, such as seeing what cards would have come had a player not folded (the “Rabbit-Cam”) or pulling up statistics in real-time based on a player’s hand histories.

Of course, the use of custom software prompted questions related to game integrity. Dreyfus clarified that although the GPL does not need to be licensed as a gambling organization, because players are not wagering their own money, the GPL will still employ third parties to audit their software and certify its randomness and fairness. As far as collusion between teams goes, Dreyfus pointed out firstly that it shouldn’t be a problem in early seasons, as the success of the league as a whole is a prerequisite for any team to be profitable, so everyone’s interests will initially be aligned. Secondly, although collusion could become an issue once the league is established and making money, the fact that all hole cards will be publicly available in every hand will make it considerably harder for players to get away with any sort of dishonest play.

Non-poker celebrities to be team owners, not players

Needless to say, the speculative nature of the GPL and the costs of running it mean that team ownership is going to be an expensive proposition. At the same time, marketing will be key in the early going, and the responsibility of the teams themselves as well as the league. Dreyfus said that for this reason, the people he’s courting as potential team owners are not just well-heeled, but well-connected and popular in the cities where the teams will be based.

Meanwhile, it’s been a trend in recent years for both poker sites and poker shows to involve non-poker celebrities in their marketing efforts. This led some to wonder whether the “wild card” slots – that is, the two players per team which can be drafted from outside of the GPI 1000 – were intended to allow team owners to try to recruit, say, actors and sports stars. Dreyfus said this is not the case, and that he would much prefer non-poker celebrities as team owners than players, for the reasons just mentioned.

The wild card slots are instead meant for talented poker players who don’t feature much in the GPI rankings for whatever reason, for instance because they play mostly online, or mostly in cash games, or perhaps have just had a bad year. Given the surge in popularity of poker on Twitch and the importance of online streaming to the GPL’s business plan, it’s likely the case that the wild card slots are intended for Twitch personalities like Jason Somerville and Jaime Staples; indeed, when speaking to Staples during the Q&A, Dreyfus said that he was hoping for him to be drafted, which is the closest we’ve yet come to having a player confirmed for the league.

No Ivey, Hellmuth doubtful, Negreanu a possibility

Of course, everyone also wanted to know what high-profile players would be in or out, but team owners have not even been established yet, let alone a complete list of GPI 1000 players who’ve opted in to be drafted. Dreyfus did speculate on the likelihood of a few top names being involved, however. Phil Ivey is almost certainly out, as he tends to distance himself from the larger poker community (to paraphrase: “he lives in a bubble and that bubble is not a Cube”), and Phil Hellmuth is also doubtful, as his personality makes him unlikely to enjoy playing as part of a team.

Daniel Negreanu, on the other hand, is a fairly likely prospect, as he very much built a business out of poker which extends well beyond simply playing the game. It’s not clear, however, whether his potential involvement would be as a draftable player or as a team owner. He would, of course, be a natural fit as the owner of either the Toronto or Las Vegas franchise, but as Dreyfus made clear, team ownership is a very expensive proposition, even for someone of Negreanu’s means.

Commitment from the players

Another question was what exactly will be required of the players, most of whom will be juggling regular tournament careers alongside their GPL responsibilities. Dreyfus said that he expects the time commitment for a player to be something like 60 hours per season plus travel time, over the course of five or six months. This includes playing as well as media obligations, which will be a part of a code of conduct, signed between players and their teams.

Dreyfus also stated that he has been in negotiations with existing poker tours, sites, etc. to ensure no conflicting obligations; GPL events will be scheduled around existing major events, and Dreyfus confirmed that players with existing sponsorships, for instance with online sites, will not be prevented from playing in the GPL as well.

GPL to be US-focused, GPI World Cup more international

Also on the subject of potential conflicts, earlier this year, Dreyfus organized the inaugural Global Poker Masters (GPM), as another component of his plan to “sportify” poker. It was not, however, clear how the GPL and the GPM were going to be related. Yesterday, Dreyfus clarified that the two are separate and parallel. The GPM will continue in future years, but will be renamed the GPI World Cup, and players’ involvement in one will not affect their eligibility for the other. Additionally, although the GPI affects players’ eligibility for the GPL and the GPI World Cup, neither of those will impact the GPI standings themselves, as GPI scores are based only on open events, not invitationals or private events.

As far as the purpose of having these two separate forms of competition goes, Dreyfus explained that the GPL is set up with the intent of being popular in the US; everything from the draft to the playoffs is modeled after major American sports leagues, and the two-conference system (Americas vs. Eurasia, with 4 of 6 of the former being U.S.-based) guarantees that most years there will be a U.S. team facing off against an international team in the final. The GPI World Cup, on the other hand, is based on the model of other international sports competitions (the FIFA and IRB World Cups, for instance) which are more popular on the international stage and less so with American audiences. The GPL finals will therefore be held in the U.S. at least for the first few seasons, while the GPI World Cup will be held elsewhere.

Hold’em X? What’s that?

Finally, Dreyfus brought up yet another project, which he calls Hold’em X. He was very light on details here, but said that it relates to his opinion, recently stated on Huffington Post, that games like Hearthstone are poaching potential online poker players, and that Hold’em X will be his attempt to bridge the two. He didn’t say how, only that it will be a game that is played heads-up only (or “Duel” format, as Dreyfus prefers to call one-on-one play), that it will be available for the poker community at large to play, and that as far as GPL goes, Hold’em X and conventional Hold’em will be kept separate, at least at first: That is, there will be a GPL and a GPLX, though there may eventually be some crossover between the two.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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