Back in July, I reported on the fact that Mike “Timex” McDonald auctioned a piece of his action for the World Series of Poker Main Event and ended up receiving extremely high markup as a result. That’s a strategy that I’ve seen repeated by a few people subsequently, the most recent of which is PokerStars-sponsored, Twitch-streaming sensation Jaime Staples.
Staples says he’s planning on doing daily auctions on PokerMarket, each for a single tournament which he will play on Twitch the following day. His first such auction is today, in which he’s auctioning off 20 pieces of 0.5% each of tomorrow’s Big $109 to the highest bidders. The bidding recently reached a whopping 2.5 markup, which Staples believed was the highest PokerMarket allowed – it seems that restriction has been lifted, however, as the high bid has now climbed to 2.54, with 11 hours still remaining in the auction.
Now, anyone who knows much about sustainable long-term profits in poker knows that no one is going to manage the 153%+ ROI in the Big $109 that Staples would need in order to make this a profitable investment for the buyers. In fact, before switching to the auction system, Staples has sold pieces of action for markups lower than this and still been accused of gouging his fans on social media. He has said on his stream that the switch to an auction system is precisely for this reason: That is, that he knew his shares would still fetch excessive markup when auctioned, but feels that allowing the buyers to set their own price absolves him of responsibility.
In general, what we’ve seen from high-profile players auctioning action in this way is that the resulting markups do end up being higher than what such players tend to feel comfortable asking, and far in excess of what would be ethical, were they setting the markup themselves and presenting it as a profitable investment.
What’s interesting about Staples’s case, however, is that he has repeatedly stated on his stream that the shares will not be long-term profitable at the markups they’re going for, and that there are much better deals available on PokerMarket if investment is the goal. The express purpose of the auction, then, is as an additional source of revenue for his stream. After all, his logic goes, he’s already accepting money in the form of subscriptions to his channel; the action auctions are simply an additional way for people to donate while receiving something in return, in the form of a sweat.
This is a fascinating new development because it may represent the leading edge of a fundamental change not in the way that poker professionals earn their living, but in the way they present themselves.
Prior to the poker boom, the only way to make a living from poker – aside from cheating – was to beat the games. Now, direct profits at the table are only one revenue stream for pro players and, it is widely suspected, not the biggest one in many cases. An incomplete list of other ways a modern player makes her living would include things like: rakeback, promotions, sponsorship, coaching, books, videos, selling action at markup and, most recently, Twitch streams.
Nonetheless, the unspoken assumption has always been that in order to benefit from most of these things, the player needed to maintain the image that they were getting rich or at least making a decent living through direct winnings. Now, Staples makes his win/loss statistics public on Sharkscope and OfficialPokerRankings, so it is in fact established that he is a long-term winner in addition to whatever money he’s making through Twitch. Nonetheless, it still seems like a sign that we’re moving to an era with a savvier fanbase and more transparency surrounding the professional lifestyle.
For the dedicated fans of Staples, Somerville et al, the dream may no longer be to win the WSOP Main Event like it was ten years ago. We’ve now seen enough top players fail to realize that particular dream to understand that it’s a crapshoot. Rather, the new vision of success for younger players may be something different and much more realistic. When this new generation of poker fans dreams, are they dreaming of winning the WCOOP Main Event and riding off into the sunset? Or of having their own Twitch stream and their own crowd of fans willing to throw some dollars their way? If it’s the latter, and I think it probably is, the future of poker may be quite different than the rest of us had envisioned.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.