The World Series of Poker Europe is well underway, with live streams available for all ten events – as I write this, I’m watching Mike Leah and Richard Gryko battling for a bracelet in Event #3: €3,250 8-Handed Pot-Limit Omaha. Rather than having on-site commentary and streaming through the WSOP website, however, the streams feature live footage and hole cards on the usual 30-minute delay, but streamed through Twitch and with David Tuchman and his guests providing their commentary remotely, from the comfort of their own homes.
Given the popularity of poker on Twitch these days, it’s a move so natural and obvious that it has barely been commented on, but it’s actually a fairly significant development and one which other tournament series would do well to imitate.
Good for both the fans and the bottom line
From the point of view of the WSOP, it’s a decision which makes a lot of economic sense, as the costs involved are surely much less than what’s necessary to fly Tuchman and/or other commentators overseas. Having hole card information available, meanwhile, means a delay will always be necessary, for game integrity reasons, so any advantage in having commentators on-site is essentially negated. Whether the commentators are sequestered or are themselves seeing things on a delay, they’re not seeing things play out in realtime with their own eyes, so it’s hard to see much point in having them on-site, now that easy technological solutions exist to do the job remotely.
It’s more than just a cost-saving measure, however; the remote commentary is arguably a superior product for the viewer as well, because it greatly increases the possible number and variety of guests. It’s standard practice for on-site live streams to bring players who have busted the tournament into the booth. This is perhaps harder to do with remote commentary, but by the same token, anyone with a headset and a decent internet connection is now a possible guest, regardless of where in the world they are. There’s also no fixed time commitment; what we’re seeing for the WSOPE streams is a lot of guests dropping in for half an hour or an hour at a time, to talk about a few hands and then move on with their days, lending variety to the viewer experience.
The format seems to be working as well in practice as it does in theory; the Event #3 final table, for instance, has had an average of around 2,000 people watching concurrently, which is in the same ballpark as most popular Twitch poker streams. It’s not a massive number, but a pretty solid one, given that this is not even a Hold’em event; I would expect several times this number to show up for, say, the WSOPE Main Event next week.
Could the next step be multiple streams?
What I find myself wondering is whether the WSOP or another tour will eventually take the next logical step, and make the video portion of the stream public and open for redistribution, so that anyone who wishes to can stream their own commentary alongside it. After all, now that the technology is in place to produce video and graphics on-site and stream it with remote audio commentary, there’s no big logistical hurdle to having multiple streams with identical video but different commentary.
Obviously, there are strong incentives for a valuable brand like the WSOP to want to control its own content, but I think there would be huge rewards in terms of reach for the first company willing to take this leap. There are, after all, a growing number of Twitch personalities whose streams and fan base are as important to them as any other aspect of their poker careers; if someone like Jaime Staples or Jason Somerville could opt to take a break from their usual online grind to give their take on a WSOP, WPT or EPT final table, how many viewers would that get?
Although multiple streams with alternative commentary might poach a few viewers from the official stream, I wouldn’t expect too great a reduction, and meanwhile I can easily imagine the alternative streams increasing overall viewership ten times or more. The largest advantage, though, would be to allow streams to target specific demographics rather than trying to strike a more universally appealing balance; you could have strategy-heavy streams, more explanatory ones for beginners, lighter ones with more chatter and jokes, and even “rail” streams for commentators and fans who are rooting for a specific player.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.