Global Poker League Season One: Dissecting The Good And The Bad

December 12, 2016
Global Poker League Season One: Dissecting The Good And The Bad

Season one of the Global Poker League recently came to a close, with the Montreal Nationals defeating the Berlin Bears in the live finals. The Nationals captured the Season One crown and the $100,000 top prize.

But the first season of the GPL was not about the end results or who won the championship. It was more about whether GPL founder Alexandre Dreyfus’ dream of sportifyng poker and creating a professional poker league was an achievable goal or a fool’s errand.

On that front, season one was filled with a number of highs and lows. The ambitious undertaking — creating an upstart poker league from scratch — caused Dreyfus and his team to live through some good moments, some bad moments, and yes, even a couple of ugly moments.

Here’s a look at some of the trials and travails from the GPL, and what to look for in season two.

The Good

Early hype demonstrates potential

Initially, the GPL had the poker community’s full attention, including:

  • The general ambitiousness of the endeavor
  • The genius way Dreyfus trickled out announcements in the months leading up to the league’s launch
  • Team logos and brands that exceeded everyone’s expectations
  • An entertaining and intriguing draft

The GPL turned itself into a curiosity, something even the most cynical in the poker community needed to check out.

The buzz may have flamed out (more on this in the “bad” section). But the initial interest was a clear demonstration that there is an appetite in the poker community for something new and different.

If the GPL can recreate this initial hype in the lead-up to season two — and make the appropriate changes to hold the community’s attention — it might be on to something.

Poker pros buy in to the league

Another sign that the community was willing to give the GPL a serious chance was the sheer number of top players who either made themselves available for the GPL Draft or who contributed in some fashion to the league. For example, Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu hosted the draft.

These players not only signed up at the beginning, but virtually all of them stayed committed to the league for the entire season. They seemed to take it pretty seriously.

It will be interesting to see what the players’ attitudes toward the league were, something we should get a good sense of by how many return for next season.

Now that PokerStars has entered the picture as an official sponsor, we may see even more big names participating in season two, as well as different ways to get GPL matches out to the masses.

The Bad

Waning interest

The early buzz may have been exciting and anticipatory, but it became clear as the season wore on that the novelty was wearing off. The overall interest in the league continued to wane as the season (which was probably a bit too long with too many hiatuses) progressed.

For all its hype, the first batch of GPL matches (played online) turned out to be little more than a typical Twitch stream of a heads-up online match — with a few more bells and whistles from a production standpoint.

The live matches inside “The Cube” looked nothing like the early conceptualizations (see pictures below) Dreyfus unveiled. It was nothing like the buzzing arena full of fans, with The Cube as a focal point. The difference between the conceptual images and reality were akin to the difference between the picture of a burger on the menu at a fast food establishment and what it actually looks like.

It was just poker

From my perspective, one of the most disappointing aspects of the GPL was the lack of character or story development. Part of the draft strategy was supposed to be the selection of marketable players: players with personalities. But the players simply played poker.

Also lacking were the storylines one expects from a multi-month series: cliffhangers that would keep viewers engaged until the next match. Such narratives, from budding rivalries to MVP candidates, failed to materialize, which meant GPL matches could essentially be watched in a vacuum.

Late-arriving merchandise

As disappointed as I was in the two-dimensionality of the league, the missing merchandise was the biggest snafu, in my opinion.

GPL merchandise was only available toward the end of the season. Even then it was limited to only a trio of products for each team.

As I’ve noted before, that the GPL wasn’t prepared to sell merchandise on draft day is just hard to fathom. Considering the early buzz and the spectacle that was the GPL draft, I’m quite confident in saying the GPL would have sold more merchandise on draft day than for the entire rest of the season.

The Ugly

The Warehouse Poker League

As mentioned above, The Cube theoretically seemed like a brilliant idea, but at a price-tag of $300,000, few aspects of the GPL failed to deliver as much as the vaunted Cube.

A lot of it was likely the setting, and it may turn out to be the focal point it was supposed to be if and when the GPL does start holding events in arenas with sellout crowds. But, sitting there in what looked like an empty Las Vegas warehouse puts the $300,000 Cube near the top of my GPL blunders list.

It was out of place, and that money would have almost certainly been better spent elsewhere during the first season.

Flying by the seat of your pants

From the get-go, it was pretty clear that the GPL and Dreyfus were shooting from the hip, without a completely formed plan of action. The basic structures and ideas were there. But even in the lead-up to the draft, we saw how team sizes were changed for no particular reason. This basically set the stage for the entire season.

These “adjustments” continued throughout season one.  In August, it was announced that the GPL was scrapping its original playoff plans and downsizing the GPL presence at TwitchCon.

These changes (downgrades), and some other negative accusations, led to rumors that the league was running into money issues.

Looking ahead to GPL season two

When season two gets underway, we should have a much better idea of where the GPL is going. Do Dreyfus and the GPL brass have more concrete plans going forward?

We’ll get to see what types of formatting changes, roster moves and expansion or contraction occurs.

Some of the things I’m most interested in are:

  • The GPL’s marketing efforts, particularly on the merchandising front.
  • Scheduling and formatting changes that might simplify the league and pull in the sought-after casual poker fan.
  • The turnover rate of the GPL rosters.
  • What the GPL does to improve the fan experience, both live and online.

There also seem to be signs of the Global Poker League becoming more regional. On Dec. 12, Dreyfus announced the launch of Global Poker League China, which will launch after the Spring Festival.

The new GPL league is a China-based version of the GPL, which at first glance appears to be a “minor-league” of the larger, global tour.

It will be interesting to see if more of these regional leagues pop up (more than 200 players declared for the GPL draft, but there were only 48 drafted players), or whether the Chinese league is a product of the large amount of investment capital Dreyfus secured from the region.

Image credit: GPL

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