World Poker Tour Move To Las Vegas Esports Arena Could Spark Player Revolt

Martin Derbyshire May 29, 2018 1237 Reads
World Poker Tour

Perhaps the World Poker Tour was just putting the idea out there. Maybe they just wanted to see how players would react to the idea of delaying all its televised final tables next season before moving them to Esports Arena Las Vegas. If so, there’s still time to nix the plan.

However, if it’s a plan the WPT is married to, they’ve a got a public relations nightmare on their hands. One that may soon turn into a full-fledged revolt.

Reaction from tour regulars has been decidedly negative. The overwhelming sentiment appears to be asking players who make a final table to make a trip out to Las Vegas several weeks later to finish it up will deter recreational players, foreigners and pros with lives outside of poker from playing WPT events altogether.

The WPT has spent the past 16 seasons promoting the game and the people who play it like no one else. The tour has always been player-friendly. But for some taking a rather extremist view, this move undoes all that:

The WPT plan

Overly critical overreactions from those with a tendency to do that aside, the WPT is likely making several mistakes here. Not the least of which is basing their decision to do this on some rather flawed logic.

The plan for the WPT’s 17th season is to move all nine televised WPT final tables to the $25 million Esports Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 30,000-square-foot, multilevel arena is actually owned by WPT parent company Ourgame. It is designed to host competitive gaming events like high-stakes esports tournaments. It features a competition stage, 50-foot LED video wall, and telescopic seating. There are also PC and console gaming stations and a network TV-quality production studio.

For the WPT, that last feature might really be the key.

Moving all nine of its televised final tables to Esports Arena Las Vegas will allow the tour to save the cost of trucking its TV crew and all its staging, gear and equipment back and forth across the country. The only problem with that being the WPT is asking players to shoulder the additional burden of a trip to Las Vegas to help them find those savings.

WPT CEO Adam Pliska said as soon as WPT brass saw the space, they knew they wanted to use it in some way. Perhaps they should have gone to the players to ask them how first.

Of course, nothing is set in stone just yet. The WPT’s Vice President of Global Tour Management Angelica Hael said moving final tables from one venue to another, particularly one that’s out of state, will require various regulatory body and gaming commission approvals.

Assuming they get that for all nine stops, when those events reach the traditional WPT final table of six, they’ll stop. The final tables will be played out in groups, happening anywhere from an estimated three to six weeks after each event.

Sponsor dollars?

WPT Vice President of Marketing David Gitter said it could be a win for the WPT, various sponsors and players. This is the big flaw in its plan. The WPT assumes players will be able to snatch up some of that sponsorship money in the weeks between making a final table and playing it.

Of course, the World Series of Poker and it’s now-scrapped November Nine experiment has shown how this works. Or doesn’t. The truth is, it’s not likely to happen in any kind of meaningful way. The November Nine was the same delayed-final-table format. Only November Niners had months to pick up sponsor dollars, which, by the end, weren’t really there.

The WPT has perhaps been better at securing sponsor money than anybody else in the business of poker. In fact, Gitter claims the tour enjoys over 2,000 partnerships with various sponsors. How they plan to help players get in on all of that isn’t exactly clear.

The WPT is also looking at the venue for the opportunity it may provide to market to a bigger audience. The problem with that being the esports and poker demographics are almost the same. Going after esports fans may be an attempt to appeal to younger audiences.

But is it worth the trade off? Will viewership gains make up for the 25 to 50 percent drop in field sizes some are estimating? Is marketing to esports fans worth alienating the people who support the tour?

Poker’s most storied venue?

The WPT wants to turn Esports Arena Las Vegas into poker’s Churchill Downs, Madison Square Garden, or Augusta National. That’s a little contrived at best, and ignores the fact players have a choice these days.

Mid- to high-stakes poker tournaments around the US and beyond fill the calendar. The WPT isn’t the only game in town. And if it continues to make decisions its player base disagrees with, they’ll simply go elsewhere.

At some point, it’ll become impossible to call Esports Arena poker’s most storied venue, because nobody will be playing in it.

Lead image courtesy of World Poker Tour