This last weekend, the World Poker Tour was playing in one of its venerable abodes, the Borgata in Atlantic City. The WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Main Event has become one of the preeminent poker stops on the tournament poker schedule, routinely drawing over 1000 entries in each of the last three years. But instead of playing out their final table naturally, the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open has fallen victim to a new fad on the WPT: delayed final tables. Didn’t the WPT learn anything from the World Series of Poker and the “November Nine” fiasco?
Business is Business…Maybe
Recently the WPT has gone to having these “delayed” final tables instead of playing out the tournaments in their natural manner. The WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open and the WPT Gardens Poker Open from January are only the latest events that have seen their action “paused” and moved to the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor in Las Vegas in March. They are a part of a scheduled nine events that the WPT has treated in this manner over the course of the Season XVI schedule.
You might find yourself asking why the WPT thinks this is a good idea. To paraphrase the cliched from professional wrestling that the Authority used on WWE Monday Night Raw, “it’s what’s best for business.” In December, the China-based Ourgame International Holdings sold the entirety of the WPT (under the WPT Enterprises banner) to a company whose purpose is shrouded in mystery, Black Ridge Acquisition Corporation.
In the $213 million deal, Black Ridge also purchased from Ourgame a smaller company called Allied Esports International. Once under their ownership, Black Ridge merged WPT Enterprises and Allied Esports International into one entity under the banner of Allied Esports Entertainment, Incorporated. Since December, this is the home of the WPT and guess who has ownership of the HyperX Esports Arena in Vegas?
From the looks of it, Black Rock is attempting to get the maximum from their investment. By having the WPT events delayed and played out at the Vegas location, they are promoting both the WPT and their Esports business. But didn’t they look at what happened when another prominent tournament series decided to delay their final table?
The “November Nine” – Gone and Easily Forgotten
The World Series of Poker had the same idea during the 2000s when they debuted the “November Nine” concept for the Championship Event. The WSOP for nearly a decade delayed the final table of their premiere event for almost three months, with no real improvements seen in the viewership of the final table nor the players to earn any additional monies through sponsorships or other arrangements. The WSOP finally admitted in 2017 that the experiment was a bust and, instead of the three-month delay, played the tournament out with a slight couple of days off.
Sound familiar? The reasons that the WSOP gave for the “November Nine” were the same reasons that the WPT gave for delaying its events to the HyperX arena.
Call me a traditionalist, but a poker tournament is supposed to be played through to its conclusion. There aren’t supposed to be artificial delays, no chance for players to “get coaching,” nothing should interfere with the linear timeline of the tournament. A poker tournament shouldn’t be something that is “staged” or arranged in any manner. But yet the WPT thinks that delaying poker tournaments for a few weeks (at least they didn’t go three months) won’t have any effect.
It will, but not the way the WPT wants. With the WPT events, they sometimes will have trouble drumming up attention for their final table events. More than a decade ago, the guys at Wicked Chops Poker called these WPT final tables (and the occasional European Poker Tour final table) a “friends and family” event, because the only ones who cared about it were the friends and family of the combatants.
In fact, here’s your lineup for the final table of the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open that was determined on Friday, which will play out almost six weeks later (March 13):
Seat 1: Ian O’Hara, 5.1 million
Seat 2: Dave Farah, 18.85 million
Seat 3: Joseph Di Rosa Rojas, 5.8 million
Seat 4: Brandon Hall, 14.1 million
Seat 5: Vinicius Lima, 3.55 million
Seat 6: Daniel Buzgon, 9.1 million
And here’s the lineup for the WPT Gardens Poker Championship, to be played on March 12:
Seat 1: Shannon Shorr, 1.71 million
Seat 2: Frank Stepuchin, 4.065 million
Seat 3: Brent Roberts, 1.385 million
Seat 4: Jonathan Abdellatif, 555,000
Seat 5: Ray Qartomy, 820,000
Seat 6: Steve Sung, 1.58 million
Hard core poker fans will know Shorr, Buzgon, Sung and Qartomy, but are these really names that are going to draw fans to a large Esports arena? Are these going to draw people to watching a delayed poker broadcast? Unfortunately, the answer is no and that’s why poker organizations shouldn’t be delaying these events, regardless of how “good for business” it is.
Suggestion: Live is Better than Delayed
The answer for poker isn’t to delay the broadcasts of poker events. The answer is to broadcast them live or, failing that, stream them live. The WPT already has a Twitch outlet and a PokerGO deal that allows them to reach people and play these tournaments out in the linear fashion they were meant to be played. The WSOP learned that the delayed route wasn’t the way to go. For the past couple of years, they’ve seen a decent response to their change back to live play. The WPT doesn’t need to repeat the mistake of the “November Nine” in delaying its final tables for a staged event in an Esports arena.