Thursday, February 25, 2016

Global Poker League… You’re on the Clock

Had that Global Poker League Twitch channel on the teevee during the afternoon and early evening, watching some of those American Poker Conference panels and then the draft for the Global Poker League.

Watching Twitch through the Roku is much, much better than on the laptop, I’ve discovered. For me Twitch never works properly via Safari, and while it plays okay on Chrome my laptop tends to run hot whenever I leave it on for a while. Meanwhile watching on television is a breeze, and so I was able to let the sucker play on over in the corner of the room while I worked on other things.

While my attention was coming and going, the panels were interesting and kind of reminded me a little of academic conferences from long ago where I gave my own presentations, listened to others’, and did the same sort of discussing and networking afterwards. Meanwhile the GPL draft similarly did a decent job of imitating the familiar, lengthy draft shows ESPN puts together for the NBA and NFL drafts. Kara Scott was even there to tell teams “you’re on the clock” when it was their turn to pick.

I’ve never much liked those other draft shows, mainly because I’ll know of only a few of the players being drafted (usually at the very start), making the rest of it kind of tedious. Meanwhile with this GPL draft I knew practically every player, team manager, and even the folks running back and forth in the background and turning up in random crowd shots, in many cases personally.

That alone made watching a little more fun. The team identities and logos are kind of interesting as well, and there is something kind of cool about a “global” league with various big cities represented around the world (four in the U.S., and one each in Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, and Russia).

Like many I’m still more than a little unclear about how the teams work, how the games will go, and the whole playing-while-standing-in-a-cube thing. There’s also the larger question of how exactly the GPL might invigorate poker, generally speaking, although with that I’m willing to exercise some patience. Gets a little fatiguing to keep hearing “stay tuned and find out,” but my curiosity about it all is certainly piqued enough to keep paying attention.

I will say this -- the apparent contrast between the GPL and the last attempt to create some kind of professional poker “league,” the ill-fated Epic Poker League, couldn’t be more stark.

Besides being incredibly short-sighted and impractical in the way it was run, the EPL from the start was purportedly about creating a context in which only the best could compete against the best. In other words, it was mostly about finding a way to keep others out the game.

The league’s commissioner Annie Duke introduced the EPL as “incredibly pro-centric” back in early 2011, arguing (unconvincingly) that the league would somehow represent “the one piece that’s kind of missing from the poker landscape right now... something for the best players in the world to compete against the best players in the world.”

Such an approach -- along with steep $20,000 buy-ins for events and fairly severe restrictions on who could enter them -- was enough to keep a lot of players away, then eventually the whole thing collapsed in on itself with the company that created the league declaring bankruptcy before a single season could be completed.

Meanwhile it’s clear that the Global Poker League seems to have a much different ethos, trying instead to be more inclusive and bring poker to a wider audience, if possible. The whole idea of having a league spanning the Americas, Europe, and Asia is one indicator of such a mindset, and watching the draft yesterday there’s obviously a lot of focus on marketing and spreading positive messages about poker that go beyond just what the league itself and its teams will ultimately be doing.

Interestingly, the GPL used Global Poker Index rankings -- the lone piece of salvage remaining from the EPL wreckage -- to establish criteria for draft eligibility, having invited the top 1,000 ranked players to “opt in,” with a little over 200 doing so. The 48 players drafted yesterday came from that smaller group, and teams can now add two more players each as “wild cards” with no restrictions other than not being able to select any of the almost 800 who didn’t opt in for the draft. (That rule was implemented for the sake of fairness, not exclusion, as the GPL didn’t want top-ranked players to opt-out and then join teams later.)

We’ll see how it all goes and whether or not the GPL gathers any momentum in its own right, as well as whether it does produce these intended effects as described by entrepreneur and league founder Alex Dreyfus to help promote the game in positive ways. I’m intrigued about it, and as long as I can watch via my Roku I’ll probably do so once the season gets going.

Image: Global Poker League.

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