The perfect poker livestream – impossible? [Editorial]

The perfect poker livestream – impossible? [Editorial]

Friday, 26 August 2011

I’m really surprised at how well live streaming of poker tournaments has been going; from the PokerStars EPT to the GUKPT Goliath (available on this very website here) all the way up the granddaddy of poker tournaments, the World Series Of Poker $10,000 buy-in main event.

Admittedly, I’m a little biased. I personally hate watching televised poker tournaments (there’s only so many times you can see 'raise 2.5x/3-bet all in for 24BBs/fold or call, insert coinflip or 60/40 here') with just the all-ins and big coolers shown. It’s like watching tennis and only seeing aces or football and only seeing dead ball scoring opportunities. I’m always worried when I enter into a sports analogy but I think that one is okay.

I also dislike watching live poker. As in, standing on the rail and watching a group of others play a game of poker that I have no vested interest in. It’s slow and it’s boring.

So you can imagine how not-really-thrilled I was to hear about live streaming of poker tournaments being the next big thing after Phil Ivey slicing bread. I mean, you see my point; it’s watching full ring poker in a live setting at around twenty hands per hour. Snore.

That’s why I’ve been surprised that the live streams of the WSOP, EPT and, most recently, the GUKPT Goliath have been so compelling. The commentary and analysis, changing of focus from table to table (the WSOP not so much but we’ll get to that) and the ability to see the flow of the tournament.

It’s actually really great. But it could be better. Or could it?

See, when I first heard of live streaming a poker tournament, this is what I envisioned (and they’re not far off with it): you have multiple feature tables. As in, one in every six or seven tables. You can switch these around as players move and tables break to keep the most interesting line-ups covered. The other five or six at every six or seven tables has to be monitored by satellite camera crews such as those at the WSOP this year that became known by big names in poker as 'ESPN vultures' (they circle you when you get low on chips to try and capture your bust out hand).

The live stream is largely studio-based with someone like Bart Hanson and Tatjana Pasalic (I’ve been watching The Micros too much but that’s a good duo) doing summaries and analysis of big hands with in-studio guests. All the while there can be a rolling ticker of chip counts and structure across the bottom of the screen and at any point Bart can put his hand to his ear and say: 'I’ll have to stop you there, Tatjana, because we’re going to a big hand on Feature Table #5 where Daniel Negreanu is facing a 4-bet...'. Cut to hand, watch hand, back to studio, analyse hand. Repeat.

Of course, there are many problems with my vision above. First, you can only truly get what I am dreaming of there by having at least one of every six tables as a feature table. Ideally, every table would have hole card cameras or some way for the production crew to identify cards in order to cover every hand. If you don’t see the immediate problems created by this then you might need your morning coffee before you read this piece.

Second, it elevates poker to the level of professional sport, which is fantastic for the game overall but I don’t think people would enjoy my Match Of The Day style highlights and live analysis reel tournament as much as they would Poker PROductions new take on the WSOP coverage or even 441’s old way. I think there’s merit in the idea but for now, people simply want to see all-ins and coolers.

That said, I think my vision of live poker streaming is closer to the immediate future than you might believe. As you can plainly see from Poker PROductions’ approach with the WSOP coverage (both live and scheduled) as well as more recent seasons of High Stakes Poker or Poker After Dark and the new shows such as the PokerStars Big Game, the commentary is going less in the direction of Jesse May screaming and more in the direction of online players analysing hands.

Heck, if you’d told me a few years ago that Lon and Norm would be throwing around the terms '6-bet' and 'equity' with such abandon on WSOP coverage, I wouldn’t have believed you.

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Tags: WSOP, Goliath, live streams, editorial