As 2019 dawns upon the poker world, it’s a new day for the World Poker Tour, whose parent company, Ourgame International, was just merged with Black Ridge Acquisition Corporation to form a new company called Allied Esports Entertainment. While the news was announced in late December, there’s a lot more than meets the eye about the deal in terms of internal happenings and developments as far as the World Poker Tour is concerned. WPT CEO Adam Pliska was kind enough to give me an hour of his time to explain in comprehensive detail what exactly the merger and integration into the new company means for the World Poker Tour as well as how this will impact players and fans.
I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation, a full transcript of which is provided below.
(Click below to listen)
On December 19, 2018, it was announced that Ourgame International, parent company of the World Poker Tour, would merge with Black Ridge Acquisition Corporation. The new company is called Allied Esports Entertainment, and it’s expected to trade on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange. As one of the world’s leading poker brands, fans are naturally curious as to how things will change, if at all, moving forward with the WPT. To discuss the merger and specifically the effect that it will have on the World Poker Tour, WPT President and CEO Adam Pliska was kind enough to join me for an interview. Adam, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great, thank you very much, Robbie. I’m happy to be here.
Excellent. Good. Thank you so much for coming on. So, we’ve spoken before, we’re familiar with each other, and I know that you’ve been with the WPT for quite a while, since 2002, and this is not your first experience with acquisitions and transitions, as ownership of the company has changed hands a few times over the years. Is this latest development any different than acquisitions of the past, and if so, in what way?
Well, first of all, I just want to say it’s a treat to be able to make a career out of selling a company multiple times. It allows you to do a nice refresh when it gets bigger and bigger every time, and as we’re going into the end of Season 17 and the beginning of Season 18, it’s that much more fun.
So, is this one different? Every acquisition, every time that there’s a new investor or partner or parent, there are commonalities, and there are things that are different. And what’s different here that is relevant is there’s multiple parties here. There’s Ourgame, there’s Black Ridge, which is currently traded as BRAC on NASDAQ, and so we have multiple parties coming together and this is an existing entity. Unlike in 2004 when we went public we were doing an IPO. So what was different then is we were a startup, with our big dreams and ideas, and we were telling the world this is what we want to do, and we were going public and getting the support of the public to go out and build these things. And as you know, when you start out at the beginning, you set your ideas and what you’d like to have happen, and you hope that most of them happen, but along the way you change and you adapt.
And so what’s different here is, on the World Poker Tour side, the World Poker Tour’s a mature business. And it is now merging into a company that it will be traded and will allow it to have resources, but it’s also merging with a part of the business that has that element of the start-up part as well. Allied Esports, which has done so well in a very short time, is very reminiscent of the World Poker Tour back in 2002 and 2003. The numbers are a lot bigger, just because esports is a lot bigger, but you have all that excitement that you get when every day is an adventure, you’re a pioneer every day. And so what I like to say is: We’ll become a publicly traded company that has the maturity of mature business, but the ability to have the growth and the ability to make an impact on the future market of a growth business.
So, as we’ll discuss, a lot of these, there’s a lot of elements that are very complementary here, and together it’s the best of both worlds. Yes, some things staying the same, which is just like before, we have a company and it’ll be a public company, and we’ll have all of those challenges and opportunities. And on the other hand, I’ve got to tell you, it’s a lot more comforting when you’re going into it, having a mature company in the background as well, knowing how operations work, knowing essentially what your financials are going to look like. And so it’s both different and the same.
The one aspect I will say that is the same is, things have gone full circle with Lyle Berman again. There would be no World Poker Tour without Lyle Berman. He was the initial funder of the World Poker Tour, it was his idea for us to go public, and here we are again. Ironically, we had given Lyle the WPT Honors Award in the spring, before we had ever talked about any of this! There was no relation to this. And we’re going to be back in Lyle’s condo talking about this fact that he operates is quite surreal.
That’s an excellent and comprehensive answer. It kind of makes me wonder, like you say, if there was no prior knowledge. Do you think that somewhere in the deep recesses of Lyle’s mind, that after he received the award, he’d be like, “You know, I really miss the WPT. Let’s figure out a way to work together again”? Did he mention that at some point, maybe that happened to his thought process?
Well, the World Poker Tour has been a conduit for Allied Esports to basically leapfrog from other places that companies in that sector would have been in. For example, the relationship with MGM. That started through our relationship with MGM. We scouted the property that eventually became the Esports Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor. Also, the initial discussions had nothing to do with the World Poker Tour. They had to do with Allied Esports, so we were a conduit in that regard to Lyle. But as time went on, we realized, first of all, these businesses are so complementary in helping each other. Because it’s live events, it’s the production of content, and then there is an online component. So they follow each other, and we have expertise in those areas. And so, when we look at them, quite frankly it seemed a little sad about separating them because we’d just gotten them so much momentum by these two companies being together, and we work so closely that it just became evident that this would just be an awesome and a very unusual merger.
By putting this together and having the benefit of a mature, solid company who knows it has a very steady — the World Poker Tour’s not going anywhere, it has a very steady, stable growth in its business. And putting that with the massive growth business of esports, which is so exciting, that I think at some point there was just this kind of epiphany that this is too wonderful to separate.
Amazing. And you mentioned already the points of convergence and that there’s a lot that the companies have in common. I do wonder — and I’m a little bit more on the poker purist side — of course, esports is a much larger audience, so how do you perhaps envision this new merger bringing more esports fans into the poker sphere?
It’s a great question, and for that, it’s important to understand the ecology of poker today. I am a very big advocate, and you’ve heard me say this before, of not going to war with the pillars of poker.
It is too easy to be the armchair quarterback of those who are trying to expand in poker, or who make great contributions to poker. But let us remember, if it wasn’t for partypoker sponsoring lots of events and reaching out to their customers the way that they have with these big guarantees, we might not be having new people coming in. If it wasn’t for PokerStars, over those years spending tens of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, in advertising, how many people wouldn’t have ever come into the ecosystem? If it wasn’t for good partners like Fox putting the World Poker Tour on in the U.S. or the 28 other broadcasters of the World Poker Tour, putting our programming on so the World Poker Tour is on any hour someplace every day. Now, not everybody who watches the World Poker Tour will go play at a World Poker Tour event. And that’s OK. Some of them will play an 888poker event. Some of them will play at a partypoker event. Some of the people who were exposed at PokerStars or who watch something on Poker Central will come to a World Poker Tour event.
And so I give that background because I am a very big advocate of the preservation of the ecology. And I think that we need to stress that we need to have support for those who can build that. If not, we’re going to have all pros, and we know what happens when it’s all pros. It affects growth. So, for me, putting anchors down in places, whether it is the international growth, for example, the World Poker Tour is grown from, you go back about 8 or 9 years ago we had 12 events, or 14 events, and now we’re at 64 events. And every time that we put an anchor down, that’s a relationship. There’s a human relationship being made.
And just like our relationship with MGM helped Allied Esports, or our relationship with our partners in Europe that Allied Esports has worked with, now imagine that working the other direction. Now, esports is this massive growth area. And as it is growing all over the world, relationships are being made, and we’re the same company. And so now, it was much easier for us to go to MGM and say “Hey, I’d like you to consider our esports vision.” Because we had 16 years of relationship with MGM at the time. And now, as esports grows, it’s a much easier thing to do to say “Hey, let’s bring some poker here.” Because one thing that is important to understand of what’s going on is that esports is really different from what you and I played when we were kids, when we got our Atari systems. Then, we were playing against the game, and we were playing against a computer.
You gotta beat the end boss and go up the levels, sure.
Absolutely. And we may have a leaderboard against our friends, but now, esports is about that thrill of competing with other human beings, just like poker. And so these are very synergistic opportunities here because both of these serve the desire to put yourself out, take that risk, as we know any poker player does. They put themselves out, and they know that when they play against another person, there’s that fear of failing, there’s that ambition, there’s all of that stuff that comes with sports. That’s what poker is about, and that’s what esports is about. So as long as they have that core spirit, as the anchors of esports get placed around the world, this becomes a natural avenue for us to appeal to the esports community and say, “Guys, you’re much bigger than we are. But I gotta tell you, it’s the same thrilling feeling.”
You sit down at a poker table and you know you’re putting yourself out there at that moment. What we need to avoid in the industry is preaching to the choir so much, right? Because we’re preaching to the converted. It’s not bad to do that, but it won’t help the ecology grow. So now we have a bonanza. We have a market where there’s a billion gamers out there! And they all share the same spirit of poker that they’re all taking the risk of putting themselves out there where they may fail or they may succeed. And so this is exactly the community where we want to be able to say, “Hey, while you’re doing that, try this. You’ll love it.” And if we convert a small fraction of that audience, poker is going to benefit immensely.
Absolutely. And I have to say, you gave a very comprehensive answer there, and I found myself nodding the entire time. Because I didn’t put these questions together as softballs saying “OK, let’s give Adam some easy answers.” I was genuinely curious, how does one relate to the other? And your answer, it’s very honest and straightforward and it makes a lot of logical sense, to put it that way, and obviously it shows your experience working with both, both in the poker world and also understanding of the esports stuff. So, it’s a very interesting and complex and at the same time completely logical and understandable answer, and how could anyone not but nod when you hear something like that? So that’s excellent.
Well, I’m glad that you were nodding and not nodding off because I can go into it. But I will say, Robbie, when I say you’ll never hear me bashing the World Series of Poker, or the poker sites that have done so much, I really mean it because we need this. And if I could say one thing to the community, it’s:
We really need to preserve the ecosystem, or the game that you cherish is not going to be the same in the future. And so now, on the stage, comes an entire new community who is living the same spirit of competition, and they’ve been prepped by game publishers all over the world, and now we just need to walk in to them and say, ‘Give this a try. It’ll give you the same thrill. You’ll be hooked.’
– Adam Pliska
Right. And we all love poker, we know it’s great, so the product sort of speaks for itself.
Yes, that’s exactly right.
Well, I know you’ve always had plenty on your plate at the World Poker Tour. But now with the merger, your role is being expanded to also include additional esports-related responsibilities. So, one man — Atlas can only carry so much on his shoulders. What sort of strategy do you intend to implement so that you can devote attention both to the poker and esports parts of your work?
Sure. So, yeah, I will retain the role of CEO of World Poker Tour, but I’ll also be president of the new company, with Frank NG being the CEO of the new company. He’s the CEO of Ourgame currently. So he will be the CEO, I’ll be the President of the combined company.
And the answer to that question is, well, clearly, while we’ve had to keep this quite under wraps for a while, as we were preparing. And I’ve got to tell you, I feel like we’re back in those early days of the World Poker Tour when we were going public, but with a heck of a lot more knowledge. So now, I know we’re absolutely gearing up for this. And the answer to this is discipline. You absolutely have to discipline your time. I’m quite disciplined in my diet and my exercise, and I sleep at night now, which I didn’t do 10 years ago. But being regimented about that time is essential, because we are continuing to grow.
The World Poker Tour is growing, still. As it approaches its 18th year, it’ll have some of its best growth ever. I mean, it is still a vibrant business that is just scratching the surface, and quite frankly there are more things to come, but we’re going to wait a bit before speaking about them. But to add this other component, fortunately, they have so many things similar. But the discipline requires a lot of regimented and compartmentalized working of time management.
It includes the increase of staff; there are other very talented people coming on to Allied Esports Entertainment, which will include Judd Hannigan, who has been running the esports division, and he’s been responsible for getting that esports venue up within a year’s time. We have David Moon, who is an expert in online, and he is coming on as the new COO. Frank, if you look at the people here, there’s Frank, and Lyle. Eric, who’s the chairman at Ourgaming, is going to be on the board. We’re more than business partners; we’re friends. We can speak in shorthand, and so that helps a lot. And when you’re working with people who don’t take offense because you don’t have to have those early days. In the early days of the World Poker Tour, you hardly knew anyone. I knew Steve, but not everyone knew each other. And you’re kind of getting used to each other. We know each other, we’re a well-oiled team. Ken DiCubellis is the CFO, and he’s been working with Lyle for years.
But the answer, the short answer to your question is absolute discipline, as if you’re going after a major project. This is the new war, right? You have to be incredibly disciplined on time. Secondly, you’ve got to have incredible people that you can work with, and fortunately we’ve started out at a great pace because of the people that have been assembled. This is the most wonderful thing about business. And I could go on forever… To me, business is almost religious. I really mean that. I had a whole discussion yesterday with somebody where I said, to me, being in business and trying to do as well as you can, but trying to be decent to other people and treat each other well and be ethical with your partners, and it does something, it converts you. If you adhere to those principles, it makes you a better human being.
And it is amazing, Robbie, that when we make these announcements, and before, when we’ve had to reach out, the amount of friends that have come back to just help make this thing successful. I look back, and now Lyle has been a part of this, and these are unsung — well, Lyle everyone will know, because he’s chairman of the board. But let me tell you, Steve Lipscomb has been essential in making this happen. Martin Weigold, the former CFO of partypoker. Norbert Teufelburger, the former —
Wow, that’s a name I haven’t heard in years. My goodness. From bwin.
Absolutely. And these guys have been so helpful. And this is what happens when you stick around over enough years and you work with good people. You realize you can call amazing people, and they just want to be helpful. And so that is the key. How do you do it? You don’t do it by yourself.
The whole world is — I mean, I am not Atlas, and anyone who knows my team knows that I’m not Atlas. My team is Atlas. And they have been — I mean, I’m the most blessed human being in the world. I can’t even believe it that for all these years, I have this incredible team. And it’s just expanding. But the friendships that have helped carry the weight, and the other great executives that are coming on, this…
I’m going to make this analogy. When I was a kid, I played soccer for seven seasons. And I was horrible. But my parents came to every meeting, and they acted like I was with the A-team, but I really wasn’t very good. But there was always, if you ever played any sports, there was always a team that was just that A-team. The team where everyone just seemed to get along well, everyone seemed to be a star, and you could just see it. You know, during the awards ceremony, when I was getting the participation award or whatever it was, and they were all getting the major awards, you’d sit back with great admiration and you’d go wow, what was it like, what must it be like to be on a team like that?
And that’s exactly how I feel with this team. I mean, we’ve got Lyle and Ken and Frank. You know, Frank built one of the largest social gaming platforms in all of Asia. And our friends at MGM, and as I said, Steve and Norbert and Martin, and I’m thinking, every day I wake up and I just feel incredibly blessed.
Unbelievable. Well, obviously, it makes sense as well, with a merger of this nature, a huge company coming and there’s an influx of resources, all these additional growth opportunities. You had mentioned just now, a bunch of the names, I guess, for lack of a better analogy, at the top of the latter. And something that I’ve always marveled at is that approximately, to the best of my knowledge, about 50 to 60 people are full-time WPT employees, managing such a tremendous worldwide operation. It makes me wonder, with this influx of resources, are there plans for expansion on that front as far as personnel, or maybe the size of the current talent roster?
So the answer is yes, but that’s because the World Poker Tour continues to grow. One of the principles that I certainly have learned over the years is, don’t hire one person who is not invaluable, right? There’s no back bench at the World Poker Tour. We all know that the company is big enough to survive any of us if anything happens, but everyone who is here has a very important job. There is nobody who is here who does not do something essential, and the answer is, yes, we will increase because we have some very big plans coming, and it is great to have the resources to do it.
But the World Poker Tour is not a startup company, so it’s not like, hey, give us some resources and we’ll build it. We know that we need the resources because we know what the opportunities are. Now, it’s nice when you have the comfort of knowing that you’re a well-capitalized company, it certainly makes that decision-making easier; it gives you a little bit more comfort and probably helps you make better decisions.
But the answer is, yes, we will. And we will because the World Poker Tour is still growing, and the convergence of esports with the World Poker Tour is creating new product. In addition, we have an Esports Arena we can do whatever we like with now. And we have facilities around the world, and the esports trucks, which can be poker gaming trucks. And so we will expand, but it’s more because of the strategy, and not because of just being well capitalized. What I would say is that we’re expanding because World Poker Tour’s foundation just got that much more solid.
Amazing. And we were saying, the 50 to 60 people have already accomplished so much. It’s not the analogy of “Well, if John can paint the house in five hours and Frank can do it in two hours, how long will it take it to work, how many houses can they now paint together?” It’s an incredible thing. And you’ve mentioned the Esports Arena. There are people out there who have not necessarily been to Las Vegas in a while. You can’t miss it. It’s big logos plastered on all sides of the pyramid of Luxor. To the best of my knowledge, and I’ve been to the Great Pyramids of Giza, and I’m pretty sure that Luxor’s pyramid is the fourth-largest in the world. It’s huge. And the studio, the space that you had mentioned, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Maybe you can just run down a couple bullet points to open the eyes of people who haven’t yet seen it.
First of all, I am inviting anyone who has not seen it to please come in and see it. In itself, it is one of the greatest, and I come from a television background, so it is a incredible television studio, but absolutely catered and bespoke to esporting competitions.
And you can also just walk in for free, also?
Yeah, absolutely. And there are massive events that are being held there now. And the nice thing is that in a very short time, that has become the Mecca of esports, you know. You had the League of Legends finals there, and you had the CAPCOM, and you had this event that they had with Ninja in the spring. So, you have some massive events that kind of get sold out, but during a day-to-day basis, you can actually go there and walk in and you can get food, there’s a nice facility there, but at any given time there could be 1,500 people watching an esport at one of these esports events, or there could be just local people coming in to play on computers. But the events there are, it’s different. We had out representative from Fox over, and immediately I felt comfort for the World Poker Tour because we have the final tables there now. Because what he could see was that poker really looks like traditional sports now. I mean, there is no question about that. Because it is in a sports arena. And it is so complimentary to that.
So it is a terrific venue, I think that there is going to be during CES times and those things, there’s going to be battles over who wants to rent that place out. But on the day-to-day basis, on the big event basis, you’re going to see some spectacular things there. Because up until now, you want to go and create an esports event of that magnitude, you’re starting from scratch and setting things up. Now imagine all of those resources that would have gone into setting things up going into the production or going into the content itself, and being able to do it 24/7, 365 days a year. It is an international phenomenon. So to be able to be globally connected in that way, and that studio is absolutely broadcast-ready and ready to be connected for international events, so it’s spectacular. The best thing to do is go and see it, and just go to the website and check it out. It’ll definitely make you want to go and see it.
Absolutely. Again, obviously you’ve mentioned, and again, I’ve seen it, you can’t help but sort of be awed at this gigantic, immense, state-of-the-art studio that is optimized for producing the best possible broadcast product. It’s fantastic. In that sense, and that’s something that you’ve seen for years in South Korea and in Europe as well, is the live attendance at this esports events. Is that something that you think WPT may be making a little bit more of an active push for, of getting more live spectators to attend the final tables and have a little bit of an enhanced poker fan experience as well?
One hundred percent. We will do that, we realize that since we own the facility we have the ability to do that in ways that we have not in the past, and I think that we had some lessons from the last time. Last summer was our first time, and we filmed five final tables there. I mean, in the future, I think we’ll be able to get the audience closer and have them even breaking the stage out, we could have them have a more dynamic experience. But this is a canvas that is just absolutely not only geared for audience interaction, but partnership interaction as well, like sponsors. And I say that when people came into the final tables this year, as they go into that rotunda area, they were able to experience a lot of different interactions with various sponsors that we had.
Right, I remember that.
Again, I’m going to go back to the ecology of poker and to the business of poker. It is so important that we not only attract sponsors for poker, but that we give sponsors value. And we’re no longer in the days where merely saying “Brought to you by so-and-so” is enough. I mean, it’s a much different world now; we all know that in how we consume entertainment, and interactions and engagement is so much more important.
So when you have an esports arena and you can control all of the aspects of that, you can do so much more. You can give so much more value to the sponsor. I don’t have to say that because I think it’s good for our business; I say that because when Baccarat’s a sponsor or Dr. Pepper is a sponsor or Hublot is a sponsor, it’s good for the industry. It says something about poker and its import, that it has come to a place that people regard it as seriously sponsorship-worthy.
So I don’t mean to make this related to just WPT. I think a facility like this that can offer sponsorship value that would have been analogous to had a sponsor come into a basketball game or something like that, is transformative in our ability to deliver to sponsors. And when sponsors come to us, they come to the poker market in general. So it’s good for everybody.
Amazing. And I do have to say, this is, in full admission here, and my wife can confirm this: My favorite drink is Dr. Pepper, so every time I hear you mention Dr. Pepper and I see it on the branding, I’m like, “I really need my Dr. Pepper.”
Alright, Dr. Pepper.
When the merger news came out and I saw the press release, I saw that you went into detail of how important the partnerships are for WPT and the business model. The first partner that sort of came to my mind was Zynga because to me, there’s that natural crossover, at least in principle. You’ve obviously got the poker element, and you’ve got the gaming elements there. In what way, perhaps, would this new merger mean in any sort of expanded or enhanced cooperation between Zynga and the WPT?
So I’m going to answer your question first, and then since it’s such a good question, I’m going to expand on it in a slightly different way.
But the answer is, as we continue to focus on this competitive sporting market, whether this is in poker or all of the esports games — and remember, there are many, many esports games — there is a group of people who want the challenge of putting themselves out there. And Zynga, which has been an unbelievable partner from Day 1 with the World Poker Tour, this is the audience that they understand as well. And so they’re able, and we’ve talked about combining esports activities and poker activities, because they understand the online community.
And remember, again, we want to go back to these three pillars. The World Poker Tour produces physical events. And that has a group of people that will go flow through those events throughout the year, let’s say 50,000 people. Then it produces content, and that may reach 100 million people worldwide from the television broadcast, or more than that with viewing online. And then it has an online component, which is the most scalable in terms of getting interaction and participation because you could be at three in the morning in your bedroom and go on and have some experience, and as we’ve learned, Zynga is sending like 50 qualifiers to the WPT 500 series.
You realize, when you talk to the players, they wanted to play at a physical event because they were playing a social game. And Zynga recognizes this. So now, as we’re talking about, it’s as if World Poker Tour’s database just had a big boost. And partners like Zynga, who understand that online/offline convergence, allow it, will help us to come up with great creative ideas so that we can make sure that this online/offline ecology of being able to play and practice and grow online, eventually you want to have physical experience. You want to go to the flagship arena.
So, we’re going to see a lot more with Zynga. They have been incredibly supportive, you’ve probably seen they put us on the NASCAR car, and I get to go out there and I get to go in the pit, it was so cool. Anyhow, the World Poker Tour is about the idea that any person, wherever you are in your journey in poker, is welcome. And therefore, because we have the largest social gaming partner in Zynga, this is just reinforcing that idea of the World Poker Tour and helping it to grow.
Had we gone the traditional route, which was primarily real-money gaming, you’re talking about a more serious group. While here, the funnel is very wide. So now, those people are being converted. Oh my gosh, they start to play in a WPT event, they like it. Now they start to become part of a physical brick-and-mortar ecology, some of them will convert to real-money gaming. We don’t have real-money gaming, but you know, the partners do and we don’t care, we’re happy that one of our partners, maybe partypoker, who we have a partnership with; maybe they’ll benefit from that.
But the social component fits so well for the World Poker Tour’s message, better than anyone could have imagined. And the result of this is a rebirth in how we are able to communicate to those who are on the edge and saying, well, maybe I do want to play in the WPT event, or maybe a World Series of Poker event, or whatever it’s going to be.
So, to answer your question, it’s going to expand. They see the value in this, we see the value in it, and the part that I said I was going to expand on is: This is because they understand the value of online/offline ecology, this will be good for the industry. And this relationship is good for the World Poker Tour, I’m not going to lie, I’m the first to say that. But it’s good for the industry, too.
I also want to give you a hardball question to ask. Some people have criticized the final tables, where they like the facilities of the Esports Arena, but the layout is related to the final table.
Ah, OK. I wasn’t going to ask you about that. OK, go ahead.
But you should, and Mike Sexton had made some comment about that in one of his posts, that he recognized that he’d barely seen it, it looks spectacular but, you know, he was concerned about what delays will mean. First of all, we’ve mitigated a lot of the issues with delays by making them relatively short. That being said — it’s probably a completely different article just about this — but we have to remember: how many professional poker players are watching traditional television? Not as many as there were at the beginning. Now the professionals are watching the online.
But there is America, there is Middle America, there are tens of millions — hundreds of millions? — of people worldwide who want to watch poker. And those are the people that we convert. Those are the people that we say, “Welcome, and learn a little bit about poker, and if you like it, go to your local casino and play. And maybe play online, and go to social gaming sites.”
And the only way that we’re going to be able to do this, is to be able to afford to produce mass-market appeal and high-quality content. And if you look at what’s happened in the industry, group after group has stopped producing multi-million-dollar content. And now, if you look at who’s left, you got Poker Central and you got us. Now, Poker Central is online primarily, and so that’s going to by nature have a more serious audience. But broadcast TV and cable TV still appeals to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. And at times when online sites might not put the same marketing dollars as they do before, that’s why I applaud Rob Yong and the group over at partypoker taking great risks and putting out marketing. Because if we don’t do this, it’s going to catch up to us.
So, one of the things, as I was telling Mike, in my ideal world, I’d build an esports arena right next door to every casino! Then we add it and we have the best of both worlds. But that’s not feasible from a realist point of view. So what we’ve done is we’ve created something that, if you end up at a final table at Esports Arena, it’s going to be like you’re a rock star. I mean, it’s going to be unbelievable. We’re going to make sure that it’s as good as we can possibly make it for you, but from a 10,000-foot-in-the-air level. But also we’re preserving multi-million-dollar content. And it’s becoming a dinosaur.
And I will say this: If multi-million-dollar content — whether it is by our team or Mori Eskandani — if that goes away, it’s going to affect this very important ecology. And producing that high-quality content not only allows us to be efficient, it allows us to make it better. Because it looks even better on TV.
– Adam Pliska
So, I guess what I’m asking, is that I hope that the community will at least digest the reasoning behind the delayed final tables as if it wasn’t just an exercise in efficiency or an effort to just consolidate things. We’ll still send you on the Aegean cruise, we’ll still do television shows at different locations, but this allows for the preservation of multi-million-dollar content; it is one of the greatest conversion tools the industry has for the guy who doesn’t know if he wants to get into poker or not.
Yes, and also, you’ve mentioned the word “community” a few times, and the broadness of the appeal. The fact that it’s the community that needs to be convinced, as you said, that’s the choir that’s already being preached to, and you are preaching way, way beyond the community. You want to involve more people into the community and get them there in the first place, and at the same time you could have these superstar prestigious ten-star, eleven-star events featuring the biggest names in the world at the Tournament of Champions, but we’ll still do the same time, it’s not just marketing speak.
I’m going to be very direct, you know, what you’re saying: I’ve met them. I’ve met the Zynga people in person, I still remember one named Barbara. I sat with her and I spoke with her, and that was the exact personification of that middle America, who sits there and watches and enjoys. She says she had never bet a dime at poker, she only played social. It shook me, as a veteran member of the community; someone who was into it. I was like, “Wow. There really are these people out there, and it is so critical to get them involved in every way, shape and form.”
And I certainly agree with you, and I would also just again add, you mentioned the PokerGO, Poker Central, Mori Eskandani; they’re relatively new kids on the block. As much experience as they have, but their operation over the past two years is relatively new. They know what they’re doing. They wouldn’t have gone ahead and invested all of these hours and all of those millions if they didn’t believe in it also. It makes sense, and to me it seems also it’s not someone that you’re competing with, you’re happy that they exist.
I used to work for the futurist Alvin Toffler, and one of the things that he taught me is that the model must always be adapted because by its very nature, a model will not suit the current circumstance because five minutes ago the world was different. So, the model is only a guideline to push you into a place. Change in the model is that when we go back 15 years ago, you could have just said the word “poker” and you just need a bucket to collect money, or just open your door and people would run in, because they’re just looking for poker anything.
But now, it’s been a long time, it’s been like 20 years. So now, we need to go to these communities, like the esports community, and we need to say, “Hey, guys, we have something that you want.” And we need to go to, as you point out, middle America, and say “I know you’ve got a lot of choices of what to do, but try what we have. You see how appealing it is on TV? That’s going to be nothing as compared to the feeling you’re going to get when you’re sitting at a final table, or you’re sitting at a poker event just playing with other people.” And so that’s the difference.
The difference is we’ve got to work harder, and that’s why it’s very important that, you know, yes, I want Poker Central to succeed, 100%. Because the World Poker Tour doesn’t fail when the World Series of Poker is on. It goes the other way. The World Series of Poker is not affected because the World Poker Tour’s television show is running in 28 countries. On the contrary, I assure you that there is somebody who’s watched the World Poker Tour somewhere in Europe and they ended up playing at a World Series Circuit Event.
That’s right. Guaranteed.
And that’s fine. What is not fine is when people stop playing. That would not be good..
No problem! This is an incredibly enjoyable conversation. But we are approaching the end of the interview here, and I did want to touch upon one topic that’s been on my mind for a while. You are a veteran, experienced crew, a sleek product, and everyone knows what to expect when they turn on a World Poker Tour broadcast after 17 or 18 years. So I just have two final questions related to that: One is, what you always see is Texas Hold’em, of course, the most popular poker variant, everyone knows it. When you think of poker, it’s practically synonymous with Texas Hold’em in the mainstream aspects of it. But as you and I know, Pot-Limit Omaha, many other games in the mix, are gaining in popularity. So will we ever see the WPT televise and broadcast a non-Hold’em event?
Yes, we will do it, and I think it is absolutely relevant for the discussion that we’re having. Because, think of the philosophy shift is, we have become more mature and we now say, “What does it mean for us to be part of an esports company?” What it really means is, we facilitate the opportunity for a human being to present themselves in front of other human beings and try to be their best.
So with that in mind, we can think beyond just Texas Hold’em, right? We can say, “Look. What is the World Poker Tour really good at?”
The World Poker Tour’s core competency is not Texas Hold’em. Its core competency is providing a canvas for an individual who’s been practicing and getting ready and thinking about how they want to achieve and challenge themselves to step up and be themselves.
– Adam Pliska
And to be the best. And so, we’re absolutely open to those things. You know, we did a cash game for the first time and I think that’s probably, you’re seeing the cracks with that. We did kind of a, almost a gameshow-style event with some of the club participants, and so we’re absolutely open to that and we want to continue to find new and great ways to be able to demonstrate it, because that’s one of the things that Steve Lipscomb did so well.
And you know, Steve Lipscomb did not create, obviously he didn’t create Texas Hold’em. He wasn’t the first person to put poker on TV. What he did was facilitate a way that made it enjoyable to sit at home and watch. And so that has never left our DNA. Our DNA is still about two things: What makes you, the individual, come to our event and feel like you have a platform to be your best, and two, for those who are not necessarily playing but who are fans and the watchers, to be able to feel like they’re having an engaging experience.
I know people have that because I see it. You know, I’m a stalker of people in sports bars when they’re watching the World Poker Tour. I watch them yelling at the screen and complaining and telling their person at the table what they would have done differently or whatever, and it’s because they have the information to allow them to do that. In a crowded, loud sports bar. So, we’ll continue to do those two things, we’re absolutely open to that, I would love it — you will definitely see more of that. We’ll keep you updated.
That would be really cool. And I guess in closing it sort of circles right back around to the merger aspects. We talked about synergies, we talked about how both poker can influence esports a little bit and vice versa. Again, people know what to expect; this high-quality, supreme, excellent product when they look at the WPT on television. Esports is broadcast also; it has its unique features to the way one views it on Twitch, on televised broadcasts.
Is it possible that perhaps we’ll see a little bit of what we see in esports brought to the production aspect of poker? I’m not sure if I phrased that properly, but basically, will we see a little bit more of an esports flavor, perhaps, to the future WPT broadcasts, and if so, maybe you could tease a detail or two that you could expect?
Sure. Actually, it’s a great question, because one of the things that esports has shown is the way that media is being consumed is very more and more in shorter form and in many different styles. For example, if you were to just take the pure poker model of 2003 and had applied it to esports, you would have had to say, OK, you’re going to have a Fortnite competition, and you’re going to take all aspects of that, and then you’re going to edit it and go back and you’re going to have to have that audience watch that entire thing.
And so, in the spring, the Esports Arena did this event with Ninja, where they brought his fans in and they played against him. And so it wasn’t based on the tournament so much, it was based on the entertainment around the tournament. It was based on the fun of, you know, a twelve-year-old kid ended up taking him out at some point and suddenly became a star. And esports is showing us very quickly, because it’s online and a lot of its audience is online, how you can have new ways to tell similar stories. Because it’s still, again, competition, being told in different ways. And so we will do that.
We’ll have a lot more, I mean, you will see some really exciting products from WPT online. And we’ll look very different from the traditional tournament format. But I’m going to have to wait a bit to let you see that, but the answer is yes, you will see more of it.
And the opposite as well, you’ll also see an introduction of Esports into various things that we do, and so it’s one of those things that there’s the, usually there’s a mentor and a student. We like to think of poker as the mentor, because it’s been around so long and it’s got the model and everything. I remember I had a wonderful grandfather, and I had this one great memory because he taught me so many things, but he also was always interested in something I could teach him, a computer or something that he didn’t know about. And he was always learning too, from me, and that’s the best relationship.
And that’s what we’re going to see from poker and esports. We’re going to see poker in a model that has worked and succeeded help esports leapfrog and avoid a lot of those pitfalls that we made along the lines. But poker is going to learn a lot from new media and new entertainment by this massive growth that’s happening in esports as well.
That’s absolutely fantastic, and I have to say, I didn’t think originally that the conversation would go on this long, but I can continue talking to you for hours, Adam.
It’s not joke, I sort of feel like starry-eyed, a little doe-eyed in saying, wow, this is a true visionary, someone who, sixteen, seventeen years into his job, still is just as excited to go into work every single day, make an amazing poker product and just tell fantastic stories and now he has an infusion of resources to go ahead and keep doing that even bigger and better from now on. So really, just thank you for your time and for sitting with me and I really, really enjoyed this interview. And everyone, thank you very much for listening here on Cardplayer Lifestyle.
Thank you, Robbie.
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