Will PokerStars Power Up Be an Esport?3 years ago
A lot has been said about the way Stars Group is managing the biggest poker room in the world, but it's hard to deny the fact that they are certainly innovative in their approach.
The company formerly known as Amaya is trying to give poker a more mainstream appeal by involving celebrities in their marketing campaigns, redesigning PokerStars reward systems to make them look more attractive to casual players, introducing new game types etc. With the recent launch of PokerStars Power Up, Stars Group is trying to tap into the booming esports market, which is not a bad bet considering the immense growth of that industry in the last few years.
An Uphill Battle
In case you don't know what PokerStars Power Up is, here's a quick recap. Power Up is basically a three-player sit and go with a fresh coat of paint slapped on the user interface, some backstory no one cares about, and a twist on the game mechanics. Before each betting round players can play cards that allow them to gain additional information or affect the cards in their hand, the ones on the board and even the cards that are yet to be dealt, adding another layer of complexity on top of the already complicated game that is your good old fashioned tournament holdem.
At first glance, Power Up has a few things going for it as far as its esports potential is concerned. It aims to bridge the gap between poker and video games with the improved visuals and the use of game mechanics borrowed from other successful esports. Power Up does an 'ok' job emulating the look and feel of other card games that are currently enjoying varying degrees of esports success like Hearthstone, Gwent or Magic: the Gathering. However, when we take a closer look at those other card games it becomes pretty clear that Hearthstone is an outlier that we can't really judge market trends by.
The company behind Magic: the Gathering - the granddaddy of all the collectible card games that arguably has a lot more esports potential than poker - failed to make their digital offering called Magic Online a relevant esports platform, and they’re currently working on a new product with esports in mind. For every impressive success story of a game like Hearthstone and moderate esports success of a game like Gwent, there are literally hundreds of examples of digital card games that failed to gather any esports traction, even though virtually all of them had much more to do with the world of esports than poker has. Besides, Power Up is still unproven even as a simple poker product, and the negative opinions of players like Ike Haxton show that there's not a lot of community support behind it.
Is it possible for a poker product to become a viable esports? Certainly. Will Power Up stand up to the challenge? It looks like Stars Group will most likely have to go back to the drawing board, and take another swing at the esports market in the future.
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