Last year's Battle of Malta main event attracted 4,657 entries and generated a EUR 2,25 million prize pool. What can we expect this year, regarding the new global circumstances and conditions brought on by the pandemic, and based on the trends and learnings from previous online poker events since the outbreak began?
The pandemic has allowed numerous live poker players who may never have done so before to try out the virtual felt, and we expect this trend to continue when GGPoker hosts the Battle of Malta 2020. The online and live poker experiences both have various virtues and weaknesses, with the result that many players who felt comfortable with one or the other were unwilling to switch between the two prior to the current situation. Now that most live events are being held online, and this may be unlikely to change in the short term, people are starting to appreciate the unique fun online brings and are willing to give the new experience a try.
How would you describe the overall impact on the number of players so far in the events you hosted since March; could you share some numbers that reflect the changes?
In general, interest in online poker increased during the first half of the year, as other outlets for gaming and recreation, both live and online, were harder to access. All online poker operators would have seen some level of increase; we feel that GGPoker was uniquely placed to cater to many new and returning poker players, with our easy-to-use software and attractive game offering. We have solidified our place as the top challenger to Pokerstars in the worldwide market.
The WSOP live poker tournament in Las Vegas was replaced this year by the international WSOP Online 2020 tournament series on GGPoker, which saw the largest online poker tournament ever, the biggest online poker tournament prize ever awarded, the most entries ever for a WSOP tournament, and 166 nationalities represented across the player base. How would you assess these landmark results; could you detail the direct and indirect changes and differences brought about by the new format and online capacities? Could you make any comparisons between that September event and the WSOP Super Circuit Series played in May?
GGPoker was thrilled with how both the WSOP Super Circuit Series and the WSOP Online 2020 Series played out, in terms of player engagement, wider interest in the series, and, of course, the astronomical prize pools and tournament field sizes seen. By allowing players located all over the world to compete for official WSOP gold bracelets, we helped those who may never have otherwise been able to enjoy the thrill of taking part in a WSOP tournament to do so. Getting to Las Vegas is expensive, and there never before was a $50 tournament that awarded a WSOP bracelet, until the 2020 series. The move from live to online, while not something that was contemplated before the start of the pandemic, enabled some really exciting changes to the great WSOP formula.
Many land-based casinos in different jurisdictions have reopened without poker rooms, and only in the past few weeks we have seen them reopened but under strict restrictions and capacity limits. What role is this situation playing for the online poker industry, and what do you think will happen when most of the land-based poker venues are back open? Have you seen new demands or even an increased interest from land-based operators to partner with you for online poker tournaments?
We hope that those who want to play poker live will get the opportunity to do so in a safe environment sooner rather than later. We expect that many of those who may not have tried playing poker online prior to the pandemic might now be happy to mix playing live and online in the future, enjoying the best of both worlds. We definitely have spoken to more live operators in 2020 than ever before. We believe that the success of the WSOP festivals and other efforts has shown them that including an online element, even in a future where the world is no longer in the midst of a pandemic, is a good idea for both the operator and their customers.
Which short and long-term effects do you think this new landscape could bring to the poker industry? What are your outlooks both for land-based and online poker, and in which specific aspects do you see growth potential, for instance, via leveraging new digital technologies?
One likely outcome is that there are fewer players that ‘only play live’ or ‘only play online’; more players will now be used to playing in both mediums. Another is that live operators will perhaps be more receptive to online partnerships; for example, more big multi-flight live tournaments might include online Day 1s. The reverse might also be true; big online tournaments might pause upon reaching the final table, which will play out in a live venue. In terms of leveraging new technologies, the widespread adoption of powerful smartphones and the advances in online poker software mean that it will be possible for players to mix live and online play; taking part in faster poker formats on their phones during a ‘time out’ at a live event, etc...
In September, EvenBet Gaming CEO Dmitry Starostenkov told us that during these months it was not just about retaining the interest of an audience, but it was also an important time for users to rediscover online poker, and that it is likely to keep at least a part of the new poker players and those who came from the offline poker formats. Would you agree with these ideas? How would you assess the shift from offline to online poker, both in terms of new player profiles and on the operators/organizers' side?
Even before the pandemic, GGPoker’s software team was totally focused on creating a unique online poker-playing experience, better than playing live in a casino or card club ever could be. These endeavors have paid off for us and we are very happy to see our players engaged heavily on the online felt.
Starostenkov also said the game itself has evolved to meet the demands of the modern player, who wants a slick user experience across all channels, specially on mobile, and also requires different game types and entertaining experiences that complement the core product of poker. Would you share the same concepts, or which other new demands of players and evolution features could you identify?
GGPoker prides itself on having the best mobile poker software available, anywhere. We’ve always been a mobile-first poker room, and rather than trying to perfectly replicate the live poker experience online, we want to take advantage of technology to curate a unique and innovative online poker experience. For example, at GGPoker you can squeeze your hole cards and peel off the river. You can take a quick 15 second video of yourself and show it to the other players at the table while the game’s in progress. GGPoker players can take part in games that would not work live, with fast-fold and other engaging features that differentiate the online poker world from your local card club. We will continue to push the boundaries of poker for the better, leveraging the ongoing advances in digital technologies - we believe this is something our players love.