With the main event in full swing and the money bubble bursted, I am ready to post something about how to improve the series. After several days of tweeting questions, reading responses, digging through old reports of mine from previous WSOPs, throwing concepts and ideas around I’ve come to the grand conclusion… that I don’t have that much to say.

Reason? The WSOP, as a whole, is awesome.

But it is of course not without its flaws. Is Caesars Entertainment still being greedy? Sounds like it. Are media still being treated worse than they should? Yes. Do the people in charge keep coming up with rules or interpretation of rules that are silly? Yes. Have they moved the event to the strip yet? No. Is Ray Ban the new sponsor? No. Have they offered me a free buy-in for all those hours of having to watch others play and report about it? No. [intlink id=”177″ type=”post”]Do I still think the WSOP doesn’t do good business with the online poker world. Definitely.[/intlink] Only made worse by the ridiculous tell-tale logo ban. Maybe dealers are treated badly. Maybe the point where too many bracelets are distributed has been reached.  Maybe the food is third rate. Dunno. But I do know that despite all of them, the WSOP IS STILL AWESOME.

So my quest towards finding something to write that hopefully might inspire change for the even better was a bumpy one. But in the end the three things I decided to stop and have a closer look at were easy. They’ve all bugged me more or less since the first day I stepped into Amazon ball room in 2005. And they all hurt the event because play their part in making the event less attractive to the mainstream audience than it should.

What on Earth is going on?

I concede to the fact that the WSOP (not just the Main Event) is a logistical nightmare. And I cannot express in words how impressed I was when I visited the Rio a couple of weeks ago. The whole operation has certainly taken several steps up on the professional ladder. The Amazon now looks like the world’s biggest poker room instead of the world’s biggest collection of conference chairs. But I still think far too little is done to help audience and players keep track of what is going on.  To even identify which event is taking place where is not that easy if you just walk in from the street… uh… never mind.
Who is playing where? Who’s got what? Who’s out? Who’s the guy in the blue hat? Where’s my friend? What’s going on? What just happened over there?
Spectators, railbirds, girlfriends and posses don’t pay rake. I get that. But a game is no greater than its spectators think it is. Live poker can be excruciatingly boring. And borderline impossible to follow at the same time. A very competent but visually impaired tournament software displayed on a 42 inch screen in a corner helps. But not much. I’d like to talk to the guy in charge of the graphics.

While working for bwin we tried to tackle this problem at a WPT event in Italy which we organized. Incomparable in scale of course, but same problem. People came to watch. To rail. To cheer. But due to the layout of the tournament area, it was difficult for them to follow the action. To remedy this problem we designed an information system tailored for handling incomplete data that collected and displayed tournament related information on screens all over the tournament area. Whenever we managed to do a chip count at a table, the system displayed where that table was and what the new counts were. Whenever we caught a bust-out, spectators were served a who-busted-who sequence complete with images and names of players. If registered, we also displayed information about the hand. Current top ten chip counts were also featured along with information as to where in the tournament area players were seated. Thanks to the system being very flexible and tailored specifically to handle incomplete data, two tournament reporters equipped with hand-helds loaded with special data gathering interfaces and two computer techs/programmers managed to add another dimension to the spectator experience of a four hundred player event. We did a hundred things wrong of course. And wouldn’t have survived five minutes without being able to fix things on the fly. But I think we did enough to prove that the need is there. And that it can be done. When some players started to lean back and check the screens every few minutes and started asking for their chips to be counted so they could make the screens (which meant their followers could see it) that was all the proof we needed.  
What I am talking about doesn’t have to be 100% accurate. It can’t be 100% accurate. It doesn’t need to have even 30% coverage either. It just needs to produce and display enough fresh data in a visually pleasing manner to help and entertain players and spectators as the hours grind by. A mere overview of tables and who’s seated at them would increase the spectator value.

WPT Venice Spectator broadcast screen. Amazing? Uh, no. Better than nothing? Uh, yes.

Not made for TV

Live poker on TV is boring. Even when it is the WSOP that is broadcast. David Behr spelled it out in this recent post on his blog. And Wickedchops’s review of the PCA livestream which David links to as well does a good job of outlining what needs to be done about it.

I just want to add my five cents.

That following the action from a poker table live is utterly boring is by many seen as a huge hurdle in order for the game to reach greater mainstream appeal. While I agree, I think many overestimate the problem. They simply fail to be inspired by other events suffering from the same problem.

While the WSOP is on the final stretch in Vegas, the cyclists in the Tour de France are in the middle of their maddeningly long ride towards Paris.  Every day four million people across Europe tune in to watch a hundred or so bike riders ride their bikes for six hours. On your average flat stage everything that happens until the last five minutes is just smokes and mirrors. Breakaways don’t usually last.
And even the more eventful mountain stages are usually neutralized up until the last climb nowadays. Yet, the four million of us are terminally glued to our screens. Andwe’re not dedicated bike riders ourselves.

In Sweden we have a famous ski race called Vasaloppet that takes place once a year in February. It is 90 kilometers long and the TV broadcast from the race usually last a good eight hours or so. In recent years, so many have been tuning in that the TV stations over here have begun broadcasting other long-distance ski races as well. And it certainly has nothing to do with the fact that these races have become action packed. Believe me. Even a breakaway isn’t very dramatic in a long distance ski race. A guy broke a pole last year. That was mad.

What I am trying to say is that broadcasting a TV / gaming event that in itself only contains sporadic moments of real excitement for a long period of time is definitely not a guaranteed fail. Not where I live anyway. It’s almost the opposite. We’re tuning in to more and more od these long broadcasts. The trick is to accept that it is boring and not try to manufacture it into anything it isn’t. Instead, which is Chops’s point too, you have to work around it.

A live broadcast from the WSOP centered around the action on a specific table is backwards to me. Since I don’t expect the ESPN to rig a whole bunch of tables, I find it strange that the focus lies on the action at the one more or less random table that is rigged. It’s like focusing a Tour De France broadcast on a particular rider.

When I think Live WSOP broadcast I am envisioning a totally different show. More live Sports Center, less live blind stealing. Pick any given day of the WSOP ME and go through the twitter feeds of media reps at location. There’s your show right there. Hands gone wrong. People being wronged. Suckouts. People busting.  Or forgetting to show up. Famous people on the rail. Famous people at the tables. The WSOP is one chaotic mess for an outsider. Bring order to that chaos. Create narratives. And cut to live action at the feature table whenever the actions is worth broadcasting. Or when commentators run out of things to say for five minutes.

Just like the success of Tour De France broadcasts rely heavily on amazingly skilled commentators who know every nook and cranny of every little town that the riders swish by (and the name of every rider’s grandma), a successful live WSOP broadcast should rely heavily on informative, instructive and interesting banter between the Right People. That would suck moms in couches in. Sort of. Supported by the type of system mentioned in my first point, the Right People could put on a kick-ass six hour broadcast spiced with real action “live” from the floor. It still wouldn’t require anyone to take their heart medication, but it would create a much more intriguing production that would draw in the mainstream crowd.

The Tour de France doesn’t hestitate to throw in a fake Borat to liven things up.

The July 36 are not cool

The last stop on my epic journey towards improving the WSOP is a return to a previous post. While my feelings regarding the November 9 concept may have changed slightly since I wrote it, I honestly still don’t have enough issues with it to put it on the list. Main reason for that is probably because [intlink id=”296″ type=”post”]I have such an issue with the July 36. [/intlink]

No matter what though, the WSOP will still be awesome. And I’ll still probably not be playing in it.  :-(