From a table of seven in 1970 to over 74 events today, the World Series of Poker continues to break through. The one consistent and coveted prize is the WSOP bracelet. Purses have bulged, attendance has swelled, popularity around the world has grown, but when the game experienced lulls in attention, they were always overcome by breakthroughs in technology.
Televised versions of the game began in 1973 with a “TV Special” narrated by Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Toward the end of the decade, CBS began covering the event. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that ESPN took over broadcasting coverage, yet, the event remained a one-hour “special” that was tape-delayed and aired only the Main Event. Ratings were nominal but steady.
The series aired as a one-hour special on ESPN through the ‘90’s moving to The Discovery Channel from ‘99-’01. Poker remained on the fringes, culturally speaking, but the Internet was bringing poker into millions of homes, introducing people to the game of skill in a new way. It was still legal to play for-money poker in all fifty states, for a time.
Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars) bought the rights to the series in 2004 and began expanding, allowing each of its eleven properties to host circuit qualifying events, including one in Africa. WSOP continued expansion with the announcement of WSOPE (Europe) and WSOP APAC (Asia Pacific), tournaments that would alternate even and odd years.
Even with the announcement of Black Friday, the popularity grew building the Main Event from over 800 players in 2003 to over 8,500 only three years later. The Main Event is typically between 6,000 and 7,000 players each year.
With global interest expanding, ESPN began covering qualifying tournaments, but it wasn’t until 2011 that Mori Eskandani, a former poker player turned television executive, broke the live-broadcast format we’ve all grown to love. What was once a one-hour special tucked away on secondary networks has become a three-night, five-to-fifteen minute delay, “live” event, with hole cams so the audience can see what players are holding.
Hole cams really put viewers inside the players head. Patented in 1997 by WSOP bracelet winner, Henry Orenstein, it was tested out on television series Late Night Poker. Documentarian Steve Lipscomb created the World Poker Tournament series for Discovery using hole cams and tested out flashy on-screen graphics to highlight the mental intensity of the game. Most of their experiments have become regular viewing for the tournaments.
In recent years, streaming outlets have picked up the tournament, increasing viewership even more. WSOP has embraced emerging technology making it arguably more exciting and action-filled than the World Series of Baseball.
So, what’s the next technology breakthrough for WSOP?
It could be blockchain.
What problems does blockchain solve that could benefit this ever expanding global community? Blockchain is phenomenal at supporting currency transactions, be they USD, Euro, Pound, Rupee, or altcoins. Depositors can transact worry-free using blockchain-supported currency.
Blockchain is excellent at generating and managing large quantities of transactional data while verifying users meaning this community that is bursting year over year can scale with ease. Player retention increases as the integrity of online casino gaming becomes more transparent and trustworthy.
A tournament born by a mob-boss may just become the most reliable and honest sport in the world, by merely adopting blockchain technology. Who’d’ve thought? With a little AI, just imagine the insights that can be shared on-screen while the world’s top cardplayers battle it out on the felt.
Cleansing the sport of its underhanded past may usher untold masses into the fold. Initially as viewers who’ve heard about all the excitement, and eventually as players, once they learn it is impossible to be cheated by technology anymore.
One casino game company, Host.Games, is rolling out a blockchain platform for players, hosts, and developers which alleviates all the traditional pain points. As one observes the trajectory of the sport and the application of technology to its increasing popularity and excitement, it’s hard to call Host.Games vision a gamble.
While everything about WSOP has changed for the better, its one constant is the bracelet. And even that looks bigger, brighter, and blingier every year.