Is Poker Close To Becoming An eSport?

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Video games have been on the rise since their inception and are now one of the biggest and most popular entertainment mediums in the world.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a gamer. It doesn’t matter if it’s on your phone, your PC, your gaming console, or even Wordle; you’re a gamer. The gaming medium is taking over the landscape from a viewership standpoint, with platforms like YouTube and Twitch uploading hours of gaming content in VOD and Live form every single day.

Taking this up a notch, the competitive scene in gaming is continuing to gain popularity from all aspects. There are over 20 million people watching these online competitions, known as eSports, and the amount of prize money being generated is unbelievable. Between just the top 5 games alone, hundreds of millions of dollars are being given for prize money. DOTA 2, Fortnite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and Arena of Valor are just a few of the leaders in the eSports gaming space.

Before this surge though, people were playing and watching poker online and on their televisions. So, is online poker classed as an eSport and if not, can it be?

Why Online Poker Could Be An eSport

Online poker has been popular in some cases for much longer than many of the competitive video games we’ve watched over the years. However, when we look at games even outside of the top 5 or even the top 10, millions of people all over the world are watching these competitions. League of Legends, for example, in 2021 had over 600 million hours of watch time worldwide; this includes peaking at 4 million viewers during one of their Grand Finals in 2021. The viewing figures are impressive, is this mirrored by poker?

With poker, viewership has been growing, and increasing way before the competitive gaming medium really popped off. This can be attributed to major events such as the World Series of Poker being broadcasted on several platforms. Just as the eSports community has matches and qualifiers, some might be surprised to learn that some parts of qualifying for the World Series of Poker are done online. The viewership is there and growing along with the prize money, it’s party conducted online, so why isn’t online poker an eSport?

Why Online Poker Will Not Be An eSport

First, with eSports, there’s no physical component, no contact, and no physical training or exertion needed to succeed. In poker, that’s not the case – you might be able to qualify for the World Series of poker online, but you can’t win it without going to Las Vegas. Look at it like this; in Dota 2, you can qualify for big tournaments online, but they don’t give you a strap and set you loose in an arena when it comes to the final.

The biggest argument against online poker becoming an eSport is wagering. Most eSports competitions have no wagering; there’s simply prize money at stake, usually determined beforehand, and whoever wins, whether it’s a team or individual, walks away with the prize money in full. In poker, you need stake money, and the prize comes from others losing out.

Last but certainly not least is how controversial gaming already is at this point. The gaming landscape isn’t perfect, whether we’re talking competitive gaming or casual gaming. Between microtransactions, the Activision and Microsoft merger, the EA Sports Ultimate Team pay-to-win schemes and more, adding poker to the mix makes the conversation that much more complicated.

Truth be told, things could go either way for online poker. If we’re being honest, poker has been around and regulated for a bit longer than video gaming. So concerns over reception could be calmed, but on the other hand, it could easily have people skeptical and set the popular card game back if it were classed as an eSport. Ultimately, whilst it is played online and people watch it is an eSport of sorts, just without the rubber stamp of official eSports backing.