A Look at the WSOP’s China / Tencent Poker Deal
Walking before one runs is the theme of this post, about the pact announced a couple of days ago by the World Series of Poker, a deal to “grow the game” of poker in China, an increasing but still vastly untapped poker market. The deal, in which the WSOP will partner with Tencent, a China-based global developer of mobile and online social games.
The multi-year deal, announced at the WSOP as the Main Event got underway, is a multi-pronged agreement designed to cover “training, education, licensing and live events.” The deal is designed to bring both “bracelet” and “ring” WSOP events to the Chinese poker market.
This is all about slow growth, introducing the WSOP brand to China, and nurturing a trusting relationship with Chinese authorities. Those authorities have been notoriously anti-gambling in the past, as some other global poker authorities have discovered, to their dismay, when attempting to run poker events in the country.
It’s about walking before one tries to run. Slow growth, hand in hand with local, regional and national officials, and in partnership with one of the largest gaming developers in China, Tencent. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard of Tencent before, this is the company that also announced a deal with the Global Poker Index last October to have event results from Tencent’s new Tencent Poker Tour listed in the global GPI rankings. Those points won’t make a significant impact on any global GPI lists (excepting a China-only ranking), since for now the Tencent Poker Tour events are smallish in scale.
But it’s all about future growth.
Let’s bring in the meat of the WSOP’s presser about the Tencent deal:
The goal of the WSOP-Tencent strategic alliance is to help educate and grow the competitive game of poker in Asia, using the digital expertise, reach and distribution of Tencent, combined with the WSOP’s tournament expertise, brand value and authority. Together we hope to inspire and educate the next generation of competitive players and provide an opportunity for anyone to become a world champion. The alliance will also seek to include elements inspired by eSports in future events, to further bring the competitive and strategic thinking of poker to a broader crowd.
For the first time in its history, WSOP will develop a program for Tencent to help train and certify poker tournament staff and provide expertise on event structures, rules, equipment, procedures, etc., to ensure any live poker events in Asia use the globally-recognized standards of the World Series of Poker, the longest-running poker tournament series, dating back to 1970.
“There is so much untapped potential in Asia and we’ve found the perfect partner in Tencent to help spread the great game throughout the entire continent,” said Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the WSOP. “We plan to use the WSOP brand and our expertise, along with Tencent’s reach in Asia, to inspire the next generation of competitive sport players.”
Tencent has also been granted exclusive merchandise rights to the WSOP brand in Asia, and is expected to design, manufacture and sell WSOP-branded goods. Tencent will also have media content distribution and production rights in Asia, including livestreaming of events and reality-based programs.
“We are very excited to partner with WSOP and hope to leverage our expertise in eSports to bring new innovations to the competitive game of poker,” said Chen.
Tencent Poker, launched in 2014, is the most popular play-for-fun social poker app in China, developed by Tencent, a leading internet company with a multitude of online and mobile games in its portfolio.
The Tencent Poker social game will soon offer a WSOP branded game zone promoting the competitive spirit of poker with interactive content, as well as a portal for potential land based tournaments. The Tencent Poker App will continue and remain a free-to-play app.
As part of the successful digital game, Tencent has started hosting land-based poker events under the Tencent Poker Tour banner in Sanya, Hainan, China annually in December. These qualifying live events with no entry fee are proving popular and as such, the WSOP will assist Tencent to help ensure operationally they are run efficiently and provide guests with a first-rate poker experience. Upon the announcement, Tencent is also planning the first ever WSOP China online qualifiers via its Tencent Poker app in August 2017, with the first WSOP China event in December 2017.
Partnership plans include land-based events such as WSOP China and WSOP Asia featuring the game’s most coveted trophies – WSOP gold bracelets. In addition, WSOP China Circuit events awarding gold rings are also expected to be developed. Any events held in mainland China will be free-to-play offerings designed to showcase the fun, social and competitive nature of poker, assisting participants in learning both the rules and the skills required to successfully compete. Any events (including those in mainland China) must adhere to applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions they occur.
There indeed will be a WSOP China event or series in December, and it’s possible that bracelet(s) will be awarded, though the bit about “WSOP gold bracelets” is in the following paragraph, which deals with future plans. But it appears these will be a different category of bracelet than the Western world associates wth the WSOP, since… “Any events held in mainland China will be free-to-play offerings designed to showcase the fun, social and competitive nature of poker.”
One need not be considered that these are the type of bracelet events that would be considered for inclusion in Player of the Year races or other things like that. The WSOP will no doubt come up with points of differentiation and clarification about this some time down the road.
Right now, increasing poker’s acceptance by China’s gaming masses is the larger goal. That’s the untapped potential referred to by Stewart, and the real reason this deal is happening. Sometime down the road, perhaps, there’ll be a WSOP China with real, big-money prizes. For now, though it’s better to walk slowly and leave the running for later.