WPT Commoditizes Players in New Esports Arena Deal

There’s been lots of player blowback targeting the World Poker Tour (WPT) in the wake of the tour’s announcement that nine of its upcoming Season 17 televised final tables will be held at the Luxor’s new and pricy Esports Arena Las Vegas set. Despite an upsell attempt by the WPT, this appears to be a good corporate deal for the WPT itself, and soemwhere between a minor bother and a participation-stopping inconvenience for the players.

There’s a balancing point in these sorts of deals, and the feeling I have (with, I assure everyone, no animus toward the WPT) is that the World Poker Tour has crossed an unmarked line here. All these tours and events exist to make money, but at the core, the events don’t happen unless the players themselves want to take part. The WPT’s new deal puts some significant disincentives in the way of those who might want to give a WPT main a shot.

WPT LogoFirst, the specifics. As a couple of outlets reported over the Memorial Day break, the World Poker Tour announced what appears to be an expansion of its trial-balloon deal with the Luxor’s Esports Arena. The WPT hosted a couple of late-season (WPT Season 16) events there in recent months, including the season-ending TOC. I can’t say I’ve watched a recent WPT event in some time (shame on me), but I’d have every reason to believe the new $25 million set is a major upgrade over the WPT’s traveling road show, meaning a set that looks decent on the tube but takes a ton of time and travel and shipping and assembly to keep putting up at casino after casino.

It makes a lot of sense for the WPT or any floating poker tour to find a more permanent home, and yet the way the World Poker Tour has put this package together just highlights the possible belief that the players have gone from vital partner to packaged commodity.

If so, that needs a rethink. It’s not going to sell, and the pushback from players of all stripes and backgrounds shows that. Cliff Josephy, noted online and live-even veteran and prominent stable manager, offered this take on Twitter:

Rich businessmen and veteran poker pros such as Josephy are just one category; a whole phalanx of fame-seeking wannabes are another. WPT president Adam Pliska tried to upsell to that segment by laying this one out there, rather thick and syrupy: “You are going to feel like a star if you make a final table and you come to town.”

A normal player is going to feel like a star wherever he wins a televised event, and what might be outside the venue’s walls has very little to do with it. Frankly put, those players are investing their time and money traveling to a fixed destination during a fixed timeframe with the idea of striking it rich or going home.

What they likely don’t want, though, is to have to make two such trips, especially if the second one isn’t even firmed up until the final table is set. Whether there’s free travel and lodging and parties and swag bags and glad-handing doesn’t equate to the hassle of separating from one’s family or taking a short-term leave from work on very short notice. All that stuff is an inconvenience to the players, and trying to repackage it as a “win” for the players doesn’t make it so.

I’ve played in one of those remote final-table deals before, and that was fun, but it was done with months of downtime that allowed for adequate planning. That’s much different than doing a cattle call with just a few weeks’ advance notice, as the WPT is doing here, and holding up the final-table prize payments in their entirety as well. It even raises the possibility that the WPT and Luxor might schedule a batch of final-table filmings directly against prominent poker tourneys being held elsewhere; I would not want to be a player and be captive to such a possibility.

That said, I’m not one of the WPT’s target players, so it doesn’t directly affect me. But if I were, I wouldn’t be happy about these developments. That seems to be the consensus among those players who are the WPT’s base as well, which has to make one wonder whether the World Poker Tour will be doing a big rethink on the concept.

(Author’s note: The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the owners and publishers of Flushdraw.)

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