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Is Poker Now an Esport?

One of the biggest success stories in the global media sector over a trying few years has been the emergence of the esports scene into mainstream awareness. While the worldwide disruptions that have characterized the first years of the decade did much to raise the burgeoning sector’s profile by priming it to capture viewership from traditional sporting events, competitive gaming’s turn in the spotlight has primed for at least a decade. One need only look at the spike in the term’s popularity on Google Trends, a 587% rise since 2013, to see that interest has been organically growing around this industry for some time. 

But, for the uninitiated, what exactly is an esport? Well, Dictionary.com can provide us with a tidy definition pertaining to the competitive tournaments of video games, and until recently that would have been the end of the matter. However, definitions change alongside the concepts they’re attempting to describe, and the entertainment juggernaut the esport sector has grown into is threatening to break out of these humble confines. Much of this can be laid at the feet of the online community hubs that have fostered the sector’s rise over the past 10 years. Of these, by far the most popular, and significant, is Twitch. 

Social Streaming

Twitch started life as an independent venue for video game content streaming, before being snapped up by an expansive Amazon who saw the writing on the wall back in 2014, for $987 million. Since then, Twitch has enjoyed the bottomless cash that its new parent company can provide and has decisively put its stamp on esports as its de-facto online headquarters. 

On Twitch you will find hundreds of gamers of all levels and abilities broadcasting gaming sessions, both solo and in multiplayer contexts, to fans and followers who enjoy to tune in and discuss the action with like minded users. While the vast majority of content on the platform still fits within the above definition, increasingly diverse content is beginning to find a home there. 

Traditional sporting media franchises, no doubt aware of where the money’s heading, have been actively cultivating a presence on the platform, with broadcasters such as ESPN rubbing shoulders with individual teams and clubs, such as European soccer giants Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain. 

The Old Guard

Another area that has seen great growth on the platform are sports and games that had already begun to develop a second life online, such as poker and chess. Something these have in common with the wider esports scene is the extent of on-demand tournaments available for them today online, provided by reputable platforms and industry mainstays. These venues have given them a community identity and nexus, one which they have then been able to carry over into spaces more explicitly associated with conventional esports. 

Now it’s easy to find headline events taking place for them on Twitch, such as PokerStars’ Stadium Series tournament that broke the all-time platform record in 2020 for the highest prize pool yet awarded there. To further muddy the waters, esports teams, such as Team Liquid, and solo esports athletes, have begun to broaden their interests to include poker, chess and other traditional games in their streams.

A Win-Win Situation

As the lines continue to blur, the concept of esports is actively expanding to include these related interests. It would appear that the term is transitioning to describe any and all competitive events that take place online, or feature an online component. What’s more, this appears to be good news for everyone. 

Both poker and chess have long running competitive pedigrees, established tournaments and big name players which they can bring into the esports fold to further legitimize it in the eyes of the public. And the esports scene, whose demographic skews younger, is helping introduce the next generation of players to these competitive classics. As money continues to flow into Twitch and esports events from outside sponsors and investors looking to integrate themselves, all would seemingly stand to benefit in the process.

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