As online continues to surge worldwide despite the staggered resumption of many retail activities across several jurisdictions, the necessity to stand out from the crowd has arguably never been more important.

Differentiation has been a buzzword for quite some time now, but in a COVID ravaged society where online verticals quickly transitioned from being an option to become THE option, competition has become even more fierce.

Standing out from the crowd was one of the prime aims for the World Poker Tour and partypoker when the two rolled-out plans for the WPT World Online Championship, culminating on September 8 following a July 17 start date and containing a $100m minimum payout guarantee.

“The series has been running for a few weeks now and overall, we are really happy with how players have responded,” explained Tom Waters, managing director of partypoker, when quizzed on the expectations and performance thus far

“The guarantees in this series are huge and it was a real stretch for us as an operator to hit the numbers we needed, especially because WSOP has been running online at the same time competing directly with WPT and we’ve taken some overlays. 

“However, participation has been increasing week by week and we expect this to continue as we get closer to the WPT Main Event Championship. We wanted the WPT WOC to be different to the other major series running over the summer. 

“Again, this is linked to the quality of the tournament offering and the integrity of the series. Our satellite program is enormous and we have sub-feeder satellites running into feeders, which in turn feed into the satellites themselves.

“Running daily, these give players the flexibility to qualify for big buy-in MTTs that would perhaps otherwise be outside their buy-in range. All the championship events have brilliant structures; only two day 1s, short late reg., sociable finishing times, blind levels that allow a decent level of gameplay and limited re-entries. 

I think it will be a long time before live poker returns to anything like what it was”

“We have stayed away from the multi-phased MTTs that can bleed a player’s bankroll and are favourable to those players that have the luxury of being able to fire unlimited bullets into the same event.”

However, with online tournaments now replicating the kind of guarantees we see in the most recognisable live events, is this a situation that is here to stay? Or is it simply a short-term necessary fix at this time?

“I see this as a short-term adjustment,” Waters continued. “I think it will be a long time before live poker returns to anything like what it was. We’ve seen a number of live poker rooms shut their doors permanently in recent months, which isn’t good for the global poker scene. 

“Players are going to be understandably reluctant to travel to live events for some time and for those that are prepared to play live, the experience is going to be very different, with social distancing measures in place.

“I think we will probably see a hybrid model adopted short term, where perhaps the early stages of tournaments are played online, with those making it through then travelling to the live venues who will be far better placed to cope with a major live event when they are faced with less players to safely accommodate at the tables.

“I really hope the likes of WPT can bounce back once the world can get back to some degree of normality, but I can’t see that happening in the next 12 months.”

CasinoBeats has documented poker’s perceived resurgence in detail this year, with June’s CasinoBeats Malta Digital seeing the vertical praised as having a very special place in the ecosystem.

Following the recent boost felt primarily due to mandated global lockdowns, however, would more often than not be an inevitable decline when a sense of normality returns.

“…we want to build a sustainable player base that sticks with us for the long term”

An avenue Waters continues along when assessing if poker can sustain the heightened activity felt during recent weeks and months, and if the resurgence be solely aligned with the global health pandemic: “It was clear the lockdowns brought many people back to online poker who had perhaps not played for some time. It was great to see such a surge in poker traffic and the interest in poker globally spike over the last few months. 

“However, we’ve already seen a number of those reactivated players drop away in-line with lockdowns easing, people returning to work and major sporting events return alongside other leisure activities – all of these compete with poker when it comes to player activities in their spare time. I’m sure the global poker market is stronger now than before the lockdowns, but unfortunately, I don’t see the surge in interest remaining long term.”

Adding: “In my opinion, the two are intrinsically linked. The online poker market is extremely competitive at the moment, and there are three operators aggressively competing for traffic. 

“This is great for poker players, as there is so much choice and value out there, in terms of major online series and promotions, but this has been driven almost exclusively by the global health pandemic.”

To conclude, Waters took a look internally and addressed how the current climate impacted the decisions made at partypoker: “It fundamentally changed our short-term plans. Demand for poker was higher than we’ve ever seen it and we had to react to meet that demand.

“We’ve seen three or four months of operators running major series with little to no breathing space for players. We took a slightly different approach to some of the other online poker sites. 

“For example, we decided not to run a major series in June because we felt that the players needed a breather. A number of factors were behind this decision, but there is a huge amount of pressure on player bankrolls and we want to build a sustainable player base that sticks with us for the long term.”