The development of the internet has had several unexpected side effects, but one which has quickly taken on a life of its own is the capacity for multiplayer gaming. Once only possibly by physically connecting consoles and computers together, now the rapid evolution of technology has created a massive online arena that allows people of all ages to link up and play against each other, with thousands more able to spectate. With a huge spectrum of possible games, players can work together to fight off invasions, or compete against each other for pride and glory.
Two of the fastest growing competitive subsections of online gaming are esports and online poker. Both have a long history, starting offline before finding worldwide audiences online, and both attract players eager to show off their skills and talents. While online poker has been established for longer, it is the esports arena that has seen massive growth in popularity over the last few years, with some tournaments even being shown on television channels.
Esports – where videogames such as FIFA or League of Legends are played for cash prizes – appeals to the current generation of gamers, as they can recognise games they play with friends, and enjoy following the most skilled players, in a very similar way that people support professional sports teams. Online poker is less accessible to a wider audience, as unlike esports, people who don’t play the game themselves may not have an interest in spectating.
And yet, in theory the two are very similar in what they require from their players: good knowledge of strategies, the skills to pull them off, quick thinking and more than a little luck. So what might draw someone in a particular direction?
As esports are still classed as ‘up and coming’, they are easier to get involved in. Last year’s Fortnite World Cup held open qualifiers so anyone with a copy of the game – which is still free to download – could compete and try their luck, without needing to stump up the huge bank that top poker tournaments require. However, the prizes on offer paled in comparison to some of the best poker wins nabbed by the pros. And while most poker players can only dream of hitting the jackpots at some of the major international competitions, there are plenty of lower- and middle-tier tournaments with decent prize pots.
Probably the biggest difference between online poker and esports lies with your opponents. In online poker, reading your opponents and anticipating their next moves is a major part of the game. It requires you to know how they are likely to play any given hand, plan ahead and question the reasoning behind their every move. In esports, the game is often played too quickly to give the same consideration to your opponent’s strategy. Esports success relies on quick reactions and familiarity with the moves, skills and attributes of your team/character.
The speed of esports is part of the reason why they are so exciting to watch, especially for the crowds of young people who flock to livestreams to watch the pros battle it out. The popularity of Twitch and YouTube has skyrocketed, with successful gamers regularly finding their livestreamed games watched by millions. By contrast, the viewing figures for online poker leave a lot to be desired. Even the biggest event in the calendar, the World Series of Poker, failed to attract a million viewers. Although tensions often run high, poker games do not offer the same exciting and dynamic viewing that spectators get from esports.
Finally, the variation in esports games is almost infinite, with any multiplayer game having the potential to spawn a tournament. Some of the most popular globally currently include FIFA, Call of Duty, League of Legends and DOTA 2 – which range from combat to strategy to football, and therefore all appeal to different demographics. While there are variations in online poker games – Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Stud – they are all still based on the premise of collecting groups of cards, and a casual spectator would probably not immediately know the difference. This means that esports has the potential to appeal to a much wider net of fans than online poker ever will.
Regardless of whether they carve out a large slice of the market place, or just a smaller corner, industry experts agree that both esports and online poker are here to stay. And as graphics, visuals and streaming speeds continue to improve, the potential for growth remains. Watching esports and online poker has never been easier, and with major networks like Sky and Channel 4 broadcasting tournaments. And for those viewers who fancy trying their hand at playing one of the games, the internet continues to offer accessible, welcoming communities. There are dozens of online poker websites available, with a variety of rooms suited to every level of player. And with popular esports games available on a number of platforms, including PC, it’s simply a case of installing the game and challenging your friends to a bit of light competition. Who knows? With enough practice, you might even find yourself with an invitation to the larger stage.