22 April 2021
By Roger Jones
Card games that have been passed through generations of players – both professional and casual – have long since outgrown that original label. More than card games, they represent institutions in their own right, and there does that statement ring truer than it does when applied to poker.
Long before the internet was a mainstay of our everyday lives, poker had already solidified its indomitable status within the poker halls of the world’s most desirable gambling locations. Even then, it was outgrowing that initial label as a ‘game’, and stepping into an as-of-yet undefined area somewhere between ‘sport’, ‘vocation’, and ‘pastime’.
Then, the internet quickly began to alter so many aspects of our lives, and a handful of shrewd developers took it upon themselves to create a new, digital iteration of poker. As we all know, uptake could not have been stronger, and in no time at all this new genre began a steady climb toward the vertiginous acclaim it holds to this day.
Now, it falls naturally into a category all of its own – and yet, for the most part, remains under the much broader umbrella of the online gaming sector.
For anyone who has been following this industry’s growth over the past two to three decades, however, it is clear that online poker has moved beyond the status of ‘game’ and is now resting comfortably on the fringes of professional eSports. Read more below.
Is Poker an eSport?
eSports are, by and large, defined as competitions that take place within a video game. Rather than playing as themselves, competitors play via characters within that game. Of course, this only offers a very vague explanation of eSports, but it demonstrates the key difference between eSports and online poker.
In this genre, the players enter and play as themselves; the only significant difference between IRL and online matches is the fact that the players are not in the same room. This means that, even in the case of professional tournaments hosted by WSOP-partnered sites like GGPoker, online poker exists as more than a game, but something that retains a significant difference to equally popular eSports.
Still, the unique position that the leading online poker hosts and developers have carved for themselves within this new and changeable landscape is not some unstable ‘grey area’. Rather, the continued growth of the genre – and, for that matter, the industry – of online poker is testament to the value of its unrivalled offerings. Professional players like Daniel Negreanu have made a decisive move toward the digital arena; the genre enjoys significant attention on massively popular streaming sites like Twitch; it holds a global presence and hosts annual events enjoyed by innumerable spectators and players around the world.
While the exact definition of its place within the digital landscape of gaming and competitive eSports remains vague, its popularity enjoys an enviable clarity – one that promises plenty more growth and development in the years to come.
What about: the non-professionals?
Of course, notions of online poker pioneering a unique position within the digital realm are much better suited to instances of professional eventing, rather than everyday gameplay between amateurs – or even complete beginners.
For many, online poker represents a great new platform for the game – but, due to the casual, fun nature of their hobby, it remains just that: a game. The same goes, however, for football or chess – it exists on a wide spectrum, from the most casual competition to games worth millions of dollars. Online poker represents a digital iteration of these sports, and will no doubt continue to grow in significance as developers invest more and more time and attention into perfecting its offerings for the pros and amateurs alike.