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The Problem with Live Updates: Understanding Poker's Challenges
No matter who’s in charge of World Series of Poker live updates, criticism follows.
CardPlayer, PokerNews, PocketFives and PokerListings have all been in charge of World Series of Poker live updates at some point and they've all drawn critiques.
This year the WSOP is producing its coverage in-house. We’re just a few days into the 2015 WSOP and the complaints have already flown on Twitter.
Most of them are variations of the same question:
How hard is it to keep up-to-date chip counts and post timely hand reports?
Anyone who's done live updates will to you the same thing:
It's very hard.
The financial cost and manpower needed to produce fast, tournament-wide chip counts and detailed hand reports are too large to be feasible.
But there has to be some simple solution all you sites and poker companies haven't tried though, right?
iPad it Up
Over the years players and fans have made various suggestions. One solution proposed by poker pro Daniel Alaei seems simple enough:
One of the reasons live poker suffers as a spectator sport. It's unbearable to sweat at home. How hard is it to have 1 guy assigned to...— Daniel Alaei (@dalaei) October 21, 2013
Every 4 tables and have an iPad in hand constantly updating. And every event is like this.— Daniel Alaei (@dalaei) October 21, 2013
Writing hands down with paper + pen and running to comp to type an update is archaic. iPads and more staff will make things more efficient— Daniel Alaei (@dalaei) June 30, 2014
This system would actually cause more problems and solve nothing.
Issue #1: Efficiency
Reporters ditching the pen and paper to stand next to tables holding an iPad --we'll call them iReporters-- sounds good on recently-ditched paper.
But there's such a glaring fault that it's easy to see why it won't work. The iReporters are holding iPads. They're holding them.
At least one hand is committed to holding the iPad while the other types. At minimum, typing speed is halved.
There are a few reporters who do use iPads on the field but they use them as note-taking devices and still go back to their computers to write and post.
Additionally, website content management systems (CMS) are designed for computer, not tablet, navigation.
Zooming in to click something might just add one second, but that adds up pretty quickly on some CMSs.
When you add that to your slower typing speed, you're not saving time.
The iReporter-for-every-4-table law would also saturate the tournament floor which already has a fair amount of traffic from dealers, photographers, floor staff and tank-like ESPN cameramen.
Issue #2: Staffing
WSOP live update teams are never large enough. When you factor in the number of events per day and days off for reporters, a team of a dozen reporters is quickly spread thin.
A tournament with 1,000 players could end up with just two reporters. With 10-handed tables a 1,000 player tournament would require 25 iReporters.
Aside from their salaries, the company now also has to pay all these iReporters for flights and housing.
What if they just hire locally?
There’s a reason poker publications send the same reporters to events across the world instead of hiring locally.
Aside from knowing the poker industry, a reporter has to be able to work long hours while writing, editing and publishing content.
To hire locally an editor would have to show up well in advance to weed through applicants and train them before the event.
Even then, it isn't uncommon to have newcomers quit after a few days of live updates.
Now the burden and increased stress falls on the rest of the team.
Teamwork and Trust
There’s also a bit of trust involved.
Nearly every tournament reporter has accidentally seen a player's hole cards. This has never been an issue because a good reporter would never risk his or her livelihood by cheating.
A scandal like that couldn't just end the reporter's career; it could end the publication.
Would you be that confident in an underpaid, one-off freelancer?
A reliable team leads to reliable coverage. A scandal like this wouldn’t just end a reporter’s career but permanently damage the publication’s reputation.
Even then it’s common for reporters to succumb to the pressure and quit during the WSOP. Now the burden falls on the rest of the team to fill the gap.
Issue #3: Chip Counts
Why does it take hours to update them? With a nickname like Chip Bitch I feel like I can help explain.
I got my start in poker reporting by counting chips on the Latin American Poker Tour in 2008.
I'd walk through tournaments with about 200 players, get about 20 chip counts and update them on the website. This would take about 30 minutes and I'd do the same loop for about 12-14 hours a day.
I was one person whose sole purpose was to update chip counts for a small tournament. Sometimes I’d talk to my colleagues or listen to a few jokes and the counts would take a bit longer.
Now consider two people covering a 1,000-person tournament expected to do chip counts while looking for, finding, writing, proofreading and posting hands.
If they forget a player during a round of counts it could easily be a few hours before that player's count is updated again.
The Sweet Sound of Silence
As a chip counter the best thing you can hear is nothing. A good day only has a few complaints; a great day has none.
In one tournament I wrote that a bracelet-winner “was down to about 60,000” after a hand. A few minutes later he came up to tell me he had 57,000, not 60,000.
At that stage in the tournament the difference was less than a small blind.
The second chip counts are updated, they’re obsolete. They're also the biggest headache of any live update provider.
A few years ago ChipTic tried to solve the chip-count issue. During breaks dealers would put in counts for their tables and there’d be scrolling screens with everyone’s count.
While it was around it provided full tournament counts every two hours. It worked by having every dealer count every stack at their table during breaks.
Do you really expect a few reporters to do better than that on top of their other duties?
ChipTic didn’t survive the summer -- mostly due to the next issue.
Issue #4: Cost vs. Reward
Even if we lived in a world where an army of iReporters provided seamless updates, how would the company make money?
Live updates aren't profitable. Tournament organizers either hire third-party companies to do live updates or provide them themselves as a marketing tool and service to their players.
To be financially stable an independent live-updating company would have to charge readers in addition to advertising.
Who here will cast the first $10 for a service they’ve gotten accustomed to getting for free?
The Future of Chip Counting
The technology for instantaneous chip counts is out there, but it's expensive.
Tournament organizers could buy RFID chips, equip tables with an RFID reader for each seat and develop a program to collect all this information and display it with each player's name on a website.
Eventually this might become standard, but for now no one thinks the benefit outweighs the cost. Poker fails as a spectator sport because it’s not spectator sport; it’s a player sport.
If automatic chip counts were implemented would it cause a wave of new fans to flock to the sport?
What's it All About?
Not every basketball fan likes playing basketball but I’ve never encountered a poker fan who doesn’t like to play poker.
People who get drawn to the game are people who want to know more about the game.
They want to know why professionals do what they do at the table and they want to hear stories from the biggest tournaments in the world.
The largest poker story in history is how an accountant from Tennessee beat an old school Vegas gambler and won the WSOP Main Event after qualifying for just $20 online.
A complete hand history and chip-count record of Chris Moneymaker's 2003 WSOP Main Event would’ve been nice. But it wouldn’t do anything more for the game than his story.