There is arguably no one more qualified to talk about eSports and poker than Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier.
Grospellier actually rose to fame in the extraordinarily competitive Starcraft scene in Korea during the early 2000s.
Eventually Grospellier was lured into the much more lucrative poker world and went on to become France’s #1 best player of all time while amassing $13.3m.
Since Grospellier left eSports, however, the scene has exploded and games like League of Legends and Hearthstone are threatening to become some of the most watched sports in the world.
Grospellier always maintained a love for eSports and even signed with Team Liquid to play on their Hearthstone squad in 2015.
eSports Demographic Huge Potential for Poker
ElkY is off to an amazing start at the 2017 World Series of Poker and finished second in the massive $111k buy-in One Drop High Roller for $2.2 million.
PokerListings grabbed ElkY for quick Q&A during a break from the non-stop WSOP.
PokerListings: How nice was it to start the summer off with that massive $2.2m score in the $111k One Drop?
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier: It definitely feels great. It was the biggest event of the series and you’re already up a lot. Just being chip leader on the main stage for two and a half days was great. Feels awesome.
PL: Does it give you the right mindset for the summer?
Yes for sure. Even though we always try to play out best, when you’re running good you tend to play better. It kind of snowballs.
I’ve been having some pretty good results — in Monaco, Sochi and even SCOOP — it’s kind of like training for this. You always feel good when you make a deep run.
I feel more confident now.
PL: What’s it like for you — someone who came from video games — to see the massive rise of eSports over the last few years?
I always knew it was coming. I was a pro Starcraft player in South Korea for like five years. Back then it was the only place you could be a professional gamer and I was the first European to go there.
I think this is only the beginning. It’s just going to get bigger and bigger. It’s definitely gonna replace regular sports because — for everyone who grew up playing video games — it’s much more interesting to watch eSports.
I might be one of the rare ones but I can’t enjoy watching regular sports. It’s just so slow and boring. There is so much more going on in eSports.
The new generation has grown up playing much more video games than going outside and playing basketball or football or whatever.
PL: Do you consider online poker an eSport? The lines between the two seem very blurred these days…
"To be honest, eSports are more exciting to watch."
There are a lot of similarities for sure. There are a lot of skills that you need to be successful at poker that are also good in eSports.
It’s a bit different because poker is such an old game that it’s a great game to play but — to be honest — it kind of sucks to watch. [Laughs]
I love to play the game but unless it’s like my good friend at a final table I hate watching it. It’s pretty boring when people take forever to play.
Even without tanking it can just go for hours with nothing happening, which would never happen in Starcraft of League of Legends.
Poker could be considered an eSport by definition because of the skills it takes to compete but the fact that it’s hard to watch in its current state prevents it from attracting more people.
PL: Can you talk a little bit about the unique deal PokerStars has with Team Liquid?
ElkY taking down a Hearthstone tournament.
I actually joined Team Liquid before PokerStars even had a deal with them. Then PokerStars sponsored the entire team.
There are actually a lot of Team Liquid members that played poker before they got into eSports.
There’s just so much synergy between them.
There are a lot of gamers who enjoy playing poker in their spare time and the same goes for poker players.
The eSports demographic is a huge potential for poker.
PL: How goes the Hearthstone grind?
Lately I’ve been playing a little bit less actually. I’ve been really, really busy with poker with trips to Macau, Monaco, Sochi and SCOOP on PokerStars. Now its the WSOP so I haven’t played too much Hearthstone.
Balancing poker and Hearthstone.
I will play when I get a little more free time and I can compete in tournaments. Also in Hearthstone you need to play a lot to qualify for tournaments.
I really want to be good at Hearthstone so I don’t want to just play for a few hours a week. That’s kind of pointless.
PL: People complain about RNG in Hearthstone. Is there too much luck in the game?
It’s very difficult to say. The best players are always going to complain, you know. It’s just like poker where everyone complains about bad beats.
eSports players complain because they know designers can actually make changes to the game.
If there was one company that actually designed poker they would constantly have poker pros coming up to them and asking them to reduce variance.
I think RNG is a good part of Hearthstone. Balance is always going to be difficult but I think it’s in a good place right now.
There were some times where RNG might have been a bit too high. Back in the time of Dr. Boom and [Piloted] Shredder. It was sick with Shredder because it might pop out a 4/4 minion or a 1/1. It was a bit much.
Those damn Hearthstone bad beats.
It’s really hard to find the perfect balance because you want to have RNG in the game.
You want anybody to be able to win. That’s what makes the game great, like poker.
There are bad beats in poker but if the best player won every tournament than nobody would play.
The same 20 players would win every single tournament. No one would play. The dream would be dead. Chris Moneymaker would have never won the Main Event.
It’s important there is some element of RNG. It’s very difficult to judge the absolute perfect balance.
PL: What’s harder: Professional poker or eSports?
eSports aren't easy.
They are both really hard. They are tough in different aspects. There is much more variance in poker so that can be tougher mentally but the competition in eSports is much harder.
There are far less eSports professionals because the variance is so low. I mean there is variance in Hearthstone but its much less than poker and it’s the only game that’s even in the same neighborhood.
There is almost no variance in games like Dota 2 and Starcraft. If you practice a lot at those games you are going to win. That makes it really, really competitive.
They are both really tough but maybe eSports is a little bit harder just because the sheer number of people that can actually make a living out of it is much, much smaller.
Twitch is making it a bit easier but its still very tough.
PL: Finally can you talk for a second about that bluff you ran on Phil Hellmuth with J-10 in the One Drop?
That bluff was so sick, actually. [Laughs]
"It's awesome to bluff Phil Hellmuth on TV."
I knew that Hellmuth was the only player in the last 20 that I could have bluffed that way. He was the only guy that would re-raise the flop with a queen.
I kind of knew he had a queen when he raised the flop. I didn’t think he would fold a queen on the turn because it’s just so strong.
I also haven’t been out of line against him in a long while. I’d also been playing a bit on the tight side.
I knew he likes to make big hero folds, so my plan was to check-raise the turn and then I was going to shove the river.
I would have never thought that he would fold the turn. It was just so crazy to bet the queen on the turn and than fold it.
It was crazy because Dario [Sammartino) bluffed him like 10 minutes before but because the live stream had a 30-minute delay he hadn’t seen it.
He got bluffed in back-to-back pots and he went completely nuts. It feels pretty awesome to bluff Hellmuth and watch him blow-up, especially on TV. [Laughs]