The Asian Poker Invasion
This week, there was a major announcement in the poker world that has a lot of people sitting up and listening. The World Series of Poker announced that it will be taking its brand to China with a new series of bracelet and ring events. Ty Stewart, the Executive Director of the WSOP, was quoted when making the announcement:
“I’m incredibly excited and proud to stand here today. We’ve joined forces with Tencent to bring the number one trophy in all of poker to China. This 10-year agreement is the longest in history, and we work together to make poker the biggest it’s ever been. WSOP China will begin this year, in December.”
There are two things to notice from that statement. First, that the deal for WSOP China is a ten-year agreement, which is excellent because, to grow the tournaments to the size that they want, this will need a good decade of growth. The second, and more intriguing, part of this announcement is that the partnership in Asia is with Tencent. Those of you who haven’t heard of Tencent may be surprised to know that they are one of the most valuable companies in the world.
Who is Tencent?
Tencent has several holdings that could be of interest to the online gambling industry. They own several online based payment processing companies, which could perhaps help Asians make deposits at online sites in the future. Also, Tencent owns the wildly popular chat app WeChat, which is one of the most used products in all of Asia. Finally, Tencent is a major player in the eSports world, owning the most popular of the game titles, League of Legends.
All this adds up to a significant deal for the World Series of Poker. Attempts to grow the game of poker in Mainland China have always been difficult; without the right partner, most attempts have fallen far short of their goals. However, given the broad reach of the Tencent group of companies, one can imagine that this time around there will be more traction. Also, given the company’s expertise in the marketing and excitement of eSports, I think we will see some sort of collaboration, perhaps in the online arena, to make poker have the excitement levels that are currently being enjoyed by the eSports industry.
What Does it Mean?
This partnership is the third piece of a puzzle that is becoming more intriguing by the day. It started back in 2015 when Chinese-based Ourgame bought the World Poker Tour for $35 million. To date, they haven’t done a lot with that deal, but you can expect to see more events built for the Asian market with Our game in charge.
The next Asian play into poker happened over the last year when at first an anonymous Chinese private investor bought nearly 11% of gaming company Amaya’s stock. If that name rings a bell, Amaya is the company that acquired PokerStars for just shy of $5 Billion dollars. The Asian investor, now revealed as Hong Kong-based Tang Hao, recently added to his stake. It will be interesting to see what his plans are for future investment in the company and what that will mean for PokerStars position in the lucrative Chinese poker market.
All these moves in the last 2 years add up to one fact: poker is a big business in Asia, and many groups think they have what it takes to make a play for a large piece of that revenue. All three groups are taking a different approach to investing in the industry, and only time will tell if any one path will be the right one or if, in fact, the Chinese market is big enough for all three to be successful.
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