Poker Central Continues Steady Flow of Content With Transition to Online Events

POKER PROductions developed a virtual studio that mirrors the real-life version

Poker Central has been the prime destination of 24/7 poker action for a number of years, but, when the coronavirus shut down all physical competitions, the linear and digital network shifted to an online format. POKER PROductions, the company responsible for getting these broadcasts on-air, has aided this transition with an authentic, virtual studio and remote workflows that bring all the participants to the table.

“Having poker on digital platforms is not a new thing because a lot of players made videos as a teaching tool or [allowed] viewers to watch them play and see their hands,” says Mori Eskandani, founder/executive producer, POKER PROductions. “Once COVID-19 hit the entire poker world and a huge surge of players went from live games into digital games, we decided to create this kind of studio.”

Full Virtual House: Team Reconstructs PokerGO Studio for Authentic Environment
To give fans a central hub during the broadcast, the production team decided to create a replica of its PokerGO studio, which is located in the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. To differentiate this virtual area from the typical online platform, the team wanted as much validity and authenticity as possible.

Poker Central developed a virtual studio that is a replica of its physical PokerGO location in Las Vegas.

“When a streamer is playing a game or broadcasting on Twitch, you can see only one person’s hole cards,” says Dan Gati, executive producer, POKER PROductions. “Our software is able to take all of the information and data from their hand and show everybody’s hole cards in a very short turnaround.”

In addition to providing the familiarity of a traditional event, the digital representation of the match incorporates the same camera angles used on linear television.

“Inside this environment,” Gati adds, “it looks like the players are sitting in the studio, and we have camera moves that can show a leaderboard, an iso of one of the competitors, or a flop shot that you might see in a televised poker event. There are endless possibilities within this platform to make [productions] better and to cater to the needs of our viewers.”

Around the Table: Commentators, Players Rely on Remote Comms
With brick-and-mortar locations closed or operating at limited capacity, Poker Central is deploying remote capabilities. With a full schedule of global events, the company’s partners could be located outside the U.S. For conversations amongst the eight to 10 staffers that take part in any individual event, there is a plan in place for internal use.

Unlike with traditional poker platforms, viewers are able to simultaneously see the hands of each competitor.

“The hub of our operation is in Las Vegas, but we have producers who are situated in New York and Los Angeles,” Gati notes. “For nonessential operations before and after the production, everything is done either in Slack or WhatsApp. During the production, we’re able to use Skype and have direct communication with the announcers and/or guests as needed. The same is true for people who are creating the virtual studio hands as well.”

Adapting to Challenges: Online Competitions Come With Delayed Feeds
In addition to potential communication problems, another challenge is to adapt to an ever-changing rulebook outlined by different partners. This aspect of the production team’s efforts can be accomplished only by adjusting on the fly.

“Instead of our inviting players to come [to our physical studio], we are being invited to go over [to their online platform],” says Eskandani. “For example, in the studio, we have the hand information, but now it’s challenging because different companies have different ways of transmitting this data. Sometimes, it’s really easy for us to interface everything with our system; other times, we need extra operators to manage this.”

Poker Central wanted as much authenticity to matches as possible by adding elements like live commentary and statistics.

In the current format, online tournaments require a delayed feed for the viewer. As with information on players’ hands, each partner has its own standards on when fans can view this content.

“It may be 24 hours before we can put [matches] on for people to see, or it could be delayed 30 minutes to an hour,” says Eskandani. “There are a lot of challenges to make adjustments for broadcasts between the studio and the operators.”

Building Toward Something Bigger: Poker Central Aims for a 100%-Live Show
Up next for the team is the Poker Masters Online (PMO) Pot Limit Omaha Series June 21-29. With a total of 29 events, the top performer in the overall series will win the PMO Pot Limit Omaha Championship and will be awarded with the Purple Jacket and a $50,000 bonus on top of the cash they have already won. In the final two days, players will compete to become the first PMO Pot Limit Omaha Series Main Event champion, with a $1.5 million prize pool guaranteed. A further $500,000 will be paid out in the Mini Main Event.

With an unforeseeable end to the pandemic, more events will be produced in this manner, allowing the entire staff to tinker and find further improvements. Some refinements include limiting a game to six players to prevent clutter and congestion at the table. The ultimate objective is still in sight; enhancing the virtual product will take the team another step closer to it.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Eskandani. “The goal is to re-create the real thing with six players sitting at the table. We have our eyes set on having a live video of all the players and syncing [all the video]: you’re watching them play, and you’re able to interact with them. We’re trying to find a spot where all sides are happy, including traditional cable viewers as well as the younger audience.”