If you’ve been battling with ESPN and PokerGo’s search function’s trying to get details on the 2020 WSOP Main Event Final Table Live Streams, you can hang up your keyboards now. It won’t be happening. Neither PokerGO nor ESPN will be showing live footage from this year’s Main Event(s).
There are several reasons for this and at least some of them are sensible.
One of the reasons is flexibility. Ty Stewart, the WSOP’s executive director, explained to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that it is “hard to plan for live, given all the players will need to be tested [for COVID] morning of. Our international champion needs to get through all the hoops of travel, etc… We are hopeful we can plan for the full experience of nine players, but some luck will be required. So edited programs are the way.”
Live streams are less flexible than edited broadcasts. Try scheduling one of those when half your stars might not turn up, and the other half might call in sick.
There’s also the fact that live streams require more people to be on site than edited streams. The producers, editors, commentators and sound mixers all have to be on-site or else remote co-ordinated. If you reschedule, those people all get paid for showing up.
This sort of thing gives TV types heart palpitations.
So it’s good business sense to just point your cameras at the players. Then collect what you need and send it off to some guy with an Avid suite.
There’s also the issue of safety. With the brutal combination of COVID, the regular flu season, and people ignoring advice about Christmas gatherings, now is a good time to minimise your on-set staff requirements.
“We are kicking it old school with the 2020 Main Event,” Stewart said. “All the programs are edited. Partly so we can properly explain the unique format which came about on two continents, and partly because COVID has created so much uncertainty.”
Having additional people on set to make a live stream work isn’t just expensive if the whole thing gets canned. It also adds dozens of disease vectors to your workplace.
The WSOP is going small in your TV Guide because it needs to go small on set. Social distance saves lives.
A potted history of big pots
While the lack of live stream is a big break from recent tradition, it’s not wildly out of character for the show overall.
Since the 90s, ESPN has broadcast at least an episode or two of the WSOP final table. Things changed after 2003, when Chris Moneymaker had his epoch-defining win. After that, the Main Event coverage became a series. Multiple episodes charted the tale from Day 1a to heads up play.
Hungry for more content, ESPN started filming other final tables too. These were mostly hold’em events, and mostly when they were sure there’d be some big names at the table.
Then GSN brought out High Stakes Poker and proved that people would sit and watch every hand played for hour after hour, and the schedule swelled. They added more events, and longer coverage of the Main.
Hold’em exhaustion began to set in in the mid-2010s. So they tried the odd PLO table at first, then a couple of stud and draw tables too.
But the WSOP hit its peak in 2017 with the deal between PokerGO and ESPN. ESPN continued with a (mostly) edited schedule. PokerGO provided a (mostly) live schedule.
And what a schedule. Dozens of final tables went out in their entirety. At least half a dozen different poker variants. It was poker Nirvana. 2018 and 2019 weren’t quite the same scale but still dwarfed the pre-PokerGO output. PokerGO continued to provide live coverage of the WSOP final tables, and the entire Main Event. ESPN did a mixed live and edited broadcast.
The edited programs went out over the course of weeks but peaked in a live Final Table coordinated both online and on ESPN. To make this work, the so-called November Nine would go home for a couple of months after the summer’s WSOP.
Then they’d reconvene in the studio the week after the last of the tape ran out at ESPN.
2020 changed everything
Now here we are.
Crowding 7,000 people into the recycled air of the Amazon Room seemed like buying your manslaughter in bulk. So the PokerGO-WSOP-ESPN-GGPoker pact has been lumped with this weird hybrid online-offline event. That’s a format that satisfies, pretty much, no one.
This year the November Nine are a little late. And there are eighteen or sixteen of them depending on how accepting you are of GGPoker’s disqualification rules. “The December Sixteen” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, though.
The international table has played out, and the U.S. leg is about to begin. And after that there will still be a heads up game between the winners of what were pretty much the world’s two biggest satellites.
With one of the International players boycotting the final table, Upeshka Da Silva on the sidelines for a positive COVID assay, and one of the heads up players stuck outside the U.S., the decision to go flexible seems to be paying off for Ty Stewart.
For the viewing public, it looks like we’ve got a long wait before we get to see the action. And even then we’ll get just six hours (minus ad time) of a WSOP Main Event that many people view as being not entirely real.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Featured image: Flickr