While some may be disappointed with the state of live poker this summer, for fans of online poker there’s never been a summer like the summer of 2020. Across the board, online sites are holding some of their biggest series of all-time, giving players and fans and an endless stream of non-stop action to sweat.
For PokerStars, it’s the inaugural $50 million guaranteed Stadium Series. A 102-event extravaganza spanning from July 5 – August 2 packed with tournaments that cater to players of every buy-in level. But it’s more than that for the online poker leader. For the first time in the history of the company, PokerStars is providing fans the chance to watch the online action unfold with cards-up coverage on a minimal delay.
They are pulling out all the stops, including bringing in their celebrated EPT Live commentary team of James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton to anchor daily coverage of the tournaments. The goal is to bring their fans the same high-quality production of their live events to their online series in a way they’ve never been able to do before.
“Previously, the biggest challenge was that it simply wasn’t possible,” said Hartigan, who serves as host as well as Senior Editorial Manager for PokerStars’ array of live streams, television shows, and the Poker In The Ears Podcast. “We couldn’t cover an online event cards-up on a short delay. Your only options were to follow the tournament in real-time with no hole cards or watch a replay of the final table 24 hours later. This will be the closest we’ve ever come to EPT-style coverage of an online series.”
“One of the differences between live and online is that online poker goes ****ing fast,” said Stapleton. “I know that sounds obvious, and there’s still the same number of actions but as a commentator, there really isn’t a lot of room to **** around. Especially cards-up.”
“Another challenge of calling online tournaments is there’s not a lot to riff on,” added Stapleton. “There’s no cocktails, no TD disputes, no stupid T-shirts or facial hair, and very little chat.”
The duo, who will be joined by guest experts in the booth including Sam Grafton, Griffin Benger, and Lex Veldhuis, will be joining the tournaments during Day 2 (or 3 when applicable) and will follow the action from the final 4-5 tables all the way through to crowning a winner, most of the time on just a 20-minute delay to protect the integrity of the game while giving fans what they really want.
“I don’t think anyone accepts card-down coverage anymore. We’ve always had to balance protecting the integrity of the game with creating really engaging content that appeals to the biggest possible audience,” Hartigan said. “The expectations of viewers and players have changed significantly in recent years. And, while I appreciate that revealing hole cards half-an-hour after the conclusion of a hand may alter activity, the pros of this approach massively outweigh any perceived cons. If you stream poker cards-up, you reach so many more fans and, hopefully, attract new fans – and players.”
Those perceived cons are not for Stapleton and Hartigan to worry about, it’s an issue for the PokerStars technical staff. The ability to showcase online tournaments is “brand new and fresh off the shelf” for PokerStars and it’s something they say they have been working on for some time, all the while keeping their customer base in mind.
“We always think about the different responses our customers could have to anything we do. However, we’re fully confident in the mechanics behind cards-up coverage, and game integrity and customer protection and security is at the core of it,” said Rebecca McAdam Willetts, Associate Director of Public Relations for The Stars Group. “It’s pretty much the same approach as we would apply to our live broadcasts, and players are confident in our approach there.”
The cards-up tech isn’t the only new development for the PokerStars broadcast team. Starting with the Stadium Series, PokerStars has finally locked in longtime color commentator Joe Stapleton to a new exclusive deal, expanding his role in the company in an official capacity.
“Joe will be working exclusively for us, assuming the position as the second half of our leading commentary team with James Hartigan for all our live event broadcasts, when they return, major online poker streams, TV shows and other content we have in the works,” McAdam Willetts said. “He’s also going to be working with us in a creative capacity, developing and scripting new formats and shows.”
So, for PokerStars, a new era of ‘cards-up’ online poker broadcasting has begun and fans can take part by tuning into daily coverage from Hartigan and Stapleton on the PokerStars Twitch and YouTube channels. It’s over three weeks of action that the veteran commentary team is ready to tackle.
“I’m most excited about the production,” said Stapleton. “I truly believe that for our live productions we put on some of the best poker broadcasts in the world, and I’m super stoked we’ve got most of that team working on this. This isn’t going to be your typical screenshare-overlay soufflé. This is going to be a real show.”
“I’m thrilled to be finally giving an online series the same focus, type of coverage, and level of prestige as our major live tournaments like the EPT and PSPC,” Hartigan said. “Obviously this development affords us incredible opportunities down the line. Cards-up coverage starts with Stadium Series, but it doesn’t end there. I’m already thinking about what we can do for WCOOP 2020 and SCOOP 2021.”