Live reporting the WSOP with Matthew Parvis

Live reporting the WSOP with Matthew Parvis

Matt ParvisThis month PokerNews were announced as the official live updates partner of the World Series of Poker after a two year hiatus. I used to work for PokerNews but since leaving them have for the most part been out of the live updates game, it’s something I simultaneously miss and never want to do again because it’s very exciting and very hard work. I was really interested to learn about how the live updates industry has changed since I left PokerNews, most notably because I feel that the ubiquity of live streams may have proved a disruptive force, so I caught up with my old boss Matthew Parvis to learn more.

BC: Congratulations on PokerNews deservedly becoming the official WSOP live updates partner. What made the WSOP come back to you guys after trying to handle it themselves in-house?

MP: We maintained a conversation over the past two years. When the WSOP shifted from being just a live event to also an online operator, it changed the commercial dynamic around what we as PokerNews could and couldn’t do. It made it more difficult for us to find sponsors to sponsor coverage for a competing operator.

Clearly there are benefits to PokerNews in terms of traffic, but there are benefits to the WSOP in terms of taking the strain off them managing the teams both on the grounds, and behind the scenes making sure the user experience is top notch. That’s something we talked to the WSOP about, after having done it I saw the pains and hurdles you have to jump through. We put our heads together and think it will be a win-win for everybody in poker.

BC: It seems like you have cornered the market on live updates, at least within the poker media.

MP: I still think there are competitors out there, I just think the landscape for live reporting has shifted. Anyone who is providing poker content is doing a service to the industry, this is not the lucrative industry it was ten years ago. The companies that are still investing in a product, not only for the die hards who have been in poker for ten years, but the industry still needs people like CardPlayer, PokerListings and PokerStrategy, who are trying to bring new people into the ecosystem.

BC: The biggest change in live tournament reporting since I was last involved is how impressive and ubiquitous feature table live streams are now. Are they a complement or a competitor?

MP: It certainly altered things, especially when it comes to final table coverage. There is the question of whether the live reports should be in line with real time or the delay, ie. do we want to spoiler the live stream? There might not be a perfect solution, so we try and figure out what people are most excited about. Let’s say 50% of the audience are reading the updates in real time, there are also the folks who wake up in the morning and read through old posts from the day before, which is not something you can do with a live stream. If you are at work, you can quickly check in on the chip counts without getting spotted by your boss. I think the two are symbiotic, it probably does reduce the number of people clicking refresh on our live updates, but there are plenty of people who prefer the written word.

“There is not enough opinion in our industry”

leeBC: YouTube is blowing up right now and PokerNews has been doing that for a long time. Are you changing the way you approach your video content to reflect the times?

MP: As soon as you get comfortable with something you open the door for someone to get better at it. We talk quite a bit about how we adapt to the Doug Polks and Joey Ingrams, the folks who are putting out great content right now. To replicate them is not as easy for us, these guys are just huge personalties.

One of the biggest conundrums in my career is there is not enough opinion and outspoken media in our industry that are willing to take chances. I think the industry is somewhat unwilling to take opinion and outspokenness. It’s still a small industry compared to, say, European football. A writer in football who has never played football can say a goalkeeper played terribly, and for the most part that writer is not getting crushed. If I say x player made the worst play ever at a final table, if I did that I would get destroyed, for better or worse the poker community is very protective over the fact there are so many layers of thinking to the game. What I love about what Doug is doing in particular is he is able to come out with strong opinions but nobody can get on him too much because he has backed it up with an impressive career. The same reason why Daniel can be vocal about the industry. Doug and Daniel are qualified to have that opinion, Matt Parvis is not, now I may disagree with that, but I’ve gotten to a point where I respect that. That’s why our live reporting is more of a fly on the wall approach.

BC: I’d also add that the poker revenue model influences this. If we got paid for clicks then creating more controversial content likely would reap rewards, but with the affiliate model we are invariably beholden to certain sites and also have to be advocates of the game and not cause controversy irresponsibly like the mainstream media does.

MP: The industry is still very much in its infancy. There are only a handful of advertisers really investing in the poker industry. Until we are more accepted in the mainstream, that’s going to be an issue. That’s not to say we can ignore controversial stories in the industry. I’ve learned there are certain envelopes not worth pushing, I’m sure lots of writers avoid certain topics because the vocal minority might crush them or it would look bad from a business perspective. There are a lot of tricky situations you have to navigate.

BC: There has always been a debate about whether you should focus on the big names, the whole of the field or just the amateurs whose friends are asking about them, in a tournament report. What is the right balance for who we should follow in live reporting?

MP: If we are covering an event with Phil Ivey in, vs an event without Phil Ivey in, there is certainly going to be increased traffic and excitement with the bigger names involved. It’s certainly really important for any live reporting team to focus on the names the broadest section of the audience is interested in. One of the reasons we always seem to be in the equation with live updates is that we have a very diverse team who is able to spot players your average fan is not. It’s the reason why we have team members from Asia, America, Europe, Australia. It’s important that we have a blogger that can spot a player who was at the final table of EPT Deauville Season 6. The guys and girls that are flying under the radar. That provides an enhanced level of coverage that you couldn’t that if you were sourcing a team exclusively from Las Vegas.

The WSOP is why I came up with MyStack, which is a user generated chip count app. It works at big events like the WSOP. I can’t count how many times somebody has come up to me on Day 1 with 3,000 players asking how they can update their friends on how they are doing. It’s pretty difficult to expect to get coverage in a 3,000 runner tournament when you have never played live before. Between the experience of our bloggers, the accessibility of our platform and the reemergence of Mystack as a tool for the super casual player who just wants to update their friends, I’m really excited for the options that we’ve got.

“It’s vitally important to focus on recreational players”

251046_10150292814352265_3109898_nBC: It seems like a good time to relaunch MyStack given how broadcasting what we are doing has become part of social media culture.

MP: It enhances the experience for a first time player to be able to update as they play. They can tie it to Twitter or Facebook direct from our app, their name gets integrated into the chip counts at PokerNews. From the audience standpoint it provides more depth about the casual players. What is cool is that if somebody updates from Day 1 on MyStack and then go on to win it, you can go back and trace their steps in ways that we haven’t done in year’s past.

BC: One of the big conflicts for the industry is whether to treat the game like a sport with a focus on the big names, or to focus on making the game more welcoming for recreational players. Does PokerNews concentrate on the pro-centric side of things, given that somewhat drives the live updates?

MP: It is vitally important to have a level of focus on casual and recreational players for everyone in the industry, whether you are a player, online operator, poker media, live tour. We just launched a section on PokerNews called PNBlogs, it’s our take on the Huffington Post, which gave influencers in their field a voice on a platform with a vast audience. A few years ago it was popular to have a blogspot blog, but it was a difficult to build an audience. We are giving players a voice in the industry. We had a blog from a player about his journey to Vegas to see if he can play seriously, it really resonated with our audience, it had 60+ comments and got shared like crazy.

If you look at the stats online poker is plateauing but online sports betting and online casinos are growing. As a poker purist I’m not a fan of things like Spin & Go, but I get it, if it provides fun and excitement to potentially be playing for millions of dollars, then encourages players to take the game more seriously and start playing micro stakes. You’ve got to find a balance between them and the vocal minority of hardcore players who are really active and chime in on content. There’s a reason why the PokerNews Strategy section still has articles about starting hands. It’s super important to have that content available to people. If you look at early episodes of the WSOP they would start the shows explaining what a flop was. Now a lot of poker programming makes the assumption that people know how to play and use terms like triple barrel and cold 3-bet. Our pieces on early stage play probably performs better than our more advanced content.

BC: Now you mention it, I’ve also seen a lot of hard data over the year that shows the most popular content is that which is aimed at beginners.

MP: If you write a piece on micro stakes SNG tips you’ll get that vocal minority commenting they already know how to do all that stuff, but there are thousands and thousands of people who don’t. These are the players who replenish the small and midstakes, you don’t get there with advanced articles on game theory, you have to dumb down for people who have never played poker before. Poker has always been aspirational, it’s so important to not forget that when you are writing the content.

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