The crossover between poker and esports is there for all to see, and has been ever since legendary StarCraft player Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier established himself as one of the best poker players in the world. It is not difficult to see why this is the case: Similar age demographics have seen young gamers grow up as both online gaming and online poker have developed at a similar pace, providing an accessibility not afforded to previous generations. When coupled with competitive spirit, we have seen those at the top of one pursuit drawn to the other, and both have successfully canvassed widespread appeal, be it in the form of sponsorship or broadcasting, by positioning themselves as sports. Within this context, it makes sense for there to be common ground in terms of quantifying the ‘best’ in any given game, so it should not come as too great a surprise to see those behind poker’s ranking system, the Global Poker Index, turn their attention to the world of esports: --- “For me, I see poker as a big brother to the esports industry,” Alexandre Dreyfus tells me. Dreyfus and his company Mediarex have developed the Global Poker Index after acquiring a relatively young ranking system in 2012, culminating last year in the launch of the Global Poker League, a series of televised team events which took its cue from esports broadcasting and featured some of poker’s biggest and most established players. “When you look at the top 10 poker players, they all are 21-35 years old and have something of a gaming background even if this is just playing games at home, but 15 years ago this wasn't the case,” he says. “It used to be people like Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey, who weren't gamers at all. We've seen such a shift with poker demographics that pushes us that much more into the gaming space." The next step, he explains, is to expand beyond poker and create an authoritative ranking system across a number of esports titles – something he aims to do by expanding the existing system to incorporate rankings for CS:GO, DOTA 2 and more. He points to the likes of ElkY, and to former Counter-Strike pro Griffin Benger, who won more than $1m for his seventh-place finish at the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event. However, he also recognises those who have moved in the other direction, including Adrian ‘Lifecoach’ Koy, who traded poker in for Hearthstone before retiring from the latter earlier this year. “Our goal, as has been the case in the past with poker, is to never compete with the existing ecosystem in that we do not want to do something that exists already. “We just want to grow the category, to grow the games, to grow the events, and we're gong to bring our mindset to these arenas.” The Gaming Player Index, as the new database will be known when it launches later this year, will see players ranked across a number of different titles. However, rather than treading on the toes of existing structures, the aim is to remain agnostic and to listen to players when it comes to establishing relevant criteria. Dreyfus has pledged to emulate the Global Poker Index by involving players in the conversation when it comes to establishing criteria for an efficient ranking system. And, while there may be scepticism when it comes to any newcomer to the space, he hopes the creation of a GPI player council will give the ranking system a level of authority while continuing to ensure it sits separate from the games themselves. *** There can be a temptation, when positioning esports alongside more traditional sports such as American football, basketball or soccer, to ape the ratings systems used in those fields. However, such an approach fails to acknowledge the differing purposes of statistics or statistical research across these areas. When measuring the top footballers in specific categories in soccer, for example, the target audience can include coaches and scouts intent on running the rule over existing squad members or potential recruits. In esports, with different structures in place, there is not the same requirement and – in some cases – not the depth of variables to consider. In this regard, there is arguably more of a parallel with individual sports despite the importance of a team structure in advancing certain games, with a tennis-style ranking system – allowing individual players to compare their personal achievements to those of their opponents – potentially providing a better fit. This also provides a system where talented free agents can become more visible within the wider ecosystem. Elements of this already exist in ranking systems such as HLTV.org’s CS:GO statistics, but the goal of the GPI is to produce something all-encompassing for a variety of games. The challenge will come, in part, in ensuring the breadth of coverage does not dilute the quality or accuracy when it comes to one individual game, but the GPI’s background – ranking hundreds of thousands of players based on their results in live tournaments across dozens of countries – gives them confidence of producing the same depth for live and online esports results. Dreyfus has already established partnerships with media groups in countries such as the United States, France and China, and hopes a reliable and trusted ranking system will allow coverage of esports titles to take a similar form to coverage of traditional sports, with narratives around one player replacing another as the number one ranked player, or a race for player of the year or MVP honours. --- The Gaming Player Index is not the first example of an outside force attempting to become an authoritative ranking system, but Dreyfus argues the difference comes from the fact that others in the space are not structured purely as a ranking company, and even fewer can provide the depth of coverage that has seen more than half a million poker players given ranking points, even for live tournament results which are inconsequential to all but a handful of players. “The idea is to become this neutral and agnostic ranking authority that will rank players in the same way as poker,” he says. “Poker players play for the money, that's true, but a lot of players – especially recreational and casual – a lot of them play to have a line in GPI to say look, this is my profile, this is my result, and to brag about that. “In esports it's the same, players want to brag about their results, so we want to be this legitimate authority that publishers, event organisers and media will use as an authority.” He recognises it can be tough to establish oneself as an authority, especially when one’s background lies elsewhere, and this is why he and his team have spent several years doing their groundwork, attending TwitchCon and multiple ESL events over the last two to three years. Liaising with players is important here, to build up trust if nothing else, and there’s no expectation that the first incarnation of GPI will be a magic bullet. Conversations with players will undoubtedly continue beyond the initial launch, with those involved recognising the need to remain neutral while developing an authoritative voice, and the relative youth of the esports industry means there may well be a need to follow a moving set of goalposts. As Dreyfus explains: “There is no hurry – it’s a long journey”.
Could esports rankings take their cue from the poker world?
Published on May 25th, 2017