Poker and data visualisation show the future of the game in the digital age.
Sport is increasingly an industry that embraces technology and innovation, maybe not convincingly when it comes to Football’s goal-line tech and video assistant referees (VAR) but all sorts of sports have bumped their broadcasts up to 4k+ or even 360 video and all offer data heavy and detailed on screen and online interactivity. On my recent trip to France to check out Dimension Data’s rider tracking tech for the Tour de France I saw the exciting technical solutions, expense and effort companies and broadcasters go to engage viewers through data, and we’ve also spotted and covered this trend in other sports such as rowing and sailing recently.
Of course, fans want to be more engaged with the sports and games they love via TV, mobile and online communities and as I found out at the European Poker Tour Barcelona held at the Casino Barcelona last month, PokerStars is a company on a mission to offer Poker fans more.Sport is increasingly an industry that embraces technology and innovation Click To Tweet
Even for knowledgeable fans, there are a lot of details and quick-fire action that @PokerStars want everyone to be able to easily engage with Click To Tweet
I had never played Poker, or more specifically Texas Holdem when I sat down for the Media Rep Poker Tournament and found out what a fast game it is and how hard it can be for the uninitiated to follow. More than half the time I didn’t know what the heck was going on and I was sitting at the table! Even for knowledgeable fans, there are a lot of details and quick-fire action that PokerStars want everyone to be able to easily engage with. They have seen their online viewing numbers jump in the last couple of years, so I was interested in how they used technology to help make such a quick and complex game attractive to a broader audience.The key to getting an audience into a game of Poker is to show them the player's hands, live as the cards are played and as the chips are bet Click To Tweet
The key to getting an audience into a game is to show them the player’s hands, live as the cards are played and as the chips are bet. To find out how they do this Tech Trends chatted to Jonathan Zincke, Senior Producer of PokerStars’ live broadcast team and found out a few tricks of the trade.
In the old days there was a spy camera in the table edge in front of each player and someone used to take a video still of the cards as they looked at them and manually type in the information that appeared on screen, now it is all automatic. The technology we use is RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification), every card has a chip in it. They are standard Casino cards, we don’t do anything special to them, but they cost about £80 a pack because of the chips. Each card’s chip is individual in the world so no two cards are the same anywhere. Explained Zincke. The tables are custom built for us with the readers embeded in and it only takes a second for the table to read the player’s cards. It’s commonly available tech that you can buy anywhere, all the technology in the tables is off the shelf but under the table the data is encrypted and secured. If you tried to hack into it, it would take a long time to even get the data for one card by which time it would be useless as the games are quick.
As I found while playing my fellow journalists the speed of the games was a surprise so keeping the viewers updated live is vital and covering a room full of tables is a challenge.
The encrypted data travels along a fibre cable to our graphics system we had custom coded and built Click To Tweet
We started using RFID about five or six years ago and what is cool for us is this technology allows us to switch quickly between different tables during broadcast and show all the action going on, before RFID we couldn’t do that. The encrypted data travels along a fibre cable to our graphics system we had custom coded and built. This reads all the cards on the table, the hands the players hold and the flop cards in the middle, there is a sensor there as well. We have televised all sorts of games, fun games streamed on Twitch, the $100K games and of course the main events.
Online games are popular with viewers who want to watch and learn the game or follow players they admire Click To Tweet
Live games with upcoming amateurs and celebrity players are very popular but a huge part of what PokerStars offer is online Poker, enabling players from all over the world to play together. These online games are also popular with viewers who want to watch and learn the game or follow players they admire. The Twitch platform is perfect for these broadcasts as it is optimised for streaming video and full of social tools, so unsurprisingly PokerStars is looking to innovate there too.
What we have looked at is how to superimpose graphics in a virtual way. We have looked at this but the technology isn’t quick enough at the moment for live use. We have started experimenting with live overlays for players on Twitch, so our system will send our game data to some code the guys at Twitch have written for us which will put up a chip count that the viewer can hover over a little widget in the corner of the screen and bring up an overlay graphic. We are looking at this and what other stats we can release, info that doesn’t interupt the casual viewer but is there for the knowledgeable person that wants a little bit more engagement with the details of the game. For the different levels of players and viewers, we want to cater to all types of fans and players.
I have embedded a PokerStars France Twitch feed above and you can see how involving it is. With the interest in Poker growing like never before channels like this are pulling in new audiences from all over the globe and PokerStars are always looking at new tech and what it might offer to enhance the audience’s experience.What we have looked at is how to superimpose graphics in a virtual way Click To Tweet
PokerStars are always looking at new tech and what it might offer to enhance the audience's experience Click To Tweet
When I looked at Dimension Data’s use of GPS tracking in the Tour de France 2018 I was amazed how much relevant info they could pull from only GPS data so I was keen to see how PokerStars might do the same and extrapolate more interesting and engaging stories from the existing RFID tech they use.
There is talk about using RFID tagged chips, we have discussed it at PokerStars as Casinos already use RFID to track chips, so we have looked at this, so when a player moves their chips we could have another reader there and however many chips were moved registers as the bet. Each reader would be on a different frequency so the card readers wouldn’t get confused with the chip readers. It’s extremely expensive so hasn’t been introduced yet but is quite cool, what you can do then is not only track the chips at a certain table for the TV or Twitch broadcast but track all the chips at a tournament giving you loads of data which would tell you details like who is the chip leader at that time. All the viewers and journalists could tap into that and have the up to date info instantly.
Tech Trends is convinced that for sports, gaming, gambling, media and data companies like FIFA, PokerStars and Dimension Data, learning how to use all this data to tell new and exciting stories that engage viewers in the digital age is the future of entertainment. All these seemingly different sectors are now on the brink of merging into broader entities as data starts to drive the entertainment and sports industries. One issue that will no doubt keep the lawyers busy is access and ownership of the data they gather and use, but from what Jonathan already sees in the data PokerStars keeps private, those could be very powerful stories indeed.Learning how to use all this data to tell new and exciting stories that engage viewers in the digital age is the future of entertainment Click To Tweet
Obviously a lot of the data we have back there we aren’t able to show the public but for us we can see the type of cards that are played and how they are played. If you see 140 hands of Poker in a day you can see the way a certain player plays an ace, or a pocket pair and then you can look into how they bet in relation to those cards which is quite interesting.
Quite interesting indeed! Watch this space for some very exciting news later this month as PokerStars take on the latest and greatest digital medium!