The World Series of Poker is unlike any other poker tournament series, and no one understands this more than Mori Eskandani, President of PokerGO and Poker Hall of Fame inductee.
After a year on the sidelines due to the postponement of the live WSOP in Las Vegas, PokerGO will be back in the saddle for the 2021 series to produce live coverage of approximately 25 gold bracelet events, including the WSOP main event.
We recently caught up with Eskandani to discuss PokerGO’s WSOP broadcast production and plans.
Donnie Peters: We’re entering a unique year for the WSOP. The series takes place in the fall for the first time ever and there hasn’t been a live series in more than two years. The poker audience is understandably more eager than ever to consume poker coverage. Do you feel any added pressure on you and your team this year?
Mori Eskandani: I would not call it added pressure, but definitely added excitement to get back to the Rio and get started on what has always been the most exhilarating poker series for the last 50 years!
DP: What can poker fans and viewers from around the world expect from PokerGO’s WSOP coverage this year?
ME: Poker fans can expect approximately 25 bracelet events to be live streamed along with every day of the main event. For the bracelet events, we plan to start the coverage when we get down to the final five players.
DP: What went into the decision to start the live streams with five players?
ME: We raised this option with the WSOP in order to make each live event more enjoyable for the viewers at home. Ten-hour streams are rarely consumed in their entirety, so we wanted to devote our time and energy to producing a shorter, high-quality stream.
DP: What are the ingredients of a high-quality poker live stream?
ME: Aside from all of the cutting-edge technology we utilize to track the action… the players, stakes, and run of cards play a huge role in the quality. Production hits the jackpot when the cards run hot and the players react accordingly.
DP: Which broadcasters can the audience look forward to hearing as part of PokerGO’s WSOP commentary team?
ME: As usual, we will have a wide variety of commentators for this year’s series. Lon McEachern, Norman Chad, Ali Nejad, David Tuchman, and Jeff Platt will be back. And hopefully Antonio Esfandiari and Nick Schulman will jump in there if they bust out of certain events. We also expect Kara Scott to cover the main event.
DP: The WSOP is the largest poker event of the year, with so many moving parts. What are some of the challenges the PokerGO team is presented with when covering an event of this scale?
ME: We will have ordinary production challenges as every sports production faces, but there are some extraordinary elements that are unique to the WSOP, and poker in general. When the main event moved from a mostly post-produced show to a mostly live broadcast, telling the background stories of the players became much more challenging. Imagine showing up to cover the New York City Marathon and having no idea who will race? That’s effectively the WSOP main event in the early days of play.
Eventually, the field narrows and it becomes a little easier to know who to follow, but those early days are a challenge. Of course, in post-production it’s much easier to know who to focus on. And of course, this year will present its own unique challenges in regards to health and safety protocols surrounding COVID-19. The situation in Las Vegas and the world is ever-changing, so we have to stay flexible throughout.
DP: How much different is it to produce a broadcast of the WSOP main event as compared to some of the other events on the schedule?
ME: The difference is huge. WSOP gold bracelet events are one table and we usually know the final tablists the night before. That allows us to get ahead and prepare for a live stream. The main event, on the other hand, is hundreds of tables across multiple rooms at the Rio with largely unknown players. The main event also requires about five times more crew to tell the story. The two productions are incredibly different and require very different levels of preparation.
DP: How does producing a live stream for a more controlled event such as Poker After Dark, High Stakes Poker, or the Super High Roller Bowl compare to producing an event with a lot of unknowns such as the WSOP?
ME: The preparation for a studio-based event and a live event with thousands of people isn’t comparable. Everyone knows the biggest stars of the game. Our job during the WSOP is to try to bring the lesser-known players to the forefront as well as follow the chip leaders. But even that can be a challenge. How do you know if someone is actually the chip leader when there are thousands of players playing at once across the various rooms at the Rio? It’s tricky and it’s certainly a challenge, but it’s a challenge we welcome taking on every year.
DP: What do you hope audience members take away from this year’s WSOP coverage on PokerGO?
ME: My first hope for any poker show is entertainment. We all need a break from the day to day of the last 18 months, so we hope that the gold bracelet events and the main event can provide a short respite. As in all of our shows, we also hope that viewers learn something. Poker can seem like a simple game but there is always something to pick up and improve on.
Watch the 2021 WSOP exclusively on PokerGO.com, and use the sign up code CARDPLAYER for $20 off an annual subscription.
*Lead photo credit PokerGO