For a long time, the perception of online poker was that its heyday had come and gone. The game famously “boomed” in the early 2000s. In the aftermath of amateur player Chris Moneymaker’s win at the World Series of Poker, untold millions around the world got the idea that they too could thrive in the world of competitive cards. This led to a great deal more online play, which in turn fed into the development of bigger and better poker platforms. However, when the U.S. government crippled said platforms in 2011, the “boom” was over –– at least for American gamers.
Now, however, online poker is resurgent. Seven states have made cash poker games online legal again, and a handful more have momentum toward that end. And around the world, it’s believed that as many as 120 million play the game on the web. So, with online poker resurgent, we decided to examine a simple question: What’s the draw?
A Sense Of Community
Beyond spreading legalization, it’s possible that the pandemic has played the greatest role in bringing online poker back (so to speak) in the U.S. As was noted in a piece on pandemic gaming at WashingtonPost.com, “friendships thrived in video games” during periods of isolation and loneliness. This wasn’t just the case where poker was concerned, mind you; people connected virtually via everything from board gaming apps to larger-than-life multiplayer console adventures. But rest assured, poker was part of the equation. Through free-to-play sites, cash games in states allowing them, and even over video chats, friends connected via poker to enjoy a sense of community. And so far, every indication is that many who sought out this activity during isolation have continued to enjoy it.
An Alternative To In-Person Poker
On a similar note to that of finding community, it’s worth pointing out that online poker also offered a specific alternative to in-person games –– which all but disappeared at the height of the pandemic. As a piece on poker and Covid-19 by Poker.org put it, the online game “filled a void” when casinos shut down. Players all around the world took to the virtual tables to enjoy their hobby. Even in American states that didn’t (or still don’t) support real-money gaming, platforms like Americas Cardroom and Ignition, in addition to numerous apps, saw increased activity. In short, online poker was all there was, and the resulting spike in its popularity has endured.
In a previous article titled “Played To Death”, it was noted that multiplayer gaming today just isn’t what it used to be. Many of us grew up on multi-person experiences that amounted to one-on-one Madden games, or parties over fighting arcades. We loved the experience of linking up with friends to compete. By contrast, the most popular multiplayer games today are often those in which people dive into contests with groups of strangers they’ve never met. It’s multiplayer, and it’s competitive, but it feels less real (or at least less important). In online poker, however, players can still get a sense of old-school multi-person gaming. While it’s certainly possible to enter games and tournaments against strangers, many of the leading apps and sites allow users to create their own games. In other words, you can set up a virtual poker contest among friends that feels a bit more like real competition.
In addition to competition that feels real, poker sites also offer refreshingly fair competition –– which is increasingly difficult to find in other realms of online multiplayer gaming. For one thing, the much-publicized “freemium” model has created an imbalance in many mobile and online games. As explained at SlashGear.com, this model is one in which games are free, but perks and content within games cost money. And unfortunately, it’s led to divides in which those players who choose not to pay for extras can’t compete with those who do. For another thing, with the rise of eSports and competitive gaming, even some of the most popular online multiplayer experiences are now divided between elite players and… well… everyone else. By contrast, poker sites and apps tend to offer games for all types of players. So, while there are divides, you can almost always find a game or tournament that is fair to you and your level.
A handful of additional factors beyond these also contribute to online poker’s resurgent popularity. The variety of apps and online sites is excellent; the pure quality of the games has improved; there are even some new technologies (such as virtual reality) making games more interesting. In an overarching sense however, it is the ideas above that have helped to make online poker a major part of the modern gaming world.