Online gambling giant PokerStarts is trying to crossover to the esports world with its new offering
Esports Betting Report

PokerStars’ Power Up: Can It Become An Esport?

PokerStars Power Up esport
PokerStars, a giant in the online poker industry, has built a new game called Power Up, crafted with esports in mind.

A surprisingly massive following has erupted behind video card games such as Hearthstone, most likely attracting PokerStars to join the mix.

PokerStars Power Up

Last month, PokerStars parent company Stars Group announced the launch of Power Up for real money play.

Power Up is an innovative new variant of online poker that meshes a traditional poker game with the excitement of modern video games.

“The game delivers an engaging user experience within a futuristic, immersive competition that brings exciting twists and special powers to players within the context of a traditional poker tournament.” Stars Group said in its press release on Power Up.

Power Up is not your typical poker game. Although it operates under the same basic rules as Texas hold’em, Power Up interjects special powers for the players that can swiftly change the flow of the game.

The powers — such as “Scanner,” “Clone,” and “Intel” — each contribute to Power Up’s unique gaming experience. In conjunction, “energy” will be needed in order to activate power ups — think “mana” in Hearthstone — promising an added layer of dimension in strategy as players must carefully manage their energy levels.

Game developers are hoping these added ingredients can attract a more serious type of virtual poker player.

Card games as esports

Created by Stars Group’s in-house development team with the aid of poker and esport professionals, Power Up is structuring the game around the professional gaming scene. If you’re asking yourself if a digital card game can succeed as an esport, the answer is yes.

Blizzard’s strategy card game, Hearthstone, has shown unprecedented growth evolving into an esport with an astronomical competitive following. Magic: The Gathering, a traditional strategy card game introduced in 1993, boasts roughly 20 million current players and is now picking up momentum on its online counterpart as well.

Digital card games unquestionably fall within the parameters of esports. With increasing numbers to back that proposition, PokerStars aspires to this status with Power Up.

Power Up’s esport potential

With the exposure, sponsorships and business endeavors offered to the up-and-coming elite esport titles, it’s no surprise developers are now tailoring their games to fit the space. Although a lot of companies are aiming for esport stardom, few are able to actually hit the target, prompting the question of what exactly constitutes a successful esport.

Just as much an art as it is a science, the theory behind developing an esport is complex enough to be a subject of its own. Power Up is still in its early days, therefore making it difficult to determine its true competitive outlook at this time.

Once the game finds its footing and a competitive meta is formed, players can then consider how the game will fit into the esport community through actual gameplay. Despite the ability components introduced being designed to add additional layers of strategy, the ‘energy’ and ‘special power’ features may be received as more of a novelty by competitors, potentially harming its overall aspirations as an esport.

Power Up is targeting an audience of current and former poker players, aiming to draw from its current digital audience as well as revitalizing past players’ curiosity of the new poker adaptation. It also hopes to draw players who might not have been poker players in the past.

Power Up is also a mobile game, a format that has been successful in today’s era.

Stars Group backs Power Up with industry pedigree

Power Up offers a heavy advantage with support in the form if its developer, Stars Group. Formerly known as Amaya, Stars Group boasts industry experience surely to aid with its latest production.

With a pedigree in live event production — having hosted poker tournaments throughout its history — PokerStars will have no trouble promoting similar events for Power Up. PokerStars currently offers real-money gambling for its online poker games and is doing the same with Power Up, which will likely sweeten the pot for potential new players.

In addition to PokerStars’ leading position in the poker industry, the company already has a few existing ties in esports. Back in May 2016, PokerStars sponsored three Team Liquid players, all former poker players, to play and stream their online poker games. The PokerStars’ interest and experience within esports certainly won’t hurt in its quest to bring Power Up to the forefront.

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Cody Luongo
- ESPN eSports analyst, Master's of Science and exploring the intricacies of competitive gaming. A communication specialist driven by understanding esports as a business and helping drive it to the next level of viewership & engagement. Favorite hobbies include sniping in Halo 2 and playing paintball on Sundays.