We are working on a reality show to appeal to larger audiences- Pranav Bagai, Poker Sports League
From e-sports leagues to wrestling leagues, innovative format leagues have been launched in the past. Adding to this bouquet is the Poker Sports League. With 1 million registered users on adda52.com and approximately 100 million poker players worldwide, Poker is gaining a lot of popularity in India. As the inaugural season of PSL prepares to kick off Pranav Bagai, CEO, PSL gets candid about his plan to raise the ante.
Some might argue Poker is not really a sport and more like a game. What is your stance?
Conventionally, to qualify as a sport there is a physical element involved. But poker is different. It is a mind sport - it is based on risk analysis, skill, mathematics, probability and decision making strategy.
Poker Sports League is a novel concept. When and how did the idea strike?
In 2015, Mr Amit Burman and I connected and he expressed his interest to design a Poker league. After developing the format of the league over a couple of months, the project was kept on hold for more than a year. In 2016, Anuj Gupta, Founder of Adda52.com – India’s largest Poker portal - expressed his interest in starting an offline poker league to me. Soon, Mr Burman and Anuj connected - leading to the inception of Poker Sports League.
You've got some heavy weight investors already. How could a bunch of first timers manage that even before the league kicked off?
Our founders and investors are very credible people in the industry. We have Amit Burman who is VC of Dabur and his involvement gives the league a lot of credibility. We have platform of Adda52.com –India’s largest online Poker website. Adda52.com was acquired by Delta Corp which is a public listed company and the acquisition in itself also helped us legitimise what we are doing with PSL.
Being in the Poker space myself for so many years also helped in strengthening the league further in the Poker community. The credit for this also goes to my colleague, Nikita Luther (COO, Poker Sports League) who helmed the responsibilities with me and sold off 12 teams with credible members owned by 12 experts. The first season had interest from lot of corporates and we had to reject a lot of them and had to tell some of them to form a consortium to buy a team.
In today’s day and age, lot of youngsters realise that Poker is a growing sport, they play themselves and understand that there is huge potential in the game.We have also been able to engage with active poker players within the poker community and all of them are equally enthusiastic about the league.
Poker involves betting and exchange of money, were you faced with difficulties from the govt to get it off the ground?
Our model is such that there is no betting. We have a prize pool. All our matches are free so they don’t come under gambling-laws at all. No one has to pay to play the game. The players have to showcase their skills to make it to as a participant in the team.
The grand finale will happen at Deltin Royale in Goa and the price money will be paid wherein 30% TDSwill be paid to the government and hence all of this is happening legally.
Different states have different rules for gaming. Will this pose a challenge towards standardization in the game?
All games played in various cities (online or offline) are free qualifiers. Whether or not those states recognize poker as a game of skill does not affect us as there is no money involved in our qualifiers. Our finale is happening at the Deltin Royale Casino in Goa where poker is recognized as a sport so the legalities are not an issue for our league.
Unlike other sports it may be easy for the attention deficient viewer to lose interest quickly. Is that a legitimate fear?
Our live digital broadcast of the finale will be 100% poker which will only appeal to poker players across India and world. However to appeal to the larger audience, we are also working on a reality show to add the human interest element to the game. The show will convey the emotions of the players, their journeys through the qualifiers, how they made it to the finale along with the support of their mentors and so on. This would help us get more viewers for the maiden league..
What is your long-term objective with PSL?
This is the first year and we are excited with the response received for the inaugural season. The focus is now the grand finale. Our aim is to establish Poker as a mind sport in the country and we want to establish Poker Sports League as one of the premiere league sports. In the long run we are looking at having regional qualifiers in almost every state with regional championships, club championships etc. We are looking at adding many other league within Poker Sports League to grow the sport of poker.
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