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The World Poker Tour (WPT) is adding something special to its Season XVIII events. It is entering an innovative deal with Theta Labs that will see the creation of the world’s first real-time Non-Fungible Token (NFT) marketplace.
Bally Sports Networks will broadcast the 18th season of the WPT starting on Apr. 18. Broadcasts for the four part cash games continue each week through May 9.
During the broadcasts, “in-show advertisement and promotional segments will direct viewers to the NFT marketplace to queue up, purchase exclusive WPT packs for a limited time and participate in the live auction for a unique legendary poker moment.”
The legendary poker moment in question is a tribute to poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton. The long-time WPT commentator died in September last year and is mourned by poker players worldwide.
The WPT will be auctioning “Mike Sexton: The Legend Hand.” This consists of a limited edition set of three NFT images. They will also sell “a limited quantity of Base set, Rare and Legendary themed poker packs.”
To access the NFTs players must register at WPT.ThetaDrop.com. The ThetaDrop website shows what appear to be digital trading cards, but the actual product will likely include multimedia and not just static images. The WPT remains tight-lipped on exactly what is for sale and at what price.
WPT CEO Adam Pliska sees greater fan engagement as an important element of the new NFT marketplace:
“Our exclusive NFT launch with Theta Network is one of our biggest digital initiatives to-date and for the first time ever we’re combining our global reach of live televised poker with an NFT marketplace, giving our fans an interactive, real-time opportunity to collect a piece of the WPT poker action.”
NFTs are “a unit of data stored on a digital ledger, called a blockchain, that certifies a digital asset to be unique and therefore not interchangeable.” They are built on the same technology that underlies digital cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. For NFTs, the technology is used to create provenance for digital content.
That is, the idea behind NFTs is to create a way to own “the original” of a piece of content, even when the content itself was digital to begin with and can be freely copied. While any number of other people might copy the art in question, only the NFT holder has the original. Think of it as the difference between owning a poster of the Mona Lisa, versus owning the actual painting.
A few weeks ago, digital artist Beeple brought NFTs into the mainstream when he sold one of his creations for $69,346,250 at London auction house Christies. There are as many critics of the NFT concept as there are believers, yet in the end, money talks.
One major criticism of NFTs is that the technology behind many cryptocurrencies is deliberately costly and inefficient. Not so for Theta Network, which aims to make NFTs “greener.” It can cost as little as one one-thousandth of a cent to create or transfer an NFT image using Theta, according to the WPT PR. It remains to be seen whether this lower base cost impacts the sale value of the NFTs themselves.
One thing is certain. If the WPT deal with Theta Network is profitable, either financially or from a marketing perspective, the poker industry will take notice.
NFTs made the news as a means of creating original artworks from digital sources. But they are more flexible than that. The WPT approach is to use NFTs to capture significant moments in poker history.
A tournament series creates a narrative. So does a big cash game where millions of dollars can change hands. Emotions run high as triumph and disaster occur with regularity. If NFTs can capture such moments, then they may have a market.
The concept of digital collectibles has shown a lot of promise. In one possible future, we could see fans bidding serious money for these moments. What would be the price on a complete set of NFTs showing every tournament win celebration by Daniel Negreanu? Or the replays of the final hands of Phil Helmuth’s record number of WSOP bracelet victories?
Mitch Liu, co-founder and CEO of Theta Labs sees this as a key selling point:
“We’re excited to launch the next-generation NFT marketplace with WPT, a unique opportunity to bring digital collectibles synchronized to live TV and cable broadcast to an audience of millions worldwide.”
Even online poker tournament victories can be memorialized with “official” NFT images of the final results. The future of any new technology is difficult to forecast, but perhaps in a few years NFTs will be standard both online and offline.
Here’s the broadcast schedule for upcoming WPT cash games:
Those interested in purchasing WPT NFT packs should tune in, as it will be during the commercial breaks that the packs will drop.