Top Stories of 2023, #5: Game of Gold Impact And Success
Few things came as bigger surprise this year than the monumental success of Game of Gold.
For twelve episodes some of the biggest names and personalities in poker competed in a series of team challenges. Along the way, some were eliminated while others earned gold coins. In the final episode, the gold coins of the remaining players were converted into chips for one last six player tournament with a top prize of $456,000.
The first episode garnered around 485,000 views in its first six weeks on the GGPoker Youtube channel. What's surprising is that viewership doesn't seem to have dropped off by much.
There was a decrease in views for the second episode to 340,000 views, but a second-episode fall-off is not unusual.
What was unusual was the way the show retained those viewers. The twelfth and final episode hit more than 90% of that number (~320,000 views) after being up for just two weeks.
For four weeks in the Winter of 2023, Game of Gold was everywhere.
A Great Line Up
GGPoker selected an excellent selection of players to star in the show. Every one of the sixteen contestants had a solid poker game and great on-screen presence.
The initial line up included old school legends like Daniel Negreanu, Jason Koon, David Williams, Josh Arieh, and eventual winner Maria Ho. Plus up and comers like Nikita Luther, Kyna England, and Andrew "Andy Stacks" Tsai.
There were online poker legends like Fedor Holz and Daniel "Jungleman" Cates; established crushers like Michael Soyza and Kevin Martin; and streaming and social media personalities like Lukas "Robin Poker" Robinson, Olga Iermolcheva, Charlie Carrel, and Johan "YoH Viral" Guilbert.
Some of the show's success is down to the canny advertising that went out before it aired and some to the list of A-listers GGPoker's sponsorship deals put in front of the camera.
However, none of that would have been worth much if the show hadn't also hit a chord with its audience.
Game of Gold's first season had plenty of iconic moments.
There was drama, like the life-or-death struggle in round one that saw four of the best players knocked out as a team. There were epic strops from Williams, Jungleman, and Carrelthe last two of which went head-to-head in the most entertaining match of Indian poker ever filmed.
There was Iermolcheva's hyper-aggressive debut game, Luther's astonishing heads up matches, and Ho's final $456,000 victory. Throughout the show there was Robinson's good-natured and relentless optimism and the underdog tale of England's survival run, always at the bottom of the table, but not eliminated until the final.
All these storylines were supported by the show's main gimmick of having teammates watching every match and effectively providing commentary. Most importantly, the storylines brought the audience in, with viewers picking their favorites to root for and villains to vilify.
It was an engagement machine, sparking podcast discussions and drawing poker Twitter in thrice weekly post-mortems on X as the episode aired.
An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Building a reality TV show around a series of team challenges in the style of shows like Survivor was one of those ideas that is so elegant and simple that it seems obvious in hindsight.
Poker TV has been, for decades, been patterned on sports broadcasting. First poker TV followed the model of highlights-shows with the WSOP tournament broadcasts and its descendants.
Then with High Stakes Poker the move was to create some of the feel of a live broadcast by showing every hand. With the internet, shows went from feeling like a live broadcast to being a live stream.
Game of Gold's success in moving the model from sports broadcasting to reality television broke out of the pattern and has demonstrated that there is at least one other way to make a good poker show.
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