I’ve been watching the GPL and loving it.
So far, it’s online poker, which is by far my favourite way to play the game due to the unsettling proximity of smells and egos in live poker.
I’ve watched online poker with hole cards exposed before, I often watch the FT replays of big games on PStars, but if there is commentary, I mute it.
I’m not watching those replays for entertainment, I’m watching them for education, and I want to see how people play differently to me in spots I know I’m weak in. I don’t really care what some dood/doodette has to say on the matter, my ego is big enough that I trust my own thought process, and I always question an “expert”.
Also, when I did watch a few online replays with commentary, it’s been really crap; I got the feeling the action moved too fast for the commentator and what they ended up saying was a load of old shit.
I’ve been watching the GPL for entertainment (in the same way I watched WSOP or EPT broadcasts), but it’s turned out to be highly educational too, particularly some of the heads-up games.
What I have been quite surprised at is the level of Twitch chat vitriol aimed at the two main commentators, Griffin Benger and Sam Grafton.
Team GrifGraf seem to take a lot of shit relating to them being “terrible commentators” and it made me wonder what actually constitutes a “good commentator”, and whether, given the GPL’s mission statement to “sportify poker” we should be judging GrifGraf as “sports commentators” or “poker commentators”.
I know nothing of physical sports. They seem a bit archaic to me, glorifying a prowess that was necessary when we needed to hunt our dinner, but is actually a bit redundant in an age where ready-made meals can be delivered to our doors.
The small amount of sports commentary I’ve heard during play swings between retarded “yes John, he’s kicking that ball”, overexcited “GOOOOOAAALL” and redundant “They think it’s all over… it is now”.
If I’ve learned anything about any sport, it’s been from post-match analysis, when they get time to be detailed during replays.
I may not like sports, but I like learning about any subject, and I have previously enjoyed two experts arguing over what happened as they watch replays together, but what they say whilst play is in progress has not helped me at all as a sports noob.
In short, I’m not qualified to comment on how GrifGraf match up to sports commentators, so if anyone is, please share your thoughts.
However, I have watched A LOT of poker, I haven’t watched Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but I have watched hours and hours of poker with a variety of analysts/commentators, so I feel like I should be qualified to talk about where GrifGraf sit in that line-up.
The Wiki page on poker commentators lists 77 names, a list which doesn’t yet include GrifGraf but does include British comedian Richard Herring (is that guy into everything? Profile building genius!).
There are a lot of the names on the list I don’t recognise as “commentators” I would name them as players, a few names I don’t recognise at all, and some are not commentators, they are presenters.
It would seem that Wiki, one of my favourite educational tools, doesn’t know what constitutes a great poker commentator.
Two of my favourite commentary teams are, perhaps predictably, Lon McEachern/Norman Chad and James Hartigan/Joe Stapleton.
It could just be said that they have massive platforms, and this is why I think they’re so great, but I believe it’s more than that.
Both of these teams nail the straight man/comic stock character roles, (a trope that far predates televised poker) they know poker, and keep up with the changing nature of the game. Most importantly, they just “click” together, they have a symbiotic chemistry meaning that the whole of the pairing is much greater than their individual presenting power.
I listen to quite a lot of comedy podcasts, nothing to do with poker, and the importance of chemistry is loudly apparent when there’s two people sharing airtime.
When they don’t bounce off each other, don’t share the same sense of humour or fail to set each other up, it will be a bad podcast; when they do, it’s magic.
It’s a formula that can’t be bottled or bought, either two people have a unique chemistry, or they don’t; you can’t practise it, you can’t copy it and you can’t fake it.
Nor is it a concept unique to the entertainment industry, when we meet someone with whom we have this chemistry, they usually become our best friends in real life.
It’s not only that we like them, it’s that we like ourselves when we’re with them; it’s a beautiful human moment.
I do think GrifGraf have this chemistry, there is something of “The Odd Couple” about them; Graf’s on a mission to get the rent paid and Grif’s getting excited by ways to escape the seriousness of life.
It also has the air of a new relationship about it. I don’t know what their deal is, if they’ve spent a lot of time hanging out together in the past, then I could be wrong about the chemistry. However, I get the feeling they were only acquaintances or casual friends before the GPL, and they are settling into eachother, and I’m quite enjoying watching it happen.
That said, I think Graf can be a bit cruel and Grif can be a bit silly, and neither is sure how to respond to it.
I don’t know if this is a directorial issue, one cannot just let the talent loose on the set, they need to be given a clear line of direction from a producer, they have to be told “this is the image and characters you need to present.”
Sometimes Graf hushes Grif in the way a mother might talk over an annoying child, and Grif looks a bit wounded. Then Grif does something daft and Graf looks like he’s wondering why he’s sitting next to a total maniac; it can be a little uncomfortable to watch.
I think the boys need to sit with a broadcast producer and watch all the replays to pick out the moments where the magic happens, and there have been many magic moments.
There is an element of subjectivity about this, but sometimes they’re brilliant together.
I thought this was particularly the case in the broadcast on Thursday 12th May, they had fun, they bickered adorably, and they were truly one unit.
Achieving this at all is very difficult, so the chemistry is definitely there.
So if they’ve got the vibe, what about the actual content?
Everyone’s an expert in the Twitch Chat Box: that hallowed corner of the world for great and anonymous high-intellect. According to the Twitch geniuses, GrifGraf “are not as good as Hartigan and Stapes”.
Now, I love Hartigan and Stapes, but is what they do actually comparable to what GrifGraf are doing?
Live poker is slow, and HartiStape (that doesn’t work) are commentating on live poker. There is plenty of time for Hartigan to lay down some devastating analysis and Stapes to spew out irreverent metaphors like a 3rd year Poetry student on phet.
In addition, by the time we see these broadcasts, there has been time for a media team to work on an edit. Maybe Hartigan and Stapes are so super-professional that nothing is done to their output before we see it, but it could have been.
Have they ever done a sound re-take? Has a producer cut a witty comment from hand 6 into hand 470 when they were both tired and needed some techno assistance? Only their team know the truth, but it’s a possibility for other poker commentating teams in the way it is not for GrifGraf.
They are broadcasting raw and live in a totally unique and untried format, there is no TV magic available; yes, we see good Twitch streamers do this, but they are alone, and only commentating on their own hands, there is no speculative area, they are a one man show.
When you look at the speed of the hands, coupled with the fact GrifGraf have to work around the players talking strategy too, they are doing something that Hartigan and Stapes aren’t.
Equally, football commentators don’t have to wait for *insert footballer’s name* to explain his thought processes as he stopped the ball thingy going in the net thingy.
The “talent” become the faces of a total TV project, but they’re entirely reliant on the skills of the team behind them. The output quality of live television lies with the producers and directors; as viewers of the end product, we associate with the faces, but really, they are just the cover on a complicated machine.
I do think there are some issues with the level of discussion, somehow it doesn’t seem detailed enough for really experienced players, nor numpty enough to help total noobs get to grips with the nuances of poker.
I think they need to pick a box.
Are they aiming at people who understand these complex terms, or trying to attract new players? Is is possible to do both at once?
Personally, I enjoy GrifGraf most when they argue, when one has an opinion on a player’s methods and the other disagrees; this seems to be in line with a sports analysis approach, and well demonstrates the mutable nature of poker as a game.
The GPL is new, it can’t operate on the tried and tested sports format, nor on the reliable poker broadcast format. The GPL is putting its bollocks on the table and hovering a mallet over them; GrifGraf are the faces of a potential disaster, Hartigan and Stapes were never in that position.
The GPL is a pioneering concept, and as viewers, we need to think outside the box too.
If we just lazily compare it to poker/sports presentations that have gone before, we’re likely to think it falls short and miss the excitement of being including in the beginning of something new.
I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say that the way the GPL has presented poker will mutate the way we watch it in the future, across all brands.
GrifGraf are neither traditional sports commentators, nor traditional poker commentators, they are something previously unseen.
That’s what humans do, we move on, we grow, we change; sometimes we fail, and sometimes we succeed.
I wonder what would have happened if the human that discovered fire or invented the wheel had been put off by the negativity of those who were more comfortable with the old traditions of heavily-laden walking or eating raw meat?
To say something is “good” or “bad” will always be a relative statement; GrifGraf and the GPL are currently incomparable, and that is where greatness begins, every single time.