Black Ridge Acquires WPT & Allied Esports International: What it Means for World Poker Tour
25 December 2018
PokerBrave (921 articles)
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The World Poker Tour (WPT) has found a new home.

Three and a half years after the Hong Kong-listed Ourgame International Holdings Ltd. purchased the poker brand from bwin.party for $35 million, the company is being sold to Black Ridge Acquisition Corp.

In addition to buying WPT Enterprises in a deal worth approximately $213.8 million, Black Ridge is also acquiring Allied Esports International, Inc. as a part of the deal. Together the combined companies will be renamed Allied Esports Entertainment, Inc. and will be traded on NASDAQ under “AESE.”

Essentially, the goal of the acquisition is to apply the WPT’s business model and make it work for Esports.

Lyle Berman Reunites with WPT

According to the press release, which largely glosses over the poker part of the business in favor of highlighting its Esports plans, the deal was approved by both boards and is expected to close in early 2019. Black Ridge is set to facilitate the deal by issuing Ourgame $118 million in shares (11.6 million shares). Ourgame will in turn buy up 3.8 million shares of Black Ridge for $11.50 per share. Future stock options are also a part of the deal.

“In more than 40 years in the gaming and entertainment business, this is the most exciting opportunity I have seen,” said Black Ridge Director Lyle Berman, a member of both the Poker and Gaming Hall of Fames. “The capital from the Black Ridge SPAC will be used to expand AESE’s global property network, accelerating their first-mover advantage as the company continues to build a brand that is synonymous with Esports.”

The deal is a full circle of sorts for the WPT, which was founded by Berman, a three-time WSOP bracelet winner, and Steve Lipscomb. While both saw their associations end long ago, they were presented with WPT Honors Awards recognizing their outstanding contributions to the WPT back in April.

Frank Ng & Adam Pliska Remain on Board

Frank Ng, who will step down as CEO of Ourgame to become AESE CEO, added: “This transaction will be transformational for our rapidly expanding company and provide the Esports community with a fully capitalized, globally connected Esports enterprise capable of producing the volume and breadth of Esports entertainment products the industry is increasingly demanding.”

He continued: “By applying WPT’s proven business model to the much bigger, higher-growth global Esports business, we are creating an Esports entertainment platform that is long-lasting and positioned to capture the Esports monetization opportunity.”

Adam Pliska, current President and CEO of the WPT, will continue in those roles while also becoming President of AESE. He will join a team that includes Eric Yang (Vice Chairman), Ken DeCubellis (Chief Financial Officer), and David Moon (Chief Operating Officer).

PokerNews reached out to Pliska, who assures poker players and fans that the new deal will only strengthen the World Poker Tour.

“This arrangement assures that WPT will continue to be a force of innovation and high quality for many years to come,” Pliska said. “Its opportunities should increase as will our ability to innovate and reach even more players and customers worldwide. The management will stay the same as will its commitment to being a gold standard of the poker industry. My expanded role with Allied Esports Entertainment ensures that the legacy of WPT is preserved as a compliment to the exponentially growing area of esports.”

What About Poker?

Earlier this year, the WPT closed out Season 16 with a series of final tables held at the Luxor’s HyperX Esports Arena. During that rollout, WPT officials announced that starting in Season 17, all televised final tables would take place at the arena. With the latest merger news, that revelation is put into context.

While it’s not exactly clear what long-term effects the new brand and merged business will have on the WPT as far as tour events go, Pliska’s statements to PokerNews indicate that poker will still remain an important vertical, one which they hope to grow through a fusion with Esports.

“Players and fans can expect a powerful integration of poker and esports unlike anything ever before seen on the global landscape,” Pliska said. “The WPT already holds the most prestigious events in poker attracting tens-of-thousands of players every year to premier properties on five continents, and we continue to grow after 17 seasons. By leveraging the WPT, we will introduce the fast-growing esports audience to not only our poker events, but also to the WPT television show which reaches more than 100 million loyal viewers of the World Poker Tour around the globe.”

“Players and fans can expect a powerful integration of poker and esports unlike anything ever before seen on the global landscape.”

Back in May, the WPT told the press that they see poker and esports as complementary industries, Pliska even calling it “a symbiotic relationship.” With WPT now being part of Allied Esports Entertainment, they hope to capitalize on some crossover between the two entities.

“Poker and esports are now more combined than ever before,” said Pliska. “Given that the esports audience already has a significantly larger growth trajectory than poker, we will draw from what already has worked in poker over the past two decades by introducing the vibrant esports community into the poker ecosystem.”

One major change for players can be seen in the new model that will have final tables play out on an estimated 3-6 week delay in Las Vegas. Six of these delayed final tables are slated to take place at the venue this spring.

“The HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas features a world-class production facility and is the epicenter of the burgeoning Las Vegas esports scene along with the blueprint for future flagship locations around the world. There is no doubt we will hold more events at this world-class facility given that our players, spectators, and sponsors all love the venue,” Pliska told PokerNews.

“No doubt, you will see more developments to come in the upcoming months as we utilize the HyperX Esports Arena to be the epicenter of both platforms.”

As per other changes, we may just have to wait and see, but expect the HyperX Esports Arena to be central in the new WPT-Esports model.

“No doubt, you will see more developments to come in the upcoming months as we utilize the HyperX Esports Arena to be the epicenter of both platforms,” Pliska said.

As far as the WPT brand goes, Pliska was adamant that it will only continue to grow, expanding its reach through the fast-growing industry of Esports.

“The WPT brand will now be exposed to even more players and viewers,” said Pliska. “Through its network, Allied Esports reaches a global audience with branded events and distributable content unlike anyone else in the industry. Both the esports and poker communities will be exposed to new gaming opportunities and poker throughout the world. Esports is a key driver of the global gaming market, and is the fastest-growing form of entertainment in the world, bigger than music and movies combined.”