While much of the online poker world seems to be moving away from the concept of sponsored pros, GGPoker seems to be doubling down. The highly publicized and controversial signing of Instagram star Dan Bilzerian earlier this year was part of what appears to be an attempt by GGPoker to capitalize on well-known personalities in the poker world and beyond.
Tied in to this new strategy is the recent rebranding of the sponsorship team. Main sponsored pros, like Bilzerian and Daniel Negreanu, are now part of GGTeam, and regional pros will now fall under specific regional teams like Team Russia and Team China.
Additionally, TwitchSquad and OmahaSquad have been added as sub-teams to focus on featuring the operator online and showcase the four-card offerings at GG.
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GGPoker has quickly become one of the biggest online poker sites in the world. With market penetration in a huge number of areas, and software that is rated as an industry leader, the operator has moved rapidly up the ladder of the online poker world.
Part of this strategy in recent times seems to be using high profile faces and names to bring more recognition to the site in the larger poker community, as well as capitalize on the individual followings of their sponsored pros.
With names like Negreanu, Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier, Fedor Holz, and Felipe Ramos, they have found big names who have huge audiences in specific target markets. With the addition of Bilzerian, that focus on hype is even more clear, as “The King of Instragram” brings a huge audience that may only have been exposed to poker through Bilzerian.
In addition to the main GGTeam, GGPoker is starting to push into specific regional markets with new ambassador signings. The concept goes back at least as far as the signing of Brazilian star Ramos as the face of their Latin American push.
But recently, with the addition this year of Mikhail “Innerpsy” Shalamov and Anatoly Filatov Team Russia is also filling out. The introduction of Team China also looks to be GGPoker’s attempt to appeal to the poker market in the world’s most populous country.
TwitchSquad and OmahaSquad
The latest additions to GGTeam are TwitchSquad and OmahaSquad. As the names imply, the new sub-teams are designed to take advantage of specific niches within the online poker world.
TwitchSquad members wear their hearts on their sleeves, letting viewers in on all the highs and lows of online poker as they live-stream the poker action. Watch and interact live as streamers like Michiel “Easterdamnz” van Elsacker, Patrick “Egption” Tardif and Hristivoje “ALLinPav” Pavlovic put it all on the line with cards up action in the biggest games GGPoker offers. And the TwitchSquad members bring more to the table than just poker skills – Canadian streamer Kevin “KMart” Martin, for example, brings a non-poker audience to the stream as a former champion on Big Brother Canada.
OmahaSquad on the other hand, is designed to showcase the four-card game on GGPoker. Follow streamer Fernando “JNandezPoker” Habegger and social media phenom Sasha “PokerSasha” Liu for tips and tricks to master the great game of Omaha.
The GGPoker strategy for GGTeam hasn’t been without its problems though. The signing of Negreanu came shortly after his exit as a long-time ambassador for rival site PokerStars, and on the heels of a string of social media missteps. Negreanu didn’t exactly mend his ways after joining Twitch either, suffering a ban from streaming platform Twitch after an on-stream tirade.
The more recent addition of Bilzerian to the team continued the controversial signings. While Bilzerian’s following is huge, his reputation is polarizing, with many of his followers lauding his free-spirit approach to life while detractors point to attitudes and social media engagement that seems misogynistic. As if on cue, when Twitch poker streamer Vanessa Kade expressed reservations about the signing on Twitter, Bilzerian responded in a way that seemed to prove his detractors’ point.
Nearly a month ago, the operator made a move that seemed an attempt to repair some of that damage, partnering with Fantastic Ladies in Poker (FLIP) and its founder, Daiva Byrne. It remains to be seen if this was merely an attempt at damage control, or if GGPoker is truly interested in fixing the damage the signing of Bilzerian caused for many women in the game. Byrne and FLIP are widely respected in the industry as promoters of women in the game, but the jury is still out on whether the move will do more to reform GGPoker with female players, or bring the FLIP brand down to its level.
While many of the sponsored pros and new additions to TwitchSquad and OmahaSquad are free from the controversy that might be associated with Negreanu and Bilzerian, they are part of a team that has had its share of controversy recently. It is still an open question whether the recent strategy of GGPoker will result in a reputational net gain for the operator, or damage the brands now associating with it.