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What Can Faltering Football Technology Learn from Online Poker Innovations?

Since its very introduction into the sport, video technology has been a divisive innovation within the world of football. From stonewall penalties being disallowed to clear handballs being missed, VAR is risking losing interest from spectators unless the faltering technology can quickly learn from other industries, such as the poker sector. 

As a result, we’re going to look at the shortcomings of VAR within Ligue 1, while also considering how it can learn from online poker innovations.  

Match-Altering Decisions in Ligue 1 

In France, the technology was introduced in the opening match of the 2018-19 season between Marseille and Toulouse. However, despite making a positive impact when placed under the spotlight by correctly awarding a penalty to Marseille, the implementation of VAR within France’s top-flight hasn’t been flawless.

When compared to other leagues, such as the Premier League, who have had another year to work on the regulations needed for VAR to succeed, it’s clear that there’s more work to be done throughout Europe’s established divisions as, according to Reims boss, David Guion, the technology is still based on interpretation. One of the most controversial showings that considerably affected the result of a match came back in November 2019 when Lyon travelled to the Stade Velodrome to face Andre Villas-Boas’ Marseille, with the fixture resulting in Lyon President, Jean-Michel Aulas, questioning the application of the technology.

In the highly-anticipated contest, Marseille took the lead after just 18 minutes when Dmitri Payet controversially converted from the spot. After consulting with the video assistant referee, the decision came about following a handball by Thiago Mendes. However, critics of VAR and purists of the sport believe that this was a prime example of the counterproductive nature of the technology, as Marseille’s Morgan Sanson handled the ball himself earlier in the match. This decision would prove to be costly for the visitors, as Lyon went on to lose 2-1. Furthermore, they would go on to finish three points behind second-placed Lille come the end of the season, and few could blame them if they begrudgingly looked back on their defeat to Marseille.

The Evolution of Tech in Poker

While the implementation of VAR within football is primarily being utilised in an attempt to provide better decisions, there also needs to be an element of consideration for the integrity of the sport and the enjoyment of spectators. In its current state, Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, believes that the technology risks taking the passion out of the game. Interestingly, however, where football is now struggling to find the right balance between decision-making processes and spectator experiences, the poker industry has, over the years, been able to integrate innovations which improve the table-based game for everyone involved.

Back in 1999, hole cams were first introduced during the Channel 4 programme, Late Night Poker. The camera itself is usually located under a glass panel in the table and allows television viewers to see what cards players have in their hands. Following its use on UK television, the World Series of Poker would later adopt the technology in 2002 and has been using it ever since. Theoretically, these cameras allow for spectators to keep up with the high-stakes nature of poker, and thus become more immersed in the game.

The introduction of hole cams has been pivotal to the growth of the game and many of its variants, including Omaha Hi-Lo and Texas Hold’em. Phil Hellmuth, who holds the record for the most World Series of Poker bracelets, believes that the rise in invested audiences has only been made possible through the acceptance of hole cams, according to a report by The Ringer. Crucially, this is a sign of the poker industry recognising its shortcomings and moving with the times to adapt to the needs of spectators. At present, online poker now offers some of the most innovative tech in the iGaming market, including premium-grade software on variants such as 7-card Stud and Snap Poker, in addition to chat features and secure sports betting.

How Can Football Learn from the Table-Based Game’s Innovations?

As mentioned above, footballing authorities are currently failing in their attempts to balance the accuracy and timeliness of decisions with creating an immersive environment that brings out the unrivalled passion of supporters. While there are distinct differences between hole cams and VAR, the poker industry has demonstrated how focusing on spectator experiences can have a significant impact on the growth of the game.

One of the main issues that many football fans have with VAR is that those in the ground are often left confused by the review stage. Although some stadiums have big screens which state when a decision is under consideration and for what offence, the details are often limited. It is suspected that supporters will be more accepting of VAR and be prepared to show the technology patience while the fundamentals are being refined by the governing bodies if there is more interaction with the game and its decisions.

Following their implementation, hole cams didn’t provide spectators with the opportunity to affect the nature of a game, but it did help to bring them closer to the action. At present, football fans are being deprived of that same luxury. While some are against displaying replays on big screens of controversial events, that shouldn’t mean that the provided information is limited. Ultimately, VAR is at risk of turning a lot of people away from the much-loved sport because of confusion and inconsistency. For that reason, top European leagues, such as the Ligue 1, need to listen to the desires of spectators and then act on those appropriately.

While Counterintuitive, VAR Can Still Prove Effective

Although VAR in Ligue 1 still requires a lot of work before being accepted by French football fans, it seems rash to dismiss suggestions that, over time, it could become a success. During the early years of hole cams, professional poker players opposed the introduction of subtly-placed cameras. However, as time went on, there was a widespread acceptance that the technology was helping to raise the profile of competitive poker.

Primarily, governing bodies in football need to follow the reasoning used within the poker industry when seeking to implement and adapt new technology, and that, fundamentally, means future decisions must be centred around enhancing spectator interaction and immersion.

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