Texas Hold ’em is one of the most popular card games in the world. Yet one company is looking to shake up a formula that began more than a century ago.
Earlier this week, Mediarex Sports & Entertainment launched a new poker site called HoldemX in an early testing phase. The company is using this platform to focus on a new style of Texas Hold ’em poker that combines that classic gameplay of the original with wild cards and bonuses that drastically change its pace and strategy. Mediarex specifically wants to bring together poker with the wild gameplay that makes online card games like Hearthstone, Magic: The Gathering, and SolForge so popular. With online poker worth around $3.5 billion in the U.S. (according to a Poker Scout report) and digital collectible card games worth around $1.2 billion in the United States (according to SuperData research), HoldemX is aimed at capitalizing on both of those audiences. Toward that goal, Mediarex raised $4.9 million in venture funding to bring HoldemX into existence.
The site is live now online (it’s coming to iOS and Android soon), and it presents a style of poker that seems unpredictable. In a HoldemX match, you play in 1-on-1 games against other real players. The goal is the same as it always is in poker: to get a better hand than your opponent while making bets. But HoldemX changes things by introducing an X round where you can use a secondary deck of cards that do things like randomly change one card to another or enable you transform a Diamond into a Heart. The game is not real gambling and instead is free-to-play with in-game purchases to get new deck designs.
In a canned statement, Mediarex chief executive Alex Dreyfus explains that he wants the new audience of people he sees enjoying Hearthstone.
“We believe that after 12 years, the online poker industry across social, freemium ‘real money’ corridors needs to adopt new, fun and innovative games in order to bring back disengaged players and effectively target new generations of gamers,” he said.
To get HoldemX ready, Dreyfus said his team brought in a number of poker pros as well as top Hearthstone and Magic players. And they … well, here’s another quote from the Mediarex CEO from the press release that we won’t alter at all.
“Since October, the game’s mechanisms has been tested by dozens of the most advanced poker players in the world and top players from games like Hearthstone and Magic The Gathering. We’ve thrilled by their first reactions, which vary between and we quote: ‘wow,’ ‘fun,’ ‘mmm …,’ ‘sick,’ ‘neat,’ ‘challenging,’ ‘’confusing,’ and ‘:).’ We believe we have the right foundation here from which to build a great franchise, one that will connect these communities and expose poker-based gaming as a viable esport property.”
I tried Holdem, and I’m not exactly sure what “mmm…” means in relation to it. The alpha site looks cheap. Its interface and art design look dated — especially when compared to the flashy animations of Hearthstone or even something like a social casino or slots game on Facebook.
But whether HoldemX has a chance of working as an esport doesn’t depend on its look — the player community will determine if its the next Hearthstone or not.