The PokerStars Boycott: Where It Went Wrong And What Happens Next

December 9, 2015
The PokerStars Boycott: Where It Went Wrong And What Happens Next

Following the announcement of a number of changes they would be instituting, PokerStars ate dozens of jabs in the opening round as the high-stakes poker community took them to task on social media and on the forums, and their seemingly informed critiques had public opinion firmly on their side.

PokerStars decided to remain silent, and the players were winning 10-9 on the judges’ scorecards heading into the second round.

But in true rope-a-dope fashion, when the high-stakes players moved in for the kill with their planned boycott, and with Stars maintaining radio silence, PokerStars pounced. Stars, through strength of argument, decisively won the second by a score of 10-8, sending the players reeling to the canvas, followed by a standing eight count, and the bell saving the players from a TKO.

The fight isn’t over, but the high-stakes players are hurting, and will now have to decide if they want to come to the bargaining table from a far weaker position, or double down and make an even bolder move?

I suspect it will be the former, as the players’ hearts were certainly in it, but their bank accounts weren’t. And this was the first chink many saw in their armor.

The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the purported crime

The vitriol the players were throwing PokerStars’ way didn’t seem to mesh with the idea that they only planned to boycott PokerStars for three days — after which many would presumably return to the PokerStars tables. As some people were pointing out, if you felt the company had “lied,” “cheated,” or “stolen” from you, why would you only boycott for three days? Why not boycott until your demands were met, or simply leave the site altogether?

This, along with the failure of the boycott, made many observers start to question the players’ narrative. Formerly sympathetic people were now looking at the player narrative with a very skeptical eye.

Maybe these shills have a point

The skepticism began in earnest when the “shills’ ” arguments proved correct regarding the impact of the boycott. In the end, it seems like it took the boycott’s failing for anyone to take counter-claims to the players’ arguments seriously, particularly about the economy and ecosystem.

Before the boycott, the effect of the three-day sit out was theory and could be debated on a philosophical level, and players were adamant in their understanding of the poker economy better than everyone else — which (unsurprisingly to those of us that have been looking into the economy and ecosystem for years) proved wrong.

Most thought the 2,500-player strong boycott would have some noticeable effect on traffic (I was in the less than 5% camp), but some people thought traffic might decrease by as much as 15%-20% due to the number of high-volume players taking part.

When the boycott failed (traffic was up 33% the first day, and saw very slight increases on the second and third of the boycott) this theory went out the window, and the mythical value of these players was finally put to rest.

Don’t get me wrong, these players are quite valuable to a site, just not as valuable as many thought. And now we have proof.

The irony to end all ironies

Of course, some people are claiming extenuating circumstances led to the boycott’s impact to be nullified. A lot of people are trying to make the case that the reason the boycott didn’t have a huge impact was one of timing, as the first day of the boycott fell on a milestone hand day, and the boycotters simply couldn’t overcome the appeal of the promotion.

The flaw in this logic should be apparent, but apparently it’s not.

Anyone who blames the milestone hand day for the boycott’s failure is missing the larger picture. The fact that it was a recreational-player-friendly promotion that sealed the boycott’s fate proved PokerStars is correct; promotions aimed at recreational players have a greater benefit to poker and PokerStars than VIP rewards to high-volume players.

This irony was summed up perfectly in a single tweet by Kim Lund:

The olive branch from PokerStars

Now that they’ve made their point, PokerStars must now figure out how to placate these disillusioned players, because, as noted above, these players are valuable.

I expect PokerStars to cede ground on two, perhaps three issues.

In my opinion, PokerStars will almost certainly extend full Supernova Elite benefits through 2016 for players who achieved the status in 2015.  This was a promise PokerStars made to these players (although their Terms do allow them to make this change) and I’m of the belief they will honor this. This is also the best olive branch the site has at its disposal without fundamentally altering its model.

I also think it’s highly likely that PokerStars converts all current FPP’s at their maximum redemption value beyond the December 31, 2015 deadline. This is far less impactful to the individual players, as I believe the maximum devaluation is less than a penny on each converted point, not to mention PokerStars gave them nearly two months to cash their points in.

However, because it’s not a huge financial burden, it would make perfect sense for Stars to use this concession as an olive branch.

The third issue some think PokerStars might revisit is the elimination of FPP’s from all high stakes games. PokerStars could reinstate them, or they could reinstate them at a reduced rate. This change has more of a direct impact on the ecosystem PokerStars is trying to create, so I think this is the least likely of the three changes.

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