Is PokerStars Extending An Olive Branch To The Poker Community?

Steve Ruddock August 15, 2017 5267 Reads
PokerStars

After a prolonged period of disruption, PokerStars is now looking for calmer waters. The company is hoping to mend some of the fences that were broken over the last few years now that the big changes have been implemented. PokerStars, long lauded for its customer service and putting players first, has been in a funk since the Scheinberg’s sold the company to Amaya Gaming in the summer of 2014. The sale coincided with the beginning of the company’s shift towards a recreational-friendly business model.

A number of the changes have taken some of the shine off PokerStars’ once pristine image among serious poker players.

PokerStars doesn’t hate you

Many of the changes were in the works long before Amaya bought PokerStars.

It was Amaya that donned the executioner’s hood and has had to bear the brunt of the anger emanating from the poker community, but it’s important to note the Scheinbergs may have gotten the ball rolling.

Among the changes that have occurred at PokerStars are:

  • Branching out into casino and sports betting.
  • Adding and promoting less-skillful forms of poker like Spin & Go’s.
  • Removing heads-up tables and other “grinder” games.
  • Rebranding the European Poker Tour and events like the PCA.
  • Radically revamping its rewards program to the extreme detriment of high-volume players.
  • Increasing the rake in certain games.

Explanation falls on deaf ears

PokerStars brass has clearly categorized these changes as necessary.

PokerStars has often cited the need to change the behavior of the winning players in its ecosystem in order to stabilize and grow the player pool. The existing model (which rewarded volume) was leftover from a bygone era (the 2000’s) that no longer represents the poker landscape in the 2010’s.

A small but vocal pocket of the poker community disagrees with this assessment and looks at the changes as nothing more than a cash-grab.

Further, communication missteps, particularly with regards to early changes to the rewards program that brought Supernova benefits to an early end, tarnished PokerStars image and left many former devoted PokerStars players pointing the finger in Amaya’s direction.

partypoker senses weakness

If Stars assessment of the situation is correct, the changes will work and players will eventually accept them as positive changes to the ecosystem.

But that’s a long-term solution. If it wants to maintain its stranglehold on the online poker economy, PokerStars simply can’t wait for players to come around to their way of thinking.

Sensing an opening, partypoker has done a good job of being the Yin to PokerStars Yang. partypoker has introduced live tournament changes, plus a rewards program overhaul designed specifically to be a magnet for the most “aggrieved” PokerStars customers.

PokerStars to the rescue

This is why PokerStars is making moves to try to rehabilitate its image. The brand has gone so far as to course-correct by rolling back some of the changes.

PokerStars would likely be the first to admit it’s made several mistakes, some of which may have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

In 2017 PokerStars has:

  • Amaya, and all the negative press that surrounds that brand is gone, replaced by The Stars Group.
  • Resurrected previously discarded brands like the PCA, which will return in 2018 after a one-year stint as PokerStars Championship Bahamas.
  • Taken the community’s advice (through meetings with players) on different elements from the payout structure at live events to the number and type of events on the schedule.
  • Stepped up to the plate and reimbursed players from PKR who were denied their account balances when the site closed its doors.

Instilling trust in current and former customers is the focus with these player-friendly changes.

Ending the false narrative

The narrative that has developed over the past few years is that PokerStars doesn’t want winning players. That it wants all winning players to just go away.

This isn’t true.

What the company wants is winning players who exhibit the right traits. PokerStars doesn’t want you if you’re a nitty low-limit 20-tabler whose income is generated almost entirely through rewards and rakeback. And it shouldn’t be surprising that these players were the most impacted by the changes.

If you’re a solid winning player who moves up in stakes instead of adding more volume, they do want you.

The 2017 changes are aimed at these players. They say, “yes, we are listening, and yes we want your business.”

PokerStars is also making it very clear that they will continue to move forward with some of the changes players don’t like by continuing to implement other changes,

This is evidenced by the new Spin & Go formats and the ongoing rollout of its new rewards program.

Final thoughts

PokerStars needs to execute its long-term plan, but also needs to erase the mistakes it made to this point.

PokerStars will also have to do a better job of communicating and rolling out future changes.

I expect PokerStars to continue to make adjustments and be more fluid going forward. The one-size fits all model is problematic.  At some point, the current rewards program will likely need to be tinkered with. The program will become outdated just like the poker boom method of rewarding players became outdated before it.

I also expect PokerStars to continue to extend an olive branch to the poker community.

Plenty will let bygones be bygones if the overture is sincere, while some will, of course, reject it. This will be especially true if PokerStars’ ecosystem changes have the desired effect.

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