PokerStars Isn’t Done Making Changes To Its VIP Program, But What Will Those Changes Be?

September 14, 2016
PokerStars Isn’t Done Making Changes To Its VIP Program, But What Will Those Changes Be?

PokerStars recently announced it will be making more changes to its VIP program in 2017, as I predicted in the upshot at the end of this column.

The announcement came via Vice President of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser, who posted about the yet-to-be-determined changes on the PokerStars corporate blog.

The announcement reads in part:

“Today we began contacting players to provide notice of important planned changes to our VIP Club, notably that our current VIP Club, with rewards centered around monthly and annual statuses, will be replaced sometime in 2017 with a new, combined rewards program for poker, casino and sportsbook.”

You may recall that it wasn’t just the changes that angered people in November 2015, but how short the notice was. And even though PokerStars warned changes were on the horizon months in advance, poker players felt the warning didn’t properly convey how significant those changes would be — like the elimination of Supernova Elite status. (Change has been a theme of late for PokerStars, which also revamped its live tourneys.)

The announcement of the 2017 changes makes specific note of the company’s efforts to do a better job of communicating the changes in a timely manner, which PokerStars believes it is accomplishing with this pre-announcement announcement… even if the specifics of the changes haven’t ironed out yet:

“We have heard the feedback from players who felt that they did not receive enough notice about the implementation of VIP changes for the start of 2016. Consequently, we’re working hard to avoid repeating that situation by sharing this broad vision for the rewards program in 2017, even when we have not yet decided on all the details or launch date. These details will be informed by further careful analysis in coming months, but we will endeavour to share what we can, when we can.  This blog and the associated email to players is the first step in that process.”

The blog goes on to tout the positive impacts of last year’s changes, and while short on specifics, the gist of PokerStars’ 2017 VIP changes can be guessed at.

So what does PokerStars have in store for its players in 2017? Here’s my best guess based on the announcement:

Cross-platform rewards

“Our new rewards program will reward players for their activity across many of our products and brands where available; whether it’s poker, casino or sportsbook.”

From the sound of it, PokerStars’ new VIP program will imitate some of its competitors, merging VIP rewards across all platforms. This will likely be praised by cross-platform players, but derided by poker players, as  it sounds like some rewards will be tied to completing “missions” which will certainly include playing non-poker games.

“Although players won’t have to play any specific platform in order to progress, players will receive rewards for many different things, rather than solely being rewarded for playing a lot of poker hands as is the case currently.”

This cuts both ways. To maximize rewards, poker players will have to move out of their comfort zone and place a few sports bets or even play casino games (assuming the reward makes it +EV to do so) in order to accomplish whatever challenge PokerStars has laid out.

Conversely, this should also have a very positive impact on poker games. With their rewards level carrying over to the poker tables, casino and sportsbook players will now have more reason to play poker.

Perhaps more importantly, if certain “missions” require online poker play, poker players could see an influx of people with almost zero poker acumen just spouting off money in order to complete the mission.

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Monthly resets

“A key challenge with the current rewards system is that player progress resets each month. While that’s great for those that play the most, the vast majority of our players only play intermittently and casually; resetting VIP progress each month can make it a tough rewards system for those players to engage with. So, at some point during 2017, we will make the switch from the current monthly status system to one that is more personalized to your recent gaming activity and player profile.”

Any speculation on how this personalized status will work would be just that: speculation.

What I can say is this change seems aimed squarely at casual players. The goal appears to be to  incentivize them to return to the tables after a significant hiatus.

If this status retention is combined with a reload bonus and/or a certain mission, it has the capability to increase play from these targeted players.

The end of Supernova

“Also, from January 1, 2017, Supernova annual status will become a monthly status until the launch of the new rewards program. Anyone who achieves Supernova in 2016 will retain their status until such time as the new program is implemented.”

“The value of monthly VIP rewards and VPP requirements for all statuses in 2017 is still subject to change. When our new reward program is deployed all players will receive rewards according to that new system.”

“We have sent an email to all Supernova status players and all players who have earned at least 45,000 VPPs in 2016 to inform them of these upcoming changes.”

It’s safe to say this is not going to sit well with high-volume poker players.

According to Hollreiser, the Supernova tier will switch from annual to monthly in January before being phased out at a later point in 2017. Without a Supernova tier, rakeback levels at PokerStars will likely max out at 25 percent.

At the same time, if the games improve, high-volume players will see their win rates increase.

Robert DellaFave summed up PokerStars’ objective perfectly at Online Poker Report, writing, “The movement away from rakeback should see online poker revert back to a purer form, where professionals win by outplaying their opponents.”

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