The year after Chris Moneymaker took home the World Series of Poker Main Event title in 2003, the usually unchanged contingent of poker pros were astonished when Binion’s Horseshoe was flooded with hundreds upon hundreds of unfamiliar faces.
With so many unexpected players flocking to the casino, Binion’s quickly ran out of space, tables, and even chairs to accommodate the horde. The casino resorted to some inventive ways – tables barely outside of restaurants, 11-handed tables, and whatever else was necessary – to make sure no poker player was turned away.
Despite the logistical nightmare this was for the organizers , and as inconvenient as it was to the players, this semi-organized chaos was how the poker boom was born. And despite the chaos and headaches, the players kept returning.
Déjà vu all over again
The start of Event #5 of the 2015 WSOP, the $565 buy-in Colossus has created a similar scenario to the 2004 WSOP, as the Rio was once again flooded with unfamiliar faces, this time thousands upon thousands.
For many of us, it brings back memories of 2004 and the beginnings of the poker boom.
While some might see this as a lack of preparation, this chaos is actually a good thing for the WSOP and for poker. Here is why.
The Colossus did exactly what it set out to do: reengage with recreational poker players. This is something many poker evangelists (a term I nicked from Marco Valerio) have been calling for.
The event was billed as a way to bring these types of players back to the World Series of Poker and bring them back it did – in droves.
For some who dislike being inconvenienced, it did too good of a job. But this is a massive success for poker.
Colossus shows us that an innovative idea can reap fantastic rewards.
How Colossus succeeded
The Colossus’s lesser buy-in of $565 and guaranteed prize money fits in perfectly with the current poker zeitgeist.
WPT tournaments have dramatically reduced their buy-ins since the height of the poker boom, with $3,500 Main Events replacing what had previously been $10,000 and $15,000 buy-in events. WSOP tournaments are moving in a similar direction, with more polarized buy-ins of either less than $1,500 or $10,000 and above.
But Colossus also succeeded by capitalizing on a poker trend unique to the WSOP – signature events.
Signature events have changed the WSOP
For several years the WSOP relied on its legacy and the prestige of a WSOP bracelet to lure poker players to the Rio in the middle of what are brutal Las Vegas summers, and for the most part this was a successful business strategy.
Despite less television coverage, Black Friday, and what feels like an overall diminished interest in poker, WSOP Main Event attendance has remained fairly constant since the WSOP reached its high water mark in 2006.
Since 2006, when 8,773 players registered for the Main Event during the height of the poker boom, attendance has fluctuated from a low of 6,352 to a high of 7,319 from 2007-2014, with an average of 6,689 players showing up each year over that time span.
It seems that in the current climate with online poker legal in only three states in the U.S., Main Event attendance will continue to fall within this range.
But the WSOP has become so much more than the Main Event and 50 other bracelet tournaments. This transformation can be attributed to the creativity of the WSOP staff, and their use of distinctive events.
With events such as the Poker Players Championship, the Big One for One Drop, the Millionaire Maker, and now the Colossus replacing cookie-cutter tournaments represented simply by the event number, buy-in, and format, the WSOP has added a level of prestige to these tournaments simply through branding.
Each of these events is now a reason to attend the World Series of Poker.
“I’m going to the WSOP to play in the Colossus,” sounds so much better than, “I’m going to the WSOP to play in one of the $1,000 No Limit Holdem tournaments.”
While Main Event attendance may have leveled off, attendance for some of the preliminary events has massive room for growth.
Online expansion via WSOP.com may offer a boost
These types of events are tailor-made for online satellites.
Unlike a $10k tournament requiring either hundreds of entrants at $20 a pop or a hefty $100+ buy-in just to generate a single seat, an online poker site could run $5, $10, or $20 satellites to an event like the Colossus.
Because the buy-in is merely $500, an additional $500 for hotel and airfare could also be included to turn them into prize packages.
This would make WSOP satellites more appealing to a larger cross-section of online players, instead of potential participants feeling the odds of winning a seat are so stacked against them.
As part of an effort to cross-promote live and online offerings, WSOP.com players in Nevada and New Jersey are being offered the best reload bonus of the year. Players who have made at least one deposit are eligible to take advantage of the bonus offer, which will be available through July 14.