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Professional players felt these alterations were more or less a blood-letting. PokerStars adamantly defended the changes as being for the greater good, implying it would reallocate rewards previously reserved for high-volume players to promotions intended to make PokerStars more appealing to recreational and occasional players.
Yet, nearly a year later a lot of poker players are wondering what PokerStars has done with the money it saved from the VIP changes, and where are the new, recreational-friendly promotions?
When it comes to how much money PokerStars has given away in 2016, there’s a lot to unpack.
The baseline number that people were looking for PokerStars to redistribute to the community was about $20 million — arrived at by assuming each Supernova Elite would be losing about $50,000 per year (this is a high-end guess), of which there are roughly 400 or so.
The most obvious promotion on this front was the four $1 million freerolls PokerStars announced.
The freerolls were an easy way to account for $4 million in giveaways to players, although some contend that the freerolls already existed for high-volume players, and were simply shifted away from Supernova players to all players on the site.
Other than the freerolls, there haven’t been too many other promotions to point out. And few (if any) of them, were game changing, despite assurances from Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu in a 2+2 post dated November 18, 2015:
“I know some of the promotions in store for 2016 and beyond and IMO they are mind blowing. I believe they will work to bring more unique players on to the site than we had in 2015.”
But this doesn’t mean they don’t exist. By and large, the promotions aimed at recreational players have been less flashy and gone relatively unnoticed by the poker community.
Here’s a look at some of the promotions PokerStars has/will run in 2016 where free money has been handed out:
It’s hard to quantify if any of these promotions are a direct result of the VIP changes (PokerStars has always run promotions), or if the money given away represents an increase in this type of promotional spending compared to 2015.
What is apparent, at least to me, is the nature of these giveaways are, as PokerStars indicated they would be, aimed at recreational players. They’re designed to get people playing, not to reward consistent, high-volume play.
PokerStars detractors are interested in seeing the direct disbursements of the money, but there’s more than one way to peel an orange, and there’s more than one way to spend money for the benefit of the poker community.
From bringing on football stars Neymar Jr. and Ronaldo as brand ambassadors, to new features and attractions — FunZones, RunItUp streams, and beyond — at live events, PokerStars has been doing a lot of outreach to casual and potential poker players.
These things may not be the direct reallocation of money players wanted to see, but they represent money being spent by PokerStars to bring in new recreational players.
There are also largely free events, like the RunItUp: Resorts Rumble, which PokerStars hosted in conjunction with its New Jersey online gaming partner Resorts Casino, and the sponsorship of Team Liquid, one of the top esports teams in the world.
Not to mention the upcoming PokerStars Festival at Resorts, which will feature a slew of recreational player-friendly attractions alongside the more serious minded tournament series.
All of these things cost money, and all should be considered as promotional and marketing expenditures designed to appeal to recreational players.
The current trajectory of PokerStars may not be what some players want. The cutbacks over the course of the last year have been more drastic than some players felt necessary.
Through a skewed lens, it’s difficult to see how PokerStars has reallocated funds from these cost saving measures. But at least on the marketing side, some proof is there.
And if we consider how wide the disconnect between the industry and players was when it came to the value of certain players and how best to reward those players, it shouldn’t be too surprising that a discord exists when it comes to how promotional and marketing dollars should be spent.
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