The beginning of November 2015, PokerStars, the ever-so-loved, Pokerstars with the supernova and supernova elites of the world, announced that they are making some changes to it’s VIP program which will take effect Janurary 1, 2016.
This has left many people in a disarray and many bigger stake players are not happy about this to say the least. Which make sense of course as many top end players feel like the carpet has been ripped out from under their feet. So what exactly are the changes that are taking place in the PokerStars VIP rewards program?
According to PokerStars, “This will simplify the reward system and enhance its visibility during play, so that players can follow their progress in real time. PokerStars today unveiled a comprehensive plan to enhance the playing experience and to re-emphasize the fun and social aspects of online poker while attracting and retaining more players to the game,” wrote Eric Hollreiser, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Amaya Inc. and PokerStars. “Poker is a fun game that we love and our responsibility is to make sure that every player at PokerStars — advanced, recreational, or new — can enjoy this game as much as we do.”
When PokerStars says “enhance the playing experience and to re-emphasize the fun and social aspects of online poker while attracting and retaining more players to the game”, you can basically read between the lines to say, they no longer care to cater to the few 100’s or low thousands of grinders/pros as that is not where the bulk of their revenues comes from. On a business front, this makes much logical sense as a pro-centric type of VIP rewards design is not sustainable for many reasons. In order for businesses to survive, they need to cater to their biggest market segment and that is the ~95-99%, not the top ~5-1% for example.
Poker also has another issue in that it is reliant on player liquidity and if people don’t feel safe or trust to play with others on the software, they simply will disappear. Given that everyone knows that the pros not only have a skill edge, business incentive tools such as rake back in variable rewards can create a global negative impact to player pool rather than a positive one. IE. having bigger bankrolls can affect the way someone plays more confidently.The long term effects, although unrealized by many pros at the moment because the industry is very self-focused, could be detrimental to the industry as a whole.
While many players feel Amaya here is the enemy, they actually do not owe it’s players anything. They provide software as a service. Players do have a choice, to go or to stay and play. Rather, players should be more grateful in that the company is forward thinking and has catered to them for as long as they have. The uproar from players that are effected is understandable of course, and given the history of online poker over this past decade trust/security will always remain an issue. Those in fear of future rake hikes as an argument for Amaya reversing changes is a bit like grasping for straws as it assumes that PokerStars is not aware of shooting themselves in the foot in regards to their biggest market demographic. On the topic of fear regarding cutting games and limits, maybe this is what the industry needs to bring on some new innovation and software options. PokerStars has not mentioned this, and is purely rumored.
As good faith and business practice from PokerStars, they will still allow and support more rewards for players that achieve Supernova Elite status in 2015. Supernova Elite VIP Status will be discontinued on January 1, 2017. The benefits cap for players who earn Supernova Elite in 2015 will be 45% in 2016.
Is this the death of the online RakeBack pro in online poker?
Maybe, but look at it this way: Is it really so bad that online poker is going back to the real heart of where the game of poker should be? While many are afraid of this, there is definitely a bigger argument that has to do with ethical business practices in gaming as a whole. As a company, it is important to take care of players at all levels and to maintain a fairness across the board. By introducing a less variable structure in rewards, the playing field for players is leveled which naturally in turn, will change the way the poker game is played. Poker players are taken back to a purer version of the game where ‘softer’ poker skills must come into play where it is less about automated data statistics decision making (which arguably has taken the fun/social aspects of the game away). As a casual player, I feel this latest PokerStars’ update is a movement towards fairness in gaming. And fairness is responsible, and being responsible makes me feel safe.
Imagine being able to go sit down at a cash game again without the added worry of other players having stats on you that may give them an unfair edge. This alone is a game changer in itself.