PokerStars remind professionals who call their place home that they still do listen to player feedback after announcing the final World Championship of Online Poker schedule after five revisions.
How did PokerStars become the most successful online poker company in the world?
If you were to ask a few Indian Tribes in California, they might tell you that it’s because Stars continued to offer their platform to US citizens after the shockwave of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) blew the competition off the continent in 2006.
And while that may be part of the story, it’s not the whole story.
PokerStars was a private company run by people who cared. They made the best product by listening to feedback from their players, the leaders were brave and willing to take risks, and the players trusted them.
And I was reminded of that when PokerStars recently announced the final schedule of the World Championships of Online Poker (WCOOP).
Magnificence is Born
WCOOP was born in 2002 as an online version of the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Every brand needs a slogan, and the World Championship of Online Poker was pitch perfect. The inaugural festival contained nine events, and the Swede MultiMarine won the Main Event, $65,450 first prize, and gold bracelet.
It was an enormous success.
And then an accountant from Nashville, Tennessee, won the 2003 WSOP Main Event after qualifying online at PokerStars for only $86. He banked $2.5m. Players flocked to PokerStars in their droves. The 2003 WCOOP Main Event attracted 891 entrants, and the winner Joseph Cordi won the $222,750 first prize. Erik Sagstrom won a $320 side event for $101,850.
It was insane.
Today, WCOOP is virtually unrecognisable from those early years. The 2015 WCOOP consisted of 70 events, paid out $1.3m to the winner of the $5,200 Main Event and even held a $51,000 buy-in High Roller Event.
But one thing remains the same.
The WCOOP is an event built on customer feedback.
Instead of creating a product and then trying to sell it to people who don’t want it, PokerStars has created the perfect poker tournament courtesy of the feedback from the players who feed off it.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
If I were to poll poker players on the trustworthiness of PokerStars today, the results wouldn’t be very favourable. They are no longer a private entity after Amaya Gaming acquired them for $4.9 billion back in 2014. That change meant profit came before customer value. Wholesale changes emerged. The site introduced online casino products, sports betting products, and they focused their marketing energy on the recreational players and not the professional player base who played such a crucial part in making them a success.
There were players strikes, sit-outs, and even meetings between high-ranking lieutenants within the poker community and the ‘higher-ups’ in PokerStars as Daniel Negreanu likes to call them.
And the result?
Not much changed.
Amaya continued to promote the more luck based games to attract punters and not professionals. The only thing that remained untouched was WCOOP.
WCOOP is 100% Bona Fide Top Dog Material
If you were to enter every WCOOP event, buying in once, you would need a quarter of a million dollars. It’s not a festival for the faint hearted. It doesn’t sell well to the recreational player. It is an elite competition for the elite players, and people with money to burn and a love of the game.
And this makes it easier for PokerStars to do business like PokerStars once did business.
Before PokerStars got too big for its boots, it knew who its customer was. It knew their names, what they ate when they slept, what troubled them, and what made them happy.
The move towards the recreational player model screwed that up. How do you please the professional grinder, the mid-stakes amateur, and the micro-stakes Spin & Go, junkie?
You can’t, and this is why the professional poker players got so pissed with PokerStars. The largest online poker room in the world focused on their largest player base, and that pushed the pros to one side.
When preparations for WCOOP began, PokerStars went to 2+2 and asked for feedback. And then they asked some more. And some more. When they eventually released the final schedule it had gone through five major modifications containing over 100 individual changes.
Marketing has nothing to do with sales. Marketing is about inventing a product that people will fall over themselves to buy. It’s all about creating a need and then satisfying it.
The pros need WCOOP.
The pros created WCOOP.
Just like the good old days.
The 2016 WCOOP Schedule
The new timetable will feature a record 82 events.
The $5,000 Main Event carries a $10m Guarantee, and a guaranteed $1.5m to the winner.
There will be a $102,000 buy-in High Roller, a four-day “Marathon” event, a $21,000 Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO) High Roller, and even two ‘Player Choice’ games where a voting process will ensure the theme of giving players what they want is carried out the at a granular level.
Feedback from the players has also enabled PokerStars to cut some costs by eliminating the issuance of gold bracelets to the winners. The 2nd Chance events have gone the way of the Dodo. And the WCOOP Leaderboard will hand out over $70,000 in cash prizes as well as a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) experience and Turbo Championships of Online Poker (TCOOP) Main Event tickets.
For the first time, a smaller buy-in schedule will mirror the Big Daddy WCOOP schedule. Mini-WCOOP events create a way for the recreational players to get a feel of what it’s like to play in online poker’s premier event. The tournament derivatives will be the same as the primary schedule with cost based at 1/100th of the buy-in, except where buy-in exceed $1,000, at which point Stars enforce a $11 cap.
Here is the full schedule.
WCOOP begins Sunday, Sep 4 with five events up for grabs including the start of that four day ‘Marathon Event’.
Players will love it because players helped create it.
It’s a hark back to the gold old days.
Now how can Stars emulate that across the board?