Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier leaves PokerStars after 11.5 years, leaving Lee Davy scratching his head as to PokerStars’ strategy for hiring and firing company ambassadors.
In 2008, Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier won the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) for $2m. The former StarCraft ace had announced his arrival on a much more lucrative stage. Over the next decade, partnering with PokerStars, ElkY became the first person to become Supernova and Supernova Elite, won the live Triple Crown, and created a few Guinness World Records along the way. The Frenchman also became the first player to represent an online poker room and esports team when he joined Team Liquid as a Hearthstone player.
ElkY will dye his hair green one day, and bleach it white the next. He travels the world playing video games for a living, and dates beautiful women who travel the world playing video games for a living. He has a Twitch Channel that commands the interest of over 53,000 people.
If anyone fits the mould of a sponsored player, it’s ElkY.
So why have they let him go?
ElkY becomes the fourth player to leave the largest online poker room this side of the super cool salt-shaker that sits before me (it shines a light on your food, so you don’t waste a grain). In one sense it makes sense. Most contracts will end in December. But there are so many things that don’t make sense.
I understand letting Jason Mercier go. As good at poker as he is, from a marketing perspective, there isn’t much going on, and online poker companies dropped being a winning player as a metric a long time ago. There is nothing special about Mercier from a marketing angle.
Vanessa Selbst is different. As an openly gay woman who happens to be the best female poker player the world has ever seen, and the only one to repeatedly and consistently challenge men at the very highest level, Selbst is a valuable asset. However, Selbst’s lack of game time and a desire to try something different seems to be the ball that knocked off the coconut in that one.
If Brazilian poker is supposed to be booming, then the decision to release Felipe Ramos from his contract is puzzling. I know they have Andre Akkari in the region, but give the lad some help. Ramos was at the top of his game when they dropped him, and he has outstanding visibility, cashing in more countries than any other player in 2017.
But it’s the decision to release ElkY which baffles me the most.
ElkY Ticks All of The Boxes; But Whose Boxes?
You would think that ElkY ticks all of the boxes.
But, I guess, that depends, on whose boxes you’re ticking.
You can’t understand the reasons for ElkY’s departure until you know PokerStars’ strategy when it comes to the Team Pro concept. While at the PCA, I interviewed Jaime Staples and Kevin Martin. Staples joined the team in 2015, and Martin in 2016. When they joined, I didn’t know who either of them was. And that was unusual at the time for a major online poker room signing.
Speaking to them, it’s clear why they are a significant asset to PokerStars. They are natural communicators with a very energetic and beautiful vibe about them. Each of them is a natural born performer, and they bring to PokerStars youthful energy that correlates well if that’s the type of recreational poker player you want to attract. They also carry a tribe of new players to the site.
But Martin and Staples aren’t the only PokerStars Team Pros armed with a tribe and the right echoes of energy. I also interviewed Lex Veldhuis and Jeff Gross at the PCA. Both of them have significant followings on Twitch and have a specific panache about them when they start waffling. The difference between Veldhuis and Gross and Staples and Martin is one of age. And yet, ElkY falls into that bandwidth. Is there no future for Veldhuis and Gross when it comes time to renew contracts? I doubt it. Gross only joined in the summer of 2017.
So what else gives?
The Roles & Responsibility Statement
I think there are some clues in the way both ElkY and PokerStars ended their relationship. 11.5 years is a long time to represent a company. If the pair were leaving on good terms, I would expect a beautiful send-off.
PokerStars has some of the most excellent writers in the business. Why not create a piece, as colourful as the man himself, thanking him for his dedication, and his crucial role in the evolution of our business.
I mean, come on.
ElkY is the man for whom online streaming on Twitch was made for.
But there is nothing on the PokerStars blog about ElkY. The only official reaction from PokerStars relating to the severance of an 11.5-year relationship was the removal of his bio from the Team Pro page.
And then you have ElkY’s announcement on social media.
“Team Pro used to be a core part of their strategy, but it became evident this was not the case anymore during the last few years.”
“I am happy to be involved – except those last few years.”
“I am too young to only be sponsored. I want to bring added value and be consulted for strategic decisions as I used to be.”
What ElkY seems to be saying, is life changed when Amaya Gaming bought PokerStars and they became a publicly traded company. It seems this decision downgraded ElkY’s influence, and he wasn’t happy with that. Maybe, PokerStars is trying to reduce the wage bill by offering Team Pros with contracts due for negotiation, a cheaper deal, for less work?
And why I began by saying this decision leaves me with more questions than answers, is that during the PCA, I got the distinct impression from my brief discussion with Igor Kurganov that the players were still very influential within the corridors of power at the largest online poker room in the world.
So what gives?
Was Igor allowed into the inner sanctum, and not ElkY?
On a poker front, ElkY would be the first to admit that his results have not sparkled. Yes, he has won $13m+ playing live tournaments, but his results have been paltry when compared to his peers in recent years.
There were signs of a comeback in 2017 with $2.5m in earnings, but the lion share of that amount came thanks to his runner-up finish to Doug Polk in the $111,111 One Drop High Roller. Before that event, ElkY had deep runs in the PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo (12th) and the PokerStars Championship Sochi (13th). And at the same time his poker results nosedived, his time in the esports world seemed to increase to the point where if you arrived at Earth from the USS Callister and saw his social media you would likely think he was an esports player.
Man, I am confused.
So, so confused.
Here’s one thing I’m not confused about.
ElkY won’t be lonely for very long. I haven’t been a fan of the scattergun hiring approach of partypoker. It seems to lack a discernable strategy other than to employ anyone and everyone. For me, they lack a significant presence on Twitch/YouTube, and I wouldn’t be surprised if ElkY announces a partnership with partypoker in the coming months.