On Jan. 19, a delegation of high-volume players including Dani "Ansky" Stern, Daniel Dvoress, former Team PokerStars Pro member Isaac Haxton, and current Team PokerStars Pro member Daniel Negreanu walked into Amaya headquarters in Montreal, Canada, to discuss the disputes relating to the PokerStars VIP program that began on Jan. 1, 2016.
Less than a week later, Amaya Vice President Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser took to the PokerStars Blog to inform about the outcome of the meeting and to stress how the company is still fully behind the set of new policies that led to, amongst other measures, the launch of a new rewards program and the termination of the Supernova Elite status.
"We took the opportunity to discuss the poker economy and many associated issues," he explained. "We listened to what the players had to say, and we shared a lot of information, including internal data and marketing plans. We talked about challenges and opportunities for the game of poker, in addition to the recent changes to the PokerStars VIP rewards program."
During the meeting, the players had the chance to have a brief encounter with Amaya CEO David Baazov and were presented the figures and data that motivated the company to change some of PokerStars' most distinctive features.
"We provided substantial data to support that these changes were needed and expressed our regret that the changes have angered some high volume players," Hollreiser said.
Hollreiser added, "This was obviously not our goal, although it was anticipated given the nature and timing of the reduction in rewards. We noted that going forward the VIP benefit is a one-year program and we retain the right to change or eliminate the rewards at any time. We will ensure that this is communicated clearly and consistently."
"Initial Data Seems To Confirm That We Made the Right Decision"
What seems to emerge from Hollreiser's reflections on the meeting, is that PokerStars have embraced a long-term plan that the company believes to be beneficial for its own shareholders as well as for the game's future.
"[The] players recognize that the facts support our case that changes to the current online poker ecosystem are needed to ensure the health and vitality of the online games," continues Hollreiser. "We emphasized that there is no single magic bullet to do this. The changes to the VIP rewards program are only one part of a broad-based plan to improve the online poker ecosystem."
According to Amaya's Vice President Corporate Communications the plan that the world's largest online poker site decided to commit to is aimed "at increasing the number, frequency of play and total deposits of recreational players (who are the lifeblood of any poker economy) by continuing to make poker fun and relevant to today's players whether they're playing on desktop, smartphone or tablet."
To do this, PokerStars said to have plans to continue to innovate their products, to improve consumer experience, to enhanced game integrity policies, and to invest in marketing campaigns. "In considering changes, we believe we are successfully balancing our responsibility to recreational players, the game of poker, and the interests of our employees and shareholders against the expectations of our professional poker player community," Hollreiser states.
In PokerStars' first public statement after the players meeting, Hollreiser addressed also the criticism caused by PokerStars' new marketing strategy that led to a first online protest in December, 2015 and a second one in January, 2016.
"It is common for people to disagree on [the] interpretation of data," Hollreiser goes on to explain. "As we expressed in the meeting, we are open to continued dialogue regarding our analysis and whether the changes will accomplish our goals. Although it's very early, the initial data seems to confirm that we made the right decision with the VIP Club changes as player bankrolls are lasting longer in ring games and net deposits are up."
"Although that may not be what some players want to hear, the recent meeting demonstrated that an ongoing dialogue can provide greater understanding. We hope to build upon this meeting, and to continue listening to players, even if - and especially when - they disagree with us."