After 13 seasons PokerStars took the well-established European Poker Tour brand and buried it in favor of the new PokerStars Championship and Festival series.
That raised a few questions in the poker world.
PokerStars Director of Live events, Edgar Stuchly, has some answers.
Everything is Now PokerStars Live
Stuchly has been the president of the now-former EPT for several years and obviously played a major role in the planning of PokerStars’ future strategy. He spoke at the first-ever PokerStars Championship Bahamas to explain.
PokerListings: So, over more than 10 years, the market leader builds up a brand that is second in the business only to the World Series. Then it decides to shut it down. Why?
Macau is not Europe.
Edgar Stuchly: We have set as our new goal to use this well-constructed, well-developed product and offer it on a global scale.
It simply doesn’t sound right if you have events in Macau and Panama and call them European. Even the PCA has always been a bit of an odd one out within the schedule.
It’s pretty much the next logical step to move to other continents with a top product like the EPT. We found consolidation in Europe so we’re reaching out to new markets.
PL: But wasn’t the product already out there with the LAPT and all the other series?
ES: There were several regional series but the European series had always been a leading element when it came to innovations.
Also, there have been different – for example jurisdictional – reasons that sometimes made it impossible to realize innovations elsewhere so they stayed in Europe.
Among other reasons Europe is a key market because things are easier to do there than on other continents.
In Macau, for example, things are a lot more difficult than in Europe. So we focused on European countries to build the brand for a couple of years and now we move on, correspondingly.
But we’ve been in a lot of places already, anyway. There were times when we were running up to 17 poker tours all over the world. The new concept makes things a lot easier.
One banner much easier.
Instead of running multiple series and hundreds of websites, we’re now down to one website where players from all over the world can find all the information they need.
We’ve also merged the social media websites. Instead of 15 different ones we now have just one for each tour presented in two languages.
Everything is now under the umbrella of PokerStars Live, and that’s just so much simpler.
PL: The EPT has been a good example for the limitations of expansion. After years of expansion we saw a significant drop in the number of stops. If there’s an EPT winner every month, it’s just not interesting anymore.
ES: When I joined the company in 2011 we started planning to increase the value of an EPT title by reducing its numbers. Lesser stops mean more quality and bigger player fields.
That was our goal and it’s an achievement of the EPT that it has brought forth so many extraordinary and successful stops. The players play a big part in this, however, as it was their feedback that gave us the feeling we were going in the right direction.
The big festivals also do something for the community spirit. Today, a player in a €150 tournament can have the same amazing experiences as the players in the €50k Super High Roller and they’re both playing in the same series.
PL: Doesn’t the new concept take that away again, as the smaller tours – like the Eureka – are now separated again from the big tour?
ES: That’s not what’s happening. The big PokerStars Championships are going to be the same as they used to be when they were called EPT and Eureka.
Only the names change. For example, the Estrellas main event in Barcelona will be called the PokerStars National Championship, but it’s still the very same tournament.
So the events don’t change. All the tournaments will still be there they’ll just have a different name. In the past people weren’t even sure anymore what to call the events. Were they going to the Estrellas or to the EPT?
PL: So the Festivals are additional events?
Festivals replace stand-alones.
ES: The festivals are what the stand-alone National stops used to be that weren’t connected to an EPT. The UKIPT London for example existed even when there wasn’t an EPT London.
The same applies to the Estrellas Marbella, the FPS Lille or the Eureka in Rozvadov. In the future we’ll decide year by year which events are coming back as a Festival.
That way we can also avoid tours with maybe just two stops. That was a little odd anyway. Now we can say there’ll be just one Festival in Spain this year and then that’s going to be the PokerStars Festival wherever.
PL: Panama and Macau are the first new extra-European stops. Wouldn’t it have been fine to just let them run under the EPT brand like the PCA?
ES: I don’t think so. These might be just two stops outside of Europe but the schedule only stands until mid-August. Obviously, we’re going to add more stops after that and maybe even before.
You have to see the bigger picture when it comes to the brand name. Of course a brand has value but it’s also about what the feel of the brand is.
Global brand much bigger than European one.
A global brand is always bigger than a European one. Just like the football World Cup is bigger than the European Cup. There are more teams and there’s a bigger title to win.
We invest in the growth of poker on a global scale. A brand name with the word “European” in it can be a bit limiting.
I mean, it’s not like people in Asia or in Canada say “I specifically want to watch the EPT events,” and then they get the prime time slots on TV. The PokerStars Championship takes away that regional imprint.
PL: Panama seems a surprising choice, especially because Brazil is the fastest growing market in that part of the world.
ES: We are very, very picky when it comes to choosing a partner, particularly when it comes to the Championships.
We want to be able to offer everything up to the Super High Roller events. So we’re not only looking for safety, experience and value but also for cash-game options, staff quality and easy accessibility from all directions.
Panama ticks all these boxes. Money transfer is easy as well, although our card system has already made carrying large quantities of money obsolete.
If you have to pay 30% taxes on your winnings it takes away a lot of attractiveness. But Brazil has a lot of potential. It’s going to depend on how things develop there.
Also, we’ve already been to Panama with the LAPT so we already have some experience.
PL: In the last two years, not all the headlines PokerStars made were positive. Cuts in the bonus program, rake changes and other things have not been taken too well by the players.
ES: I don’t think I’m the right person to talk to about this. Regarding the Live events, the only thing I’m involved with is the changes in the payout structures we made recently, and we’re taking care of this.
Online qualifiers are obviously still very important for us. At the end of the day that’s where it all started and that’s why we’re offering things like Spin & Go qualifiers now.
By the way 137 players qualified through them for the Bahamas and one of them did it four times!
40 million views and counting for RaiseIt
PL: Regarding the live events, the pro team’s character has changed dramatically. While there used to be winners of big poker titles, there are now players who are not primarily involved with poker but have a high celebrity profile.
ES: Well, some of the big names are actually still there like Daniel Negreanu or Jason Mercier. But the focus has changed.
Poker professionals mainly move within their industry – pros know pros. But we want to address the amateurs, the recreational players, so it makes sense to advertise poker with non-pros, too.
People like Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo are poker fans. It’s not that you need to ask them to play, but they’re not professionals.
Our latest video campaign “Raise it” only shows non-professionals and it has attracted over 40 million viewers. So I guess we’re on the right track.