PokerStars has responded to last week's high-stakes sit-out and simultaneously announced four separate $1 million free tournaments open to all players in 2016.
Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu was the first one to break news of the internal decision-making process and the new promotion in an extended blog post where he finally discussed the changes to the VIP Rewards Program.
Calling the communication of the changes "too vague" Negreanu apologized for not doing more to make sure the messaging was clearer about the breadth and timing of the cuts:
"What we knew as a company on January 1, 2015 is that there would be cuts to the VIP program in 2016. However, they were still collecting data and weren't sure what exactly the changes would look like until the second half of 2015. It did say in the October 2014 newsletter that the details of the changes would be released in the second half of 2015. Despite that, I'm not at all OK with the way in which this information was relayed to the players."
PokerStars’ VP of Communication Eric Hollreiser followed up with a corporate blog post where he talked in detail about the decision to drop Supernova Elite and the plan to focus on recreational players.
We are happy to announce plans to hold four $1 million freeroll tournaments in 2016 on PokerStars. These tournaments will surely create buzz and generate excitement among players at all skill and experience levels and the injection of $4 million into the economy will help many players' bankrolls. These tournaments will be on top of an already exciting - though not-yet-announced - series of promotions, events and new products that are planned for 2016.
The four open freerolls replace the quarterly $1m freerolls that were only open to Supernova players.
Hollreiser: Boycott Noticed
The news comes on the heels of a PokerStars boycott headed by Dani “Ansky” Stern and other deservedly disgruntled high-volume grinders.
Disappointed with the changes to Supernova Elite and how poorly they were communicated Stern and others sat out all games on PokerStars from Dec. 1-3.
Hollreiser talked about the boycott for the first time and said that traffic actually spiked over the period as a result of a holiday promotion:
The recent three-day boycott by some players that disagree with our announced VIP changes did not have a significant impact on PokerStars, as traffic actually spiked through the period as a result of the start of our long-planned holiday promotion.
Of course that doesn't mean it went unnoticed by us. We care very deeply about what players say and what they expect of us. And we strive to live up to their expectations ...
In hindsight, we could have communicated to players more often that significant changes were coming in 2016. We could have been more explicit that these changes would be significant and would take effect in 2016. And we could have noted this on our VIP web pages that gave details of the program.
There was no intention to deceive and certainly not to profit from this, as an increase in the number of Supernova Elites, who are on average net withdrawing players, does not provide a financial benefit to us. It was simply a function of a long internal process and an honest belief that we had given players sufficient notice.
We sincerely apologise to players who did not expect cuts as significant in 2016 as we announced on November 1st and recognize that some players may have chosen not to participate in the rewards program in 2015 had they known ...
In that spirit of transparency, we can tell you that we did see effects from the recent boycott that give us even greater confidence that our strategy is on the right track to improve the health of the ecosystem. During the three-day boycott we recorded the healthiest consecutive three-day ecosystem results of the year with steady net gaming revenue, even though our net-depositing players lost at a much lower rate than they have all year.
Negreanu: Baazov Saved SuperNova in 2015
In his post Negreanu also revealed for the first time that Supernova Elite was supposed to be cut back in 2015.
Negreanu says it was Amaya CEO David Baazov who single-handedly decided to let players keep Supernova Elite status for one more year.
While Negreanu remains confident in PokerStars he did admit there was a breakdown in communication this year and he played a role in it.
…On that note, I want to take full responsibility for my role in the communications breakdown between PokerStars and the players. I didn't write the messaging, but there was more I could have done to help avoid this that I failed to do. I had the opportunity to ask the right questions in October 2014 about when these changes would take effect, but I failed to do that. Had I been more involved at the time, I could have addressed this issue prior to January 1st, 2015 and make sure that the messaging to the players was crystal clear that cuts to the VIP program were going to be implemented in 2016. I could have also made sure that the website didn't have any language referencing specifics as to what players should expect in 2016 if they reached SNE in 2015.