At the beginning of February, the awarding winning Poker In The Ears podcast returned from its winter hibernation this month. Much has happened since the EPT Prague preview show, with lots to cover for hosts James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton.
Whilst the Poker In The Ears hosts touched on the Global Poker Award nominations, the Sunday Million 18th Anniversary and the various other issues, the bulk of the show was given over to discussion around the new-look PokerStars Rewards, which launched on January 22.
James and Joe were joined by Ashley Chase, Associate Director of CRM and Loyalty, and Chris Straghalis, Director of Online Poker Experience, to discuss what’s changed and why, and how the poker community has reacted.
Below you’ll find some excerpts from the 30-minute interview, with useful information for the most casual player (free $0.50 Power Path ticket every day!) and the high stakes pro (up to 60% rakeback via Select and Select+).
You can checkout the full Poker In The Ears episode and interview on Soundcloud, or download it from various podcast providers.
Q: We’re a week and a half into these changes (at time of recording), how is it going?
CS: It’s a pretty monumental change in my view in the way we’re positioning our rewards, going from what we previously had, which was do x get y in rakeback, which you earned incrementally and then the weekly challenge, which was either an additional 10% or 40% challenge, but only 7% of our player base was actually completing those challenges.
We want to be very transparent with people, I’m not going to say it’s all sunshine and roses, because it’s not. Not everybody is going to benefit from these changes. If you were somebody who was getting a 40% reward and you were only playing to reach that reward, you’re not going to be better off under the new program.
AC: What we’ve done with removing the weekly challenges that Strag mentioned, we’ve increased the generosity of the core program and we’ll also be spending more on promotions for players. We think that for recreational and casual players it’s more exciting to be rewarded through promotions.
We’re really excited about a promotion that’s launching on 5th February in shared liquidity, that’s awarding a $1,000,000 in tickets throughout February.
Q: Ashley, you were implying there are a huge percentage of players who are never going to qualify for the base tier of rakeback, because they don’t play enough volume. How are they being rewarded?
AC: A really important part of the changes is the daily reward from Power Path. That is a $0.50 Step 1 Power Path ticket that is awarded to players every single day they play on PokerStars. If you compare it to the old rewards, the blue chest level, players at that level were generally playing throughout the month to receive a reward worth $0.50.
Now we’re saying every day you play with us, we’ll give you $0.50. So, for our most casual players it’s actually quite an increase on the level of rewards they’ll receive. Yes, it’s a Power Path ticket, but for the players that play at that level, we see very high usage rates and very high satisfaction from those players.
CS: We have to look at the bigger picture, we’re definitely investing much more in our promotions. We had a gentlemen from Poland, who started with a $0.50 Step 1 ticket and off that ticket, within three hours, he’d gone through all the steps and he won his way to Las Vegas to play the NAPT. Those are the moments that matter and the incredible experiences that we want to offer to our players.
We want our regular players, who play for a living, or a side income, to understand that this is how we in the poker world survive. It’s on the backs of these players who don’t play every day. They don’t call it grinding, because for them it’s entertainment, it’s fun, it’s relaxing. It’s a competition, it’s a challenge and they want to feel rewarded too. Playing all month for a $0.50 chest was never going to feel rewarding. But now, every day I get a Power Path ticket, I get to play a little bit of poker for free, on top of my regular play and have that chance of winning a trip somewhere, that’s quite amazing.
Q: Comparisons are being made with the old PokerStars VIP Club, are those comparisons you welcome?
AC: There are some similarities to the rewards for our highest volume players, who are very reward sensitive. So, we talked earlier about the increases in generosity for our most recreational players, but at the top end of the program, as Chris said, players can receive up to 60% on PokerStars Select, which is closer to the levels of the old VIP program. What it does give is guaranteed rewards for every single cent they rake. The way that Select and Select+ work is very simple. It’s a percentage of rakeback, paid daily to players. So the value is not unlocked in future milestones, based on targets. It’s immediate rewards, paid in cash.
Q: How close have you both come to rage quitting Discord? (most questions on the new rewards were handled via the PokerStars Discord Server)
CS: We’re there to help. Those of us who are on Discord, this is not a dedicated responsibility, we’re doing it because we want to, because we care about of player base and we want to communicate with them. We want to see through their eyes. That’s probably the most valuable thing Discord brings, since we can’t play on the site ourselves it lets us see what they see and experience what they experience. People do expect a response and we respond where we can. We’re being very transparent, very open. We’ve even had some competitors come in there and chat to us, and be open that they’re competitors. The goal with Discord is to make it a positive environment. We want constructive feedback and criticism; we allow those conversations to happen.
A new episode of Poker In The Ears is released every Thursday, check out the latest episode here.