To say that online poker is booming would be an understatement and Severin Rasset knows that first hand. The PokerStars managing director and commercial officer saw the company guarantee more than $200 million among its tournament series in September.
Even more is in the works from operators around the world and cash game player numbers have also surged. With major live tournament series still slow in returning, online poker should remain a force in the coming months.
Rasset spoke with PokerScout recently about the current environment, how PokerStars has worked to meet demand, the game’s future, and more.
New gaming environment, telling a story
With so much action underway, online poker companies find themselves in an interesting spot. Demand is at the highest it’s been since a player named Moneymaker kickstarted the poker boom.
Keeping up with that demand and seeing those big player pools continue is the challenge. For PokerStars, the day-to-day process of creating major series falls to the operational team. It’s a time-consuming process and involves constantly determining player demand.
“I don’t think it will come as a surprise to hear that it has been a challenge for our operational team to respond to the ever-changing landscape and accommodate players over the last few months,” Rasset says. “But I am really proud to say that they managed to overcome this challenge thanks to their expertise and years of accumulated experience with PokerStars.
“The bulk of their work has been about analyzing the tournaments being played, examining how player demand is evolving, and adapting our offer on a weekly basis, albeit with bigger variations than usual. We also have quite powerful tools for scaling our tournament offering up or down based on the demand.”
Engaging players is a big part of that as well as experimenting with new ideas and constantly evolving. Building content around its unique online environment is also important.
“We know, for example, that a key challenge and differentiator for us is to keep creating unique content and events that players aspire to get involved,” Rasset says. “Poker has to continue to create its own content if it is to expand its base.”
In essence, poker is more than just the game on the felt. Products can tell a story – connecting with players, viewers, and readers as the action unfolds.
Building a sense of community at PokerStars
To Rasset, building a sense of community is a key part of any poker operation. Poker is a social game. While playing online may be an isolated gaming experience, PokerStars works to overcome some of that.
Those efforts involve building a community of players interested in the game and events beyond simply clicking a mouse.
Products like PokerStars Home Games are a part of that and demand for the service surged during the pandemic.
“As far as I’m concerned, the community aspect is key,” Rasset says. “Poker is a game of interactions. Players enjoy playing with friends and we have seen a clear increase of the number of home games throughout the year as people look for new ways to get together, catch up, and have fun.
“Players also seem to have chosen games that can give them the most entertainment value for their investment. Reasonable buy-in in multi-table tournaments, for example, can provide a couple of hours of entertainment for a single buy-in.”
Changing to meet demand, growing a brand
Players suddenly with more time on their hands looked to PokerStars and other operators during the pandemic. The site began revamping existing series and creating new formats like the Stadium Series.
That festival featured $50 million guaranteed and brought some sporting elements to the game. Players battled all week in “heat” events before playing in big Sunday Finals.
Rasset believes players respond to that kind of creativity and innovation. Streaming online via also remains a company focus.
“We also have our PokerStars Player Championship as well as amazing voices in our ambassadors and fans, who showcase the greatness of this game on Twitch and other streaming and social channels,” Rasset says. “This, to me, is one of the ways to take the game forward.
“One of the reasons for its success is that poker is at its core a community game that is even more enjoyable with friends and people that we know. That’s an area that we want to focus on. We want players to be excited to meet up and play online, just as they’d look forward to a home game at the kitchen table on a Saturday night.”
Entertainment is the key
While some players dream of life as a poker pro, much of the poker environment revolves around recreational players. These regular Joes and Janes are simply looking to have some fun for a couple hours.
Growing these numbers is key and Stars hopes they become bigger fans of the game. Some of the site’s outreach involves appealing to this segment through added event coverage.
ESPN and live poker coverage helped fuel the first poker boom. Twitch and online streaming now play a major part of the current online poker rush. PokerStars launched cards-up coverage during the Stadium Series and more is planned.
“It’s just like coverage of live events and adds a whole new dimension to commentary and the overall viewing experience,” Rasset says. “I think we’ve only scratched the surface there in what we can do to provide great content to our players.”
Keeping the current massive player pools going may not be possible in the long run. But even keeping some of those new players is a positive for the industry.
Rasset believes players are attracted to poker because it’s simply a fun game and can be enjoyed from the opening minutes of play.
It’s also a game with unique depth and an element of discovery that can be relived each game. The community element only adds to that.
“You can explore different levels of thinking and learn new elements of play with each game,” Rasset says.”What’s more, you can do it with friends, playing together for free or for a few cents in ring games or tournaments.
“When you combine that with the range of other media we provide as part of a rounded poker experience – streaming, tutorials, social media, for example – it makes poker a very interesting choice, particularly while people have more free time to explore different entertainment options.”
Sustaining the online poker momentum
Those concepts of entertainment and engagement are crucial to driving more players to online poker, Rasset says. Those elements also hopefully keep them coming back.
“To me, the future of online poker is all about entertainment and a great player experience, regardless of playing preferences,” he says.
“Our players have plenty of opportunities to spend their time on other applications and other games. So our focus has to be on providing a flawless experience when players choose to spend their time with us.”
To differentiate from competition in the entertainment space, Rasset believes in a few long-term investments:
- developing great customer journeys
- intuitive promotions
- fast and reliable customer service
- the reassurance of a safe and secure gaming environment
That last bullet point stands out for Rasset and has helped in finding success in new markets.
“We’re proud to have consistently invested in the integrity of our games over the years, with the goal of protecting our players with dedicated fraud and security teams armed with highly sophisticated machine learning tools and proprietary technologies,” he says.
“We think our capabilities are the best in the business. We apply them across all our markets and we’re one of the most licensed online poker companies in the world.”
Responsible gaming also remains a priority, Rasset says. The company continues investing in resources for players to maintain control over their play and seek help if necessary.
“So at every level, even if it presents more challenges in the short term for us, I believe that this longer term investment is how we can build trust and create reasons to be loyal to PokerStars,” he says.
Positivity about the future of online poker
While some may see online poker in a downward trend, there are still millions and millions of players out there. Reaching and connecting with them is critical to the industry.
Rasset remains an optimist and the current environment shows the game can still flourish.
“This industry is still young, barely 20 years old, and there is still so much that we can improve,” he says.
“One thing that I know: in five years, this game will still be as enjoyable as it is now. We want to share our love for poker with as many people as we can while ensuring we always do this in a responsible way.”
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