On Wednesday, Dec. 9, Eric Hollreiser, Vice President Corporate Communications for Amaya, released a blog post on the PokerStars Blog that addressed the recent player boycott, the changes to the VIP rewards program that have been under heavy fire from many in the community, and more.
Hollreiser began the post with the announcement of four $1 million freerolls that are planned for 2016. According to the post, these freerolls "will surely create buzz and generate excitement among players at all skill and experience levels" and "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 post led into Hollreiser speaking to some of the reasons the site opted to make such drastic changes to its VIP rewards program, saying that "2015 has been tough for many of our players." The tone of the message was in support an environment that is welcoming to the recreational player, and Hollreiser stated that PokerStars was not negatively effected by the recent three-day boycott that occurred.
"We have been taking steps — across the whole business — to address these changes," Hollreiser wrote. "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."
This was the first time PokerStars publicly acknowledged the boycott, and despite the company's realization that it had no negative impact on business, Hollreiser did say that the site was well aware of the situation.
"Of course that doesn't mean it went unnoticed by us," he wrote. "We care very deeply about what players say and what they expect of us. And we strive to live up to their expectations."
As for the players, the blog post spawned another round of disgust on social media, with the vocal crowd strongly voicing their dissatisfaction. Frustrations most specifically centered around the way the changes were communicated to the players by PokerStars and the addition of the $1 million freerolls that many high-stakes, high-volume players view as a slap in the face.
Hollreiser acknowledged that communication could have been handled better. In the post, he also lent some transparency into the company's view going forward, stating that "an increase in the number of Supernova Elites, who are on average net withdrawing players, does not provide a financial benefit to us." The changes implemented should benefit lower-stakes recreational players, and this statement further confirms the company's belief.
It was also made aware that the changes ahead in 2016 were originally on the table for the start of 2015.
"In fact, we had considered making significant VIP changes to take effect in January 2015, but our new ownership at Amaya chose to delay the changes for another year," Hollreiser wrote.
Over on FullContactPoker.com, the face of PokerStars, Daniel Negreanu, also released a blog addressing the changes and his role in the process. He echoed Hollreiser's notion that the changes were originally planned for 2015.
"In October of 2014, PokerStars released a newsletter that said something to the effect of, 'PokerStars is considering substantial changes to the VIP program in 2016,'" Negreanu wrote. "I'm going to share some facts with you that have likely never been made public, but they are facts and can be backed up by several people. Prior to that newsletter, significant VIP changes were scheduled to take place January 1, 2015! These had been agreed to by the previous owners and management. The reason that didn't happen was because of CEO David Baazov."
Much like the post from Hollreiser put him in the line of fire for enraged players, Negreanu's post appeared to do the same thing. Negreanu was vocal that he was doing what he could to help reduce the changes in favor of the players, but in the end he was only able to negotiate the four $1 million freerolls and additional face time between players and PokerStars officials to aid in future communication.
In his blog, Negreanu claimed full responsibility for his role in the communications between PokerStars and the players and believed he could have done more.
"I want to take full responsibility for my role in the communications breakdown between PokerStars and the players," he wrote. "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 1, 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."
To close his post, Negreanu said he is "genuinely excited about the future."
In the post from Hollreiser, he closed with another mention of the boycott and it's lack of effectiveness in terms of curbing the changes ahead.
"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," Hollreiser wrote. "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."
To close, Hollreiser wrote, "This is the right foundation for us to build upon... Our commitment to poker is as strong as ever. We believe that our actions will demonstrate this in the months and years ahead."