On this special edition of the Pokerfuse Podcast, Mike sits down with former Head of Corporate Communications and Global Poker Marketing for PokerStars, Eric Hollreiser.
Eric shares his thoughts on his proudest moments with the company and then he reflects back on what is viewed by many as the lowest point for the company, how it handled the removal of the Supernova Elite program.
The conversation then shift to the future of online poker as Eric shares his opinions on innovation in poker, the evolution of brand ambassadors in poker, the potential lasting impact of the current global pandemic on the game and much more.
Mike Gentile: Hello and welcome everybody to a special edition of the Pokerfuse podcast. I’m your host Mike Gentile. Today we will be joined by former head of corporate communications and global marketing for PokerStars, Eric Hollreiser.
We start out our conversation discussing Eric’s background before joining PokerStars. Then we transitioned to his time at Stars as Eric shares some of his proudest moments with the company and talks about the one thing that he would most like to do different if given the opportunity. From there, we shift to the future of the online poker industry with Eric sharing his thoughts on topics such as innovation of poker, the escalation of guarantees for tournament series and headlining events, the potential lasting impact of the current global pandemic on the game and a variety of other interesting topics.
Mike: Today we are joined by Eric Hollreiser, the former head of communication and marketing for PokerStars. Eric, how are you doing today?
Eric Hollreiser: I’m doing really well, Mike. Thanks for having me. How are you?
Mike: I’m doing pretty good. All things considered, I think everyone’s staying healthy on the Pokerfuse side of the family, so that’s a good sign so far.
Eric: Fantastic. Same here with me and my family. Hoping the best for the broader poker community and their families in this really tough time.
Mike: Yes, it’s definitely. Thoughts are out to anyone that is having to endure some of the effects of this pandemic. Eric, let’s jump in a bit. I introduced you as a former communications manager at PokerStars. Tell us a bit about what you’re doing now.
Eric: Yes, sure. After nine years at PokerStars where I was the Head of Communications and most recently also Head of Global Poker Marketing, I left in November and formed my own communications and marketing consulting firm called ACE Hollreiser, taking on a number of clients. I’m relatively fortunate to be able to be somewhat choosy and be able to work with people and companies that either I’ve wanted to work with or that I find particularly compelling and interesting. I’ve got a varied background in marketing communications. Aside from poker, I was in media entertainment and technology before that with Disney and Microsoft and Activision. I’m looking to leverage the breadth and depth of experience that I have.
One area that I’ve focused on particularly is what I’m calling regulatory entrepreneurship and taking a look at those companies that are disrupting or being disrupted within regulated markets, which gives me an opportunity to leverage my technology background. My most recent PokerStars experience being, one of the most visible poster children for regulatory entrepreneurship, I think in the past decade. It’ll allow me to leverage that experience and expertise and put it against various, as I say, disruptive companies that are as innovative often are well ahead of the regulatory curve, well ahead of regulators and governments. Help them seize the opportunities that come with being that far ahead of the curve, but also hopefully avoid some of the landmines that are inherent in that innovative and regulatory environment.
Mike: I know Eric, we have talked personally in the past and you have some— I consider you to be a pretty good storyteller. I know you have some interesting stories about your background prior to PokerStars. Can you pick out one of those and share it with us?
Eric: Oh, god, I’ve been very fortunate to have multiple lives and such varied interests and experiences. My days at the Walt Disney company were amazing and working in the early days of the rebirth of Disney channel and working in Hollywood were amazing and working with young stars like Hilary Duff and Shia LaBeouf, absolutely fantastic. Being at Microsoft when we launched Xbox 360 and really getting engaged in the business of video gaming. I’ve been a gamer for many years. Getting into the business of that Bill Gates for a number of years. I was responsible for all of his public appearances and press interviews related to Microsoft’s consumer business. I did the launch of Xbox 360, the launch of Halo. The launch of products some of which did very well like Halo, some of which not so well like Zune, which you may or may not recall was Microsoft’s.
Mike: I do not.
Eric: Meant to be their iPod killer and now is on the dung heap of technology relics, but was well ahead of its time. So fantastic time at Microsoft and then I went over to Activision and headed up communications for the then exploding video game called Guitar Hero, which became the first-ever billion-dollar video game franchise and was the biggest video game of the time. There I got to combine a lot of passions. My interest in technology and converged media, deep interest in music, and got to launch all sorts of fun games and do great promotions from things like having a secret show of Metallica at South by Southwest, I think it was 2009, 2010, to launching DJ Hero with yet another secret show in Los Angeles. We did a last-minute invitation to The Wiltern theater to see a performance by Jay Z and Eminem with DJ AM and somebody else opening, fantastic times.
Mike: It sounds really, really interesting.
Eric: I’ve done a number of things. To be fair, the past 10 years at PokerStars is full of so many ups and downs. It was a whole kind of book in and of itself, I’d say.
Mike: When you did eventually make it to PokerStars, a lot of people, as you mentioned earlier, you were the Head of Communication, so a lot of people associate you with PokerStars in that role. How did things start out at PokerStars? What did you start doing when you first got there and how did you work your way up eventually to be the Director of Communications?
Eric: I actually joined as the Head of Corporate Communications. When I first started talking to PokerStars, it was in late 2010. They had done a global search through a headhunting firm that reached out to me and I had been at Activision prior to that. I played poker but I was not a professional poker or really an online player very much. I was really coming much more from the media entertainment and technology background and more of a functional expert as it were.
PokerStars at the time was still largely full of poker passionate people. The belief there was starting with poker passion, and then if you had the skills to do the job. Well, that was secondary, we could always teach that. When I was joining it was at the time where the company was really starting to professionalize some of the executive roles. I came in and was really at the talent of negotiating an agreement with them as I worked my way through the process when Black Friday hit.
It was an interesting time because I was still negotiating with the company my agreement with them and one of the sticking points I had was my personal lawyer being concerned about my personal liability given that the company was operating in the US and in unclear environment. The irony is once Black Friday hit, it actually made my lawyer much more comfortable because PokerStars withdrew from operating in the US, so it was a much cleaner opportunity for me.
It was also very interesting because I was able to see the company in its rawest form and work with the executive team and the owners during a time of crisis. It was an existential event, Black Friday. You really see the people’s true stripes when the business is on the line. I came away from that so impressed. I was obviously impressed enough to wanting to join the company, but what I saw at Black Friday was a company and executives that focused on the most important things from a values perspective, and that was looking at the employees, making sure that they were safe and making sure they knew what was going on. Same thing with customers and players. Giving them as much information, making sure that they were able to release to players, access their funds as quickly as possible.
For a company that prior to Black Friday and my arrival was a bit of a mystery when it came to the workings of the company itself, I was super impressed with their commitment to communications and commitments to doing the right thing. It made me feel that much better about my decision to join the company.
Mike: That’s a pretty interesting time to be joining the company, that particular company. What—
Eric: As a communications professional, it was a blessing and a curse because it was a time when communications was so important and so tough and dealing with really, as I said, existential issues but also made the importance of the role that much more clear. I was part of the executive management team from the day I started through until last November. Communication’s always played an important role even at a time when the company was what someone would consider much more secretive. It was an amazing challenge, not something that anybody ever wants to wish on a business.
We lost 25, 30% of our business overnight and in a very dramatic reputationally damaging way. To be able to come back from that and to come back as we did very much based upon the smart decisions of management, but to come back in a way where we actually enhanced the love and appreciation and loyalty of our customers through the process of having been shut down and accused of all sorts of things by the Department of Justice was really a testament to the strength of the management team and doing the right thing and putting that first and foremost.
Mike: That is an important point to come out of that, out of Black Friday, and have an increased appreciation from your customers is quite the accomplishment. Would you say that’s one of the things you’re most proud of at your time at PokerStars? If not, maybe what is?
Eric: Absolutely proud of the role that I played post-Black Friday. It was really a solid year of angst and concern and really not knowing what was next from a commercial standpoint right up through until we did the agreement with the Department of Justice in August of the following year and settled all of the commercial issues with them. It was really hairy, and again, by virtue of being part of a team that was seeking to do the right thing for customers, right thing for employees, the right thing for the industry helped a lot.
Great pride in that. After that, from what do I take pride in from PokerStars? There are so many things, but if I look at it in almost two buckets, one would be, when we were a private company and the things that we did during that time, helping to pull the curtain back on the operations of the company into expose players and media and the public more to the workings of the company. I’m super proud of it and it helped to really enhance the understanding of PokerStars as a very credible, well-run business.
It helped to open up the idea that online poker is a very legitimate and credible business and an industry. To a certain extent being located in the Isle of Man and opening up the Isle of Man a bit more, it gave a bit more credibility to the Isle of Man as a wonderful place to do business.
Mike: That being said, what do you think some of the things that you would absolutely have done differently given some hindsight?
Eric: Well, that’s pretty easy. You look at the issues around Supernova Elite and what we did there. We could probably spend a good hour— You and I have, at all hours of the evening, talked about some of these issues. In hindsight, we obviously could have handled Supernova Elite better. As I’ve always said, sometimes not so eloquently or with the ability of having hindsight, communications was something we could’ve done better, but at the end of the day – I always say this to clients and said it at the time to PokerStars – it’s not really about what you say, it’s about what you do. Yes, we were being beat up for some of the things that we said that we could’ve said better, but at the end of the day, what we did is what upset players, very understandably.
The way that we managed the communications of that wasn’t great. Internally – I won’t get into the details of it – we weren’t ready to communicate it when we communicated it, and that became very apparent. In hindsight, I’m not sure, from a business perspective, we could have done things differently. We certainly could have, and we’d examined all the different ways of how to restructure the program, but there were some fundamental flaws to the business model that needed to be addressed.
We did it. We did it in an inelegant way, we did it in a way that we could have done it better, structurally. What we chose to do, we could have done better and still achieve the same purposes. Some of that is the value of hindsight, some of that is a little bit of, “I told you so” from some people saying, “Hey, we could’ve done it differently, we should’ve done it differently.” What would I do differently? Supernova Elite, 100% differently. Exactly how, it’s hard to say. It would’ve been a combination of what we chose to do and how we chose to communicate it.
Mike: Over your time , quite some time, that you spent at PokerStars, you’ve got to have some interesting stories, things behind the scenes, maybe something in the days or months following Black Friday. What can you share with listeners that you think they might find entertaining?
Eric: Well, some of the more entertaining things I’ll have to hold on to for now. I think some interesting things I think it’s important for people, particularly your fans, and your viewers, and listeners, are understanding that PokerStars and the people making the decisions at PokerStars , have always tried to do the right thing.
When we became a public company, I started to say internally we’re growing up in public, we made mistakes, we didn’t always do things as well as we could have as we were learning to do things differently from being a family-run private company to having the responsibilities of public company. One of the things I think that’s always been a misconception is even when we were a private company, we were a profit-driven, well-run business.
The reality is it was those business principles that made it possible for us to survive Black Friday where Full Tilt didn’t because they weren’t a well-run business, and that didn’t become clear until it was a crisis. When Black Friday hit, because of the well-run business, we were able to continue operating, because of the sound business principles, because we were profit-driven and knew where the money was and where it was going.
When people look at some of the decisions that were made later, yes, some of them were because we were a public company and had different shareholders that we had to address, but some I actually believe were decisions that would’ve been made differently by the private company as well because they were underlying fundamental issues of the ecosystem of online poker that weren’t going to change because we had nice people running the company who cared about players. We always had nice people running the company who cared about players. They were just different priorities and different times.
I think the company became a public company exactly the right time for the previous owners. It was just ahead of when there were some fundamental changes that needed to be made regardless of who owned the company.
Mike: Well, having spent so much time in your role at PokerStars and then I believe also you mentioned Head of Global Marketing for Poker. That gives you a pretty unique perspective on the industry. I’d like to dive into some of your thoughts on the poker industry in general. This way we can leave PokerStars out of it. There’s no need to look back. This is more of a look forward. Let’s start with our current conditions. We’re seeing the effects of COVID-19. Do you think there will be any lasting positive or negative effects that come out of this pandemic for online poker specifically?
Eric: Obviously, with the backdrop of the tragedy of COVID, there is a boom happening. There’s a COVID boom, and that’s ultimately very good for online poker. What the long lasting effects will be is too early to tell, A; Be highly dependent upon how the operators choose to take advantage of this time. I think about it on two ends of the spectrum. You can milk this mother for all it’s worth right now. On the other end of the spectrum, you could make sure you’re embracing every customer who’s coming now and they’re coming in droves. Whether that’s your high volume player, whether that’s your recreational player, your reactivated player, the guy who hasn’t played in a number of years and now is looking for things to do and those newbies who are playing online poker for the first time, this is an amazing opportunity for all operators to get to really understand who their players are and what they want.
Right now I think everybody’s scrambling to just service what’s going on and to understand how to predict volumes, how to predict activity guarantees, all of which is the day to day running of the business. I think the long-term impact will be decided by how operators get to understand who the customer is today, what they want, and how they serve that going forward. That when this ends, because it will end, when people go back to some semblance of a normal life, why should they continue to come back to online poker? What have we done now that makes say, yes, this is what I want to do when I’ve got other things competing for my time and I’m not locked in.
Some of that will be how we come up with programs and promotions that I think it would be great to understand how we can keep players coming back throughout the course of the year. I think that’s one of the things that the loyalty programs have struggled with since the year long Supernova Elite programs where you’re rewarded for ongoing play through the course of time. Now would be a great time to introduce those programs that keep people involved and engaged, as I say, two months from now when they have other things competing for their time and interest in while.
I think it’s going to be in the end a very positive thing for the industry. I think hopefully all operators will use this as an opportunity to reengage with players, to engage more deeply with players and understand what they want and try to deliver that to them today and also integrate that into where I think the biggest opportunity for online poker and poker in general is for the future, and that is innovation. How do we innovate on the game in ways that are more relevant to players today and super important to players of tomorrow?
Mike: Innovation is definitely an interesting topic when it comes to online poker. There’s been a number of ways that different companies have tried to innovate, whether it’s game types, formats, rewards systems as you mentioned. What do you think the future of poker innovation holds? What areas do you think online poker companies should be focusing on when it comes to introducing innovative ideas to their customers?
Eric: I think it’s got to be in the broader video gaming space. That’s a challenge. Certainly, PokerStars has been very good at this, but it’s a challenge. How do you reward the exciting play that it doesn’t so dramatically change the reality of online poker? If I had the answer, trust me, I would be out there, getting a patent on it and trying to sell. I don’t pretend to have what the right innovation is, but I think it needs to resemble more the qualities of what we’re seeing in competitive video gameplay. I think it’s innovating enough so that you can stay ahead of the AI monster and the solving of no-limit hold’em that keeps the fundamentals of poker interesting to the people that like poker, that likes strategy games like games of incomplete information.
Mike: Right. It sounds like you’re saying that the innovation to the actual product itself is probably the most important thing for online poker.
Eric: I think it’s a combination. I think it’s new variations of the game that keep it interesting and compelling and it’s also the technology, right? Whether that’s a better UI/UX, and deeper immersion into the experience of playing online, which I think things like 5G are going to make more accessible so that whether it’s virtual reality or other kinds of augmented experiences while you’re playing online poker, I think that’s really rich ground. We know from the history of online poker that, live poker is the ultimate ambition, right? That’s what everybody’s aspiring to, whether they say it or not, whether they ever actually do it or not, live poker remains the aspiration.
The closer we can get to replicating the live poker experience, I think is going to be the better. I think that plays for the two ends of the spectrum where the more we can for the serious player, whether it’s a professional player or somebody who is playing very seriously, that wants to replicate a poker room experience, having lots of different games available, being able to play the games that they want, play when they want to play at the binds that they want to play at or it’s the recreational level where it’s social, almost like the home game, right? There’s such a social element to it that gets lost in the current versions of online poker.
I think the increased bandwidth, better technical capability, and some imagination and innovation will bring that experience much more to life and make it more compelling. I think when you look at things like Twitch and how we can engage, how poker players playing online poker can engage with each other and with the rail is also super important. I think all of that’s going to come together in some interesting, magical way that somebody’s going to flip the bid on and that’ll be an innovation that changes poker along with the variant changes and all the experiment and you see going on different poker variants.
Mike: Success at the live game is what I hear you saying is the main aspiration for most online poker players from—
Eric: I don’t know about success though. Mike, sorry. One of the other things that I’m really proud of in my time running marketing more recently was PSPC. One of the things, when I took over marketing that I was impressing upon people was yes, we need to change, yes, we need to evolve, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think we had lost the plot in some ways about some of that core desire of poker players. Yes, it’s to win. Yes, it’s to have that big score, but winning and that big score are part of the broader aspiration and experience in lifestyle and, frankly, the sexiness of live poker that is the thrill of that moment, but it’s also the thrill of being part of that community, to play against your idols and against famous people to play with them. Sometimes it’s winning a hand. It’s not necessarily winning the tournament, it’s winning that hand. That is the memorable experience.
With PSPC, we’re able to bring back some of that core aspiration. Then after PSPC when, we were thinking about whether this is something we wanted to do again. I saw the opportunity for us to tell those stories because the stories were amazing. Whether it was again, Ramon Colillas winning 5 million bucks from a Platinum Pass, which was a dream for us from a marketing perspective, to people who just came and had a Caribbean adventure for free, that was a dream of a lifetime for so many people.
We created a marketing campaign called Dare to Dream, which we told these stories similar to the way the Moneymaker story was told and told and told and created this aspiration and that has been super effective. Who knows what happened with PSPC in live like tournament’s right now because we’re in a very funny time? But, again, when I think about that live experience, it’s as much the aspiration of community and engagement and fun as it is competitive, and there is a competitive element, huge competitive element, and a huge, “I want to win a million bucks “ component, but it’s more than that. That’s what I think makes poker such a widely popular game.
Mike: I think it’s pretty widely accepted, whether it’s accurate or not, I won’t speak to, but it’s pretty widely accepted that aspirations of online poker players early on in the online poker boom were to become a professional. From a marketing perspective, what do you think the story is that online poker and the online poker industry in general should be promoting, should be telling to further increase its player base and its popularity?
Eric: Recognizing that— One of the things that was controversial that I was very much leading the charge on was our evolution of how we saw sponsored pros. I think what we did and what I saw and still see as the evolution that we needed to foster was the ambition of some poker players, many poker players, is still to be a pro, but that’s changed involved. As you think about the new younger player and the realities of the world we live in, whether that’s because we don’t have America yet still playing online so the ambitions had to be pulled back a little bit because most of Americans can’t play, but the ambition was less being a sponsored live poker pro to being a streamer. Some of that was I think just a natural social evolution when we see the rise of YouTube stars and social media stars and to a certain extent reality TV stars. I think the next generations are seeing that as an aspiration. Combining online poker with that aspiration seemed like a natural to me.
It was natural for a lot of reasons. You saw people starting with Jason Somerville being really successful at it, and what was successful was being a good poker player but also being an entertainer and being as almost a streamer first and creating a community and an audience of engaged people who want to watch what’s ordinary like watching paint dry. Online poker is not the most sexy thing to watch. When you get people who are fun to watch, interesting to watch, and can inform you whether that’s from strategy, how to play a specific hand , bankroll management, all of the teaching that started with TV poker can be done in a much more interactive and engaging way, there is something like Twitch and streaming.
I think the aspiration needed to and probably still needs to evolve more toward the more modern way that people are experiencing gaming and communicating. That’s when we think about COVID also. I think there’s an opportunity here, as we all find new ways of staying in touch. That we’re seeing a bit of a boom in streaming as well. I think there’s an opportunity there to innovate and to change the experience or evolve the experience of online poker for the play and for the rail and for the community. I think it is the right direction for people to go.
Mike: One of the things that we’ve seen recently, and I think is only exasperated by COVID, is the ever-escalating series and event guarantees. There always seems to be a move towards having more money guaranteed for a series or more money guaranteed for an event. At some point, that needs to stop I would think. I’m curious as to what are your views on how that has evolved and what the online poker industry can do to maybe head off any dangers that might be at the end of that escalator?
Eric: Well, if you’re doing it responsibly, there’s probably a limit. If you’re doing it responsibly, the limit is dictated by the interest. Good responsible operators will be aspirational in setting the guarantees but they’ll also be realistic. Right now online poker companies are blowing through their guarantees because they can’t accurately predict it because the boom is so sudden, so dramatic, and we don’t know how long it’s going to last. I don’t think it’s the escalating guarantees that are concerning to me, it’s being responsible about it. I think as long as operators are aspirational in setting the guarantees, but realistic, the guarantee is always going to be important.
Now, one interesting thing that I never got a satisfactory answer to is how much more people do you get attracted to a tournament because of the large guarantee? At what point is enough, enough? Is it at $10 million guarantee? I’ll play that. Or is it 100 million? At a certain point, I think the numbers become so extraordinary that it doesn’t really matter. Whether it’s 10 million, 15 million, 25 million, 1 million I think most people would be very happy with the one-million tournament as long as the buy-in is right.
It is important to have something to talk about. The higher the guarantee, the record-breaking guarantees give you something to get excited and interested in talking about. It takes a little more creativity and it takes a little more strategy and thought to get beyond the guarantee. The poker operators’ and poker marketers’ job is to continue to responsibly increase the guarantees where it makes sense, but find other ways to get people interested and engaged.
Mike: What ways do you think online poker operators can get people interested and engaged in the game away from the tables? What are some possible avenues that they can go on to reach new audiences, for example?
Eric: I think Twitch is important. Things like virtual reality. I think having side games that are interesting and compelling while you’re waiting for your turn to play. There’s a huge competition for time, attention and money. The more entertaining we can be as operators, the more engaged and understanding and respectful of our customers as we can be, the more relevant we’re going to be. I don’t know that that’s a very satisfying answer, but I think it’s understanding your players, understanding how they’re changing and how the environment around them is changing.
Mike: One of the biggest challenges that I see for the online poker industry is regulation. That’s currently, for example, in the US, it is preventing millions of people that otherwise would be interested in playing online poker from doing so. If you were in charge of the purse strings of a poker advocacy organization, where would you direct your efforts?
Eric: Well, that’s a tough one man. I’ve been through the wars. We were instrumental in getting New Jersey to pass online poker regulation, as much as that was a challenge for PokerStars considering we got the legislation passed, but then we’re prevented from applying for a license. There was an irony in that, but I think it requires some herding of cats. I think getting the industry to work together, which is a challenge, particularly for such a young industry, but I think we’re starting to see A, through consolidation of the industry, fewer operators, which should help in getting everybody to work together.
The next step is a maturity that the industry needs to attain that focuses on consumer protections, right? How do we as an industry, talk about consumer protections in a way that resonates with regulators in a responsible and smart way? I don’t know where we fell down. I’ll be honest with you, I would love to spend the time to try to figure it out, but the fact that sports betting has progressed far quicker than online poker in America, I think is a factor of the amount of money, right? The media company in the vested interests behind sports leagues. As I said media companies have a vested interest in growing sports. We don’t really have that in poker, and that’s a challenge.
I wish that poker was doing better at riding on the coattails of sports, that’s what I would be spending my efforts on. Every state that has legislated online sports but hasn’t legislated online poker, you got to get in there and talk about the merits of the consumer protections because we know Americans are playing today online poker and they’re playing on unregulated sites, some which may be responsible, many which will not be responsible. It’s a storytelling exercise, but it’s also strategic and smart exercise and follow on the coattails of sports wherever possible, that’s what I would do.
Mike: Okay, so it sounds like a bit of a shift from talking about revenue savers or revenue generating industry to one that is more consumer protection -focused. Am I summarizing correctly?
Eric: Yes, I think that’s important because when you look at the tax revenue from poker versus the tax revenue of sports it pales in comparison. To certain extent, sports betting is doing that heavy lifting for the industry. Now pokers got to get in there and say, “Hey, we’ve got millions of poker fans who are out there risking their bankroll every day by playing on unlegitimate sites.” It only stands to reason, particularly now that we’ve got sports betting that poker be regulated .
Mike: Online poker operators have been traditionally, let’s say competitive, I think that’s a fair word. I’ve seen a recent trend where operators are being less cutthroat, let’s say, when it comes to scheduling. That seems to be one thing that they’re starting to learn to work together on understanding that scheduling, in conjunction, maybe not in cooperation, but in conjunction with their competition can be beneficial to everyone overall. What would you say is the biggest opportunity for poker operators to work together to benefit the industry as a whole?
Eric: Yes, I think competition is helpful and being respectful of players and bankrolls in how you schedule tournaments. Sundays are always going to be a great online poker day, and not just because of the Sunday Million. I think a lot of that takes care of itself when there’s focus. I think part of what happened with poker is the other operators outside of PokerStars were less interested for a number of years after Black Friday for somewhat understandable reasons. I think competition is good and it’s healthy.
For a few years, PokerStars was less focused on competition and more focused on keeping the industry alive, and it took them a little bit of time to adjust to having competitive pressures again in poker. I think those competitive pressures are good, and I think adapting to that and having strong competitors makes the leader better, it makes everybody better.
I’m not sure we’ll ever find the kind of cooperation that might be necessary, but I think things like the WSOP and having events that transcend any one operator are super important. Can we replicate that online? I’m not so sure. I was hopeful that something like the PSPC could become something like that. I don’t have a better answer for you than that, I’m afraid.
Mike: Traditionally, we’ve seen online poker operators use live events to offer a more robust product to their consumers, to their customers. It seems like we’re starting to see things move in the opposite direction now and seeing live operators use the online game to provide more product choices for their customers. We’ve seen the online events at the WSOP have skyrocketed over the past few years. We’ve also seen now, even before the pandemic started, that WPT is moving to add some online presence to their brand. Do you see that as a trend that will continue? If so, how does it differ from the way that we traditionally have seen the live and online games be integrated by poker companies?
Eric: I think it will be an evolution. It is a little bit of back to the future in so much as online poker has always driven business to live poker. I think that’s for some of those same aspirational and community reasons that I talked about earlier. I think it’ll be interesting to see how we can get greater synchronicity.
I think some of what we were calling on-live kinds of tournaments where you start online and then fulfill it at a final table in a live setting will be very interesting. I think the reality of now bricks-and-mortar casinos, understanding that online play can drive foot traffic will return us back to that recognition that there can be an interplay between online and bricks-and-mortar that benefits both. Returning to that I think will be super important. How that, again, translates, I would love to see— Perhaps it’s my own interests of video games, but I think about Comic-Con and I think about communities of people who play a competitive game online and then show up in a real-life setting to celebrate that community. WSOP is very much like that, but I think in some ways it’s limited because it’s just so focused on poker. It could be much more.
When you were asking earlier about what more can poker companies do to to keep players engaged, I think it’s recognizing that they’re not just poker players, they have other interests too, so how do you get those interests to align in a way that feeds a lifestyle and doesn’t feel like a disconnect, it feels like a perfect extension to the community that they’ve built in their poker game, whether that’s their weekly home game or it’s their online profession every day, how do you go and celebrate that. I think that’s what the live tournament can and should be and what I think that certainly PSPC was aspiring to and WSOP has been.
Mike: Now that you are currently not actually in the online poker industry, does that mean we’re going to see you playing at the table at PokerStars?
Eric: I have been taking a break from poker for a couple of reasons. One, after almost 10 years it, was time to be able to just not think about poker for a while. I have been dabbling at the online tables a little bit, but I also— part of my agreement with PokerStars was that I would not go to work for another porker company for a period of time, which is as it happens coming to an end now.
I will be resetting my sights on getting back into poker in some way, shape, or form in the near future. Yes, you’ll probably see me at the tables a bit more often.
Mike: Custom avatar perhaps.
Mike: No, just wondering if you had gotten that as part of your time at PokerStars.
Eric: I’ll tell you – what I got at PokerStars is interesting. When I left, my team and a bunch of folks that PokerStars collected some money and bought me a 3-D printer as part of a going away.
Mike: I saw that on social media.
Eric: Yes. Which is amazing because I wasn’t really planning on talking too much about leaving when I left and I decided to put this post because it was really touching to me that the team got me this 3-D printer and it was an inside joke because I’ve been joking and demanding that our teams use 3-D printing because I saw it as the creative innovation of the future but could never come up with a really good idea for why we should get a 3-D printer.
I posted this thing because it just gave me the opportunity to thank all these wonderful people that I’ve worked with over the years of PokerStars and let me use the idea of 3-D printing. If I could 3-D print a team of the future, it would be so many of these people. That post on LinkedIn just went completely viral and had, the last time I checked 35,000 views and really forced me to start doing consulting sooner than I had planned on it because it got people to say, “What are you doing? What can I do for you? Let’s work together.” It was a blessing and a curse.
I still believe in 3-D printing and was really thrilled to see some of this COVID coverage that people are using 3-D printers to create personal protective gear for the healthcare workers. I feel very vindicated in my 3-D printing aspirations.
Eric: Maybe a 3-D printed avatar.
Mike: Well, Eric, your insights are crazily valuable to the industry. Thank you for taking the time to share them with us and our audience. I do look forward to seeing what future role you might play in the online poker industry. It sounds like that may be something that we’re going to be hearing more about in the not too distant future.
Eric: I look forward to, Mike, thanks so much for taking the time and having the interest and we’ll definitely keep in touch.
Mike: All right. Thank you, Eric.
Mike: Well, that wraps up this episode of the pokerfuse podcast. As a reminder, please give us a like and a subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow us and interact with us on Twitter. Nick is at @pokerprojones. I am @SpookyBugs. Thanks, everyone for tuning in.