Two weeks ago, we reported that PokerStars had renamed a daily $22 Pot-Limit Omaha tournament the “Lex Veldhuis Open” in honour of the eponymous Twitch streamer and PokerStars Team Online pro, who goes by the username RaSZi. The tournament in question forms a regular part of Veldhuis’s Twitch-streamed sessions, and his performance in it was so consistent that fans began to joke it should be named after him. PokerStars then extended him the offer that he could final table it three times in a week, they’d do just that. The offer proved motivating, and he accomplished the mission on his very first attempt.
To be fair to its regular, non-sponsored users, PokerStars proceeded to make the offer anyone: if another player manages to duplicate RaSZi’s feat, his name will be taken down and theirs put in its place. I opined, in writing about it, that such a claim to fame might actually prove very engaging for recreational players and aspiring pros; while notoriety is something the highest-grossing players try to avoid, the average poker player desperately craves validation and wants their skills recognized. The chance to claim “ownership” of an event and have one’s feat advertised in the tournament lobby thereafter is something I could see a lot of people chasing.
Something for nothing
As it turns out, the concept has indeed proven to be a fairly solid marketing gimmick. The event in question jumped from 862 entries just before the name-change to 1358 just after, and the average number is now 73% higher than it used to be. It’s only a single tournament, of course, and an extra $1000 per day in entry fees may be just a drop in the bucket for a company the size of Amaya, but the important thing to note from a business perspective is that the cost of the promotion is virtually zero, and has had a bigger impact than many other, costlier ideas.
I predicted that if it did well, we’d see other, similar tournaments in future, but even I’m surprised at how little time it’s taken for that prediction to come true. As of this Monday, there’s a new $11 No-Limit Omaha tournament simply called “The Open,” which offers a similar deal to all comers.
The challenge for The Open is considerably easier to accomplish than the Lex Veldhuis Open. The field for the standard tournament is replaces has been in the 500 player range, so even if it sees a similar increase in interest to the Pot-Limit Omaha version, it will still have smaller fields overall and therefore a greater chance of having a player make the final table. Moreover, the number of final table appearances required to claim the title has been reduced from three in a week to two.
Assuming that the field size for the tournament increases to around 800, and that every player who makes a final table continues attempting for the remainder of the week, the odds of the title being claimed in a given week are roughly 11.5%, giving us an over/under of 5.5 weeks before we first see the event change its name to “The [Username] Open,” after which we should see it change hands every couple of months on average.
That’s hardly immortality, but PokerStars has said it may adjust the criteria as needed. If the field size grows too large, the task may become too difficult to accomplish and could be adjusted to something easier. On the other hand, I suspect players may find the constant turnover of “champions” a little too swift, and lose interest; dethroning a reigning champion should be a significant event, not something that happens a half-dozen times per year.
What I would suggest, then, is to change the criterion to be two make two more final tables in a week than the current champion makes in the same week. So, if the champion isn’t playing or does poorly, it still just requires two. But if the champion makes a final table that week, then three appearances are required that week to take over. If he repeats his own feat and gets two, then a near-impossible four would be required that week, and so on.
This would mean that the reigning champion could “defend” his title in a more literal sense, rather than simply hoping that no one else has a good week. It could also lead to any number interesting stories to be used as PokerStars blog-fodder in the process: For instance, someone could manage two final tables, only to see the defending champ make it through on the final day of the week to hang on. Or, perhaps someone who has already made one final table finds herself seated next to the champ with only 18 players remaining; not only must she make the final table herself, then, but she must try to ensure that the champ busts out before it gets down to the final nine.
One thing that’s still missing is a concrete incentive beyond the prestige. Writing about the Lex Veldhuis Open, I suggested that it would be a significant incentive at minimal cost if the reigning champion received free entry to the event for as long as she held the throne. Seeing the boost the Lex Veldhuis Open has gotten as a result of the concept, I’m even more convinced this is the case. The get-your-name-on-it gimmick resulted in 500 more entries per day. If making the tournament a freeroll for the defending champion would bring in even 10 more contenders, it would pay for itself, and I suspect the increased appeal would be significantly greater than that.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.