In its latest marketing gimmick, PokerStars has renamed its daily $22 Pot-Limit Omaha Six-Max tournament the “Lex Veldhuis Open,” in honour of its Team PokerStars Pro Online member. Veldhuis, who goes by “RaSZi” when playing online, is a popular Twitch streamer, and the tournament in question has been a standard part of his stream.
Recently, he’s been doing so well in that specific event that his Twitch fans had begun referring to it as the “RaSZi Invitational.” The PokerStars marketing team took note, and extended a special challenge to Veldhuis: Make the final table three times in a single week, and he’d get the tournament officially named after him. Not only did Veldhuis rise to the challenge, but he did so the very first week.
A common suggestion
This isn’t the first time such an idea has been floated; rather, it’s a suggestion often made half-seriously whenever a player goes on an improbable streak in a specific event. In 2015, when Tuan Le won the $10,000 WSOP 2-7 Limit Triple Draw Championship for the second year running, there were calls for it to have his name put in the title should he manage it a third time this year. As it turns out, he did not – this year’s winner was John Hennigan – but it’s unlikely the WSOP would have taken the suggestion in any case.
Of course, PokerStars’s decision to go through with it in Veldhuis’s case has a lot to do with the fact that they have a sponsorship deal with him, so they’re promoting their own brand in the process of promoting him. They are, however, extending the same offer to anyone else – sponsored pro or not – who manages to duplicate his achievement. Whether anyone else will chase it as actively as Veldhuis is another question, but depending on how much of the field is made up of regulars who play most days of the week, it may not take that long for someone to manage it just by random chance.
Farewell to WCOOP bracelets
It’s interesting that this was done just before this years World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) starts, as this is the first year that WCOOP events will not be awarding bracelets to the winners. This decision was made based on feedback from players that few winners care about the prestige very much, and would prefer that money is not removed from the prize pool in order to pay for the bracelets.
In this regard, online poker differs significantly from live, as it’s hard to imagine a prestigious live tournament ending any way other than with a winner’s photo, featuring the lucky player holding his or her bracelet, ring, trophy, or other physical token by which to commemorate the victory. There are a couple of reasons for this: Firstly, there’s the sheer volume of tournaments being played online; naturally, winning a WCOOP event is more special than some $11 nightly donkament, but for live players not named Fedor Holz, winning events is a rare occurrence, whereas those playing dozens of online tournaments each day will inevitably win them on a fairly regular basis.
Meanwhile, online poker is by its nature a private, semi-anonymous experience. Receiving a bracelet or trophy in a live event is as much about living the moment as it is about the object itself. When you win a tournament online, there’s no jubilant crowd of railbirds, no winner’s photo, no after-party. Usually, you just tell your roommates or significant other about it and go to bed. Once you’ve done that, it’s hard to imagine receiving a bracelet in the mail being anything other than anti-climactic.
Online tokens for online accomplishments
So, then, it seems that the real problem with WCOOP bracelets was a mismatch between the nature of the achievement itself and the nature of the token object. Imagine digital recognition for a physical event, and you’ll see the problem. Say the European Poker Tour announced that rather than trophies this year, the winners of events would have their photos posted within the PokerStars client. It doesn’t really make much more sense the other way around, either.
In a way, PokerStars’s experiment with “The Lex Veldhuis Open” reminds me of something Full Tilt tried a couple of times in the post-Black Friday era, namely its Avatar Tournaments. These were named for various beasts, from a unicorn to a walrus to various types of dinosaur. Winning any of these tournaments would give the player access to a custom avatar in the form of the beast in question, as an (optional) status symbol and memento of the victory.
Digital rewards are cheap, so how do we add worth?
The trouble with digital rewards, though, is that poker players, even amateur poker players, are money-minded, and well aware of the fact that digital rewards don’t cost the company anything. Whether or not one actually intends to sell one’s bracelet, it’s still a physical piece of jewelry, made from precious metals and with an obvious monetary value associated with it. It’s much harder to get people to take something seriously and assign emotional value to it when they know all it really amounts to is a single field on their record in the site’s database, which cost the site nothing to put there.
So, what I’d like to see is a whole set of regularly-running tournaments featuring the ability to “take ownership” of the event in question by managing some exceptional feat, like three back-to-back final tables, or three wins in 30 days, or whatever, depending on the field sizes and how frequently the events run. The player would retain “ownership” of the event (and their screen name would remain in the title) for one calendar year or until another player manages to steal ownership from them by repeating the same feat.
But how do we make this a worthwhile goal to pursue? My suggestion would simply to be to provide free entry to the player in the event for as long as their name remains on it; it’s significant to the player themselves and guarantees they’ll be around to defend their title, but so long as we’re talking about events with four-figure fields, the cost to the site relative to the tournament entry fees being collected is quite small.
Something along those lines would, in my opinion, strike the right balance between prestige, visibility, marketing value for the site, and straightforward monetary reward. It also ties in very nicely with the new Twitch-streaming culture, which is bringing back the idea of online poker celebrity. It seems likely that Veldhuis’s viewership numbers will increase as people tune in to watch him play the tournament which now has his name on it; that sort of effect would make such tournaments additionally worthwhile for Twitch streamers to pursue. To paraphrase the Dire Straits classic: That ain’t grindin’, that’s the way you do it. Viewers for nothing and your buy-ins for free.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.