Online poker ecology: how to keep the balance of fans and PRO-players?
The discussion about poker ecology has become a trending topic from a few years ago. Until now, there were disputes between players, and the poker rooms have failed to understand how the ecosystem should be balanced for the good of everyone in the industry. The common idea is that a balance between amateurs and PRO players at the tables is crucial for sustainable operation. In this article, we discuss all the possible ways to create and maintain this balance, prospects, and level of efficiency of all measures.
Why has the balance of amateurs and PRO players become crucial?
First of all, let's find out where the problem came from and why everyone is talking about it now. After all, online poker somehow lived without thinking about poker ecology over ten years, a period recognized by everyone as a golden age.
At the end of the growth of online poker, or as many may say, the end of its boom, was quite a logical process in the development of any industry. Naturally, it could not increase infinitely at such rates, mainly due to the massive influx of new players and new money at the tables.
When this influx began to decline, it turned out that the regulars won and withdrew "too much money," while amateurs lost too quickly and left the tables. This trend snowballed, especially at high-stakes, were the "bumhunters" born, and as an obvious result, the amateurs were no longer interested in playing in such a situation. A similar condition can be seen at the low stakes' tables, but no one guarantees that in the future there will be some kind of balance there.
Everyone here was affected: poker rooms, amateurs, and PRO-players. Therefore, it's natural that the poker rooms began to look for ways to maintain their profits and create a balance of fans and regs at the tables. In fact, the question arose about how to attract more recreational players, because the number of regulars was not decreasing at all. As a result, most of the poker room ideas were at the expense of professional players.
Methods for creating a balance between amateurs and PRO-players
The first attempts to create such a balance can be called massive because it affected all cash tables and players. We are talking about the new rake structure systems, where the essence was to distribute the rake in favor of losing amateur players.
Networks like MPN, GG, and iPoker are good examples of this.
Having a high rake, part of which was also taken from regs, allowed to offer high rakeback promotions and conduct permanent and monthly promotions, which in theory should attract more amateurs to the tables.
Some well-known poker rooms (PokerStars and 888Poker for example), didn't change their rake structure but simply removed the rakeback, destroying the direct link between bonuses and the VIP system with how much rake the player paid.
Prohibiting third-party software, in particular, HUDs, modifications to the poker clients, adding new options (such as animations, random seating) — all this was also done by the poker rooms to improve the poker ecology at the tables.
The Chinese poker boom also introduced new measures to protect the recreational players, that includes obligatory insurance, restrictions to the minimum VPIP/PFR, games with ante, and straddle.
As we already said, the problem of ecology was particularly acute at the high-stakes tables, and it was for those that poker rooms began to test their methods of recovering it. One of the outcomes was the increase in the level of privacy of games.
Private games by invitation are probably the only radically effective way to maintain the poker environment. And it's challenging to come up with something better, although it's clear that the process of preparing such games is more than complicated. At the same time, problems with bots and other situations must be solved too.
The approach of the Triton Million for Charity was quite disrupting. With a massive £1,050,000 buy-in, the field was distributed 50-50 between amateurs and PRO-players. How was this? An amateur player was allowed to invite one PRO player to take part in the game. It must be noted that live poker is often considered a place with softer fields and better tuned.
A similar artificial creation of the necessary lineups was also tried in online poker trough the segregation of players into pools according to skill level, but such a mechanism wasn't effective because it faced a tremendous resistance among the community. But this doesn't mean that this approach is fundamentally bad, probably just its final execution.
If the high-stakes games drift towards the invitational structure, then the solution for low stakes tables can be developed via software. It's just necessary to make the random seating at the tables not that random but depending on the player's status.
Such status can be easily determined by a set of player's statistics, which can be three: beginner (a new user registered in the room less than a month ago), amateur, and regular.
A certain algorithm can distribute players at the tables according to their status looking to maintain the fan/pro ratio. At the same time, players didn't know the status of the opponents.
Such an approach is not problem-free, of course. It can create delays in table seating, increased traffic requirements, etc.
But, those can be solved attracting more recreational players to the tables and allowing them to abandon the use of such algorithm: if you want to sit down quickly, we have this table with five regs ready, or if you want a balanced table, be kind and wait. It's clear that this is only a hypothesis, and must successfully pass several trials.
The only thing that can be said for sure is that the poker rooms are looking for ways to improve poker ecology because their future depends on it. The solutions won't be easy and, most likely, will create additional difficulties. But the online poker industry can no longer go back to the golden era and must overcome the current crisis, which includes making unpopular decisions.
In our opinion, the solution lies in the functionalities of table seating, which is the only way to create balanced tables to play. In the meantime, the poker rooms must find a way to attract more recreational players at the tables, something that networks like GG or MPN are doing well right now. Soon, we will be able to contrast how the industry reacted to the current situation and the results.
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