"We can hit the $20 million guarantee" - Tom Waters

We chat to partypoker the Managing Director about PKOs, the Online MILLIONS $20 million guarantee, DDoS attacks and much more.

Tom Waters
Tom Waters

Last month 888poker accused partypoker of poaching their players and there is a wider perception that you are targeting existing players rather than creating new ones, for example you have sponsored a lot of former PokerStars Pros who have been critical of the company since they left, not to mention a lot of your policies are correctives to complaints some players have had about PokerStars.

Tom Waters: That’s one way you can perceive it but ultimately all the pros and ambassadors we have picked for our team are there because they are a good fit for partypoker. It’s very important that their DNA is in line with ours, for example Ike Haxton, he is very ethical, he is player focussed, he is probably one of the most respected guys in the poker industry, everything he does and says is in the interest of the players. We want Ike, Patrick Leonard and our other pros to spread our values through the poker community and these guys are the perfect example of a professionals that will do that. Patrick takes a lot of stick from players on social media but he works so hard behind the scenes to make things better for them. He’s heavily involved in the software improvements and tournament structures and generally in player facing decisions and he deserves a lot of credit for many of the improvements players have seen in recent months.

With regards to 888, I can categorically state we are not specifically targeting anyone’s players, although can you blame players for moving from 888 to partypoker when we have better software, bigger and better MTTs and more rewarding promotions? We are looking to get as many players engaging with the partypoker software as possible and we are trying to do that by giving them what they want. Now, if they come from 888, or PokerStars, or Unibet, or iPoker, we don’t care, we are just looking to grow as aggressively as possible. We are taking feedback on board from a number of player groups regarding software, promotions, tournaments, cash games and other areas and where possible we are implementing changes to give the players what they want. We can’t fix everything but we are doing our best and we have some ambitious plans for the next 12 months but I’m confident players will love the improvements we are working on.

Would you say though that the partypoker ethos is more aimed at serious existing players, compared to the recreational focus of PokerStars or perhaps Unibet?

Tom Waters: I’m not sure I would agree with that. If you take into consideration our recent online festivals, we have the small buy-in Monster Series which is perhaps our most popular series, and the KO Series. The KOs are mostly lower buy-in events, they’re fun, they’re less pro friendly. We also have Sit & Go Jackpots which again are more recreational friendly.

Your question is probably focusing on our marketing where we don’t do much ‘£5 free’ mass media advertising. That’s because we don’t see the value of it for us at the current stage of our revival as a brand. You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars with a big media company and the majority of players come in, use their free money, and disappear. We are looking to attract more loyal and regular poker players to the site, players who care about the game, not just professionals but also players who log-in two or three times a week where it’s not necessarily to earn a living but as an aspirational and fun game for them. We’re definitely not gearing up solely for high stakes full-time players, perhaps we have attracted a group of them because of our software improvements, MTT rake cuts and loyalty scheme but all of these are great for the recreational players too - the software is more user friendly, PKO’s have no rake on the bounty element and the loyalty scheme is supplemented by ticket giveaways and other promotions that have received great feedback from the entire database.

"The players love PKOs"

party KO
PKOs always over perform

Tournaments really are the battle ground for the industry at the moment, you have your major Online MILLIONS event this year and PokerStars have the PSPC. Is tournament success the big metric for you?

Tom Waters: It’s difficult to market cash games, you can advertise a huge tournament guarantee, those big numbers lure players in. Maybe cash game players do get left out a bit, but we have our cashback scheme which is worth up to 40% rakeback, I believe it’s the most rewarding in the industry. Cash games is another area where we are looking to improve our product. Games like Sit & Go Hero have taken away from the cash games a little bit, again you can market the jackpots and they’re quick and fun games.

Are you trying to make partypoker known for being the PKO site, because you have probably more of them than any other site as well as being the first site to have a regular PKO series.

Tom Waters: The majority of players love them, it’s as simple as that, whenever you put a PKO in the schedule they overperform. Players like the bounty element and the variation, the strategy is completely different. PKOs are good for the ecology because the bankrolls are shared more evenly amongst the players, but that’s not why we do it, we do it because the players want those games. If the majority of our players preferred more traditional MTT formats then we’d have more normal MTTs, we just follow the trend.

The partypoker MTT lobby does change more frequently than any other lobby in terms of game offering, the times and guarantees of events change a lot, for example. Are you constantly testing and tweaking it?

Tom Waters: We want to get to a more stabilised product offering, we want to have a schedule where you can look 2-3 weeks ahead and know what will be there. It is a trial and error process at the moment. After a big festival you don’t really know who is going to come back online afterwards and we are tinkering until we find the optimum schedule. A lot of the changes are also based on player feedback and I'm confident over the next few weeks we will be able to settle on a relatively stable Power Series schedule.

We are also changing the structures, we wanted to improve the experience for the player, we don’t want a player to be up till 5AM deep in these tournaments when they have to go to work the next day. We’ve changed the late reg, the structures and the starting stacks to this “smooth” structure where you have a good playing experience and you maintain a decent 30 Big Blind average stack throughout the tournament. If you look at our big MTTs they are finishing at two to three in the morning rather than five or six in the morning like on some other sites. For a guy that’s got to go to work in the morning that’s just not doable.

This was a major factor in recent changes to our schedule. Our big nightly tournaments are the big bounty hunters at 6PM and you won’t be playing till 6AM, you’re in the money around midnight, they end at 3AM and if you make it that far you don’t mind losing a bit of sleep before work because you’ve had a nice pay day.

"We can hit $20 million"

online millions
"It will be tough but we can hit it"

The marketing for the $20 million guaranteed Online MILLIONS has really ramped up as we are heading towards the final quarter. Was the plan to meet the guarantee or is this something where you are prepared for an overlay so you can host the biggest online MTT of all time?

Tom Waters: We think we can hit it. The biggest online poker tournament prior to Millions Online was in 2012 and the collected prizepool was just over $12 million. Getting 4,000 runners in a $5k buy-in online tournament is a massive challenge and perhaps I’m being overly optimistic considering we need to beat the previous record by $8 million but I feel that we can hit $20 million. The poker market is also smaller now than it was in 2012 which makes it even tougher, therefore we need a lot of player support to get there! We need to be innovative in the ways that we do it and if you look in our lobby right now you’ll see lots of value added satellites. These satellites are very popular and they will ramp up with huge mega satellites just before the event. You can qualify for a cent online, or via Sit & Go Jackpots, plus you have the option to buy-in using your PPL Dollars. Right now if you win your seat via a Sit & Go Jackpot and win the Main Event we’ll add $2.5 million to your prize.

The entire industry is under threat from DDoS attacks, are you prepared for this during Online MILLIONS?

Tom Waters: We’re a target all the time, fortunately we were not affected as badly as some other sites in the online gaming industry, thankfully our IT and tech guys did a great job. The attacks were at such high volume it took the entire industry by surprise. We are confident that our defence mechanisms against DDOS attacks are now robust. We have been subjected to a large number of attacks since the initial wave of attacks and have suffered no disruption to our poker services.

Will Online MILLIONS hit the $20 million guarantee? Let us know in the comments:

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