PokerStars live events have long been established as A+ affairs, with a sleek, picture perfect setup welcoming players to the felt from around the globe. Whether it’s the long-established European Poker Tour (EPT) events or the newly revived North American Poker Tour (NAPT) or any other PokerStars-branded live event in between, poker players know that they’re in for an exquisite treat once they set foot in the tournament area.
But how do all these PokerStars live events come together? How does the company manage to present such a magnificently showcased spectacle in so many locations around the world that all somehow capture that unique similarly-branded feel?
To answer those questions requires a deep dive into company logistics, and we’re about to jump right in. Giving Cardplayer Lifestyle an exclusive peek behind the curtain is Julien Liarte, the Business Development Manager for the European Poker Tour. After working in the golf industry in France, Julian moved to Malta in 2013 where he started working for PokerStars. In 2016 he joined the Live Events department and since then he has worked on various tours, FPS, Estrellas, UKIPT, with his current focus being the development of the EPT.
We’d like to sincerely thank Julian for taking the time to answer our questions and for giving us all some tremendous insight into what it takes to put PokerStars live events together.
Only a select few online poker operators stage live events and for as long as anyone can remember, PokerStars has always been a leader in this respect. Why do you think that staging live poker events is such an important part of the offerings for a company whose primary product has long been online poker?
Live events provide a unique and immersive experience for our players, giving them the opportunity to socialise, compete and enjoy the thrill of live poker. This is something that cannot be replicated online and is one of the reasons why live poker remains so popular. Most, if not all, players started out playing with chips and cards; this is the essence of poker. And for many, it is still a dream to lift a trophy in a prestigious venue, not to mention the prize money!
PokerStars has always seen live events as an important part of our offering. It is linked to online with various promotions and the regular satellites. It is also a great platform for content creation with amazing TV coverage and live commentary in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages depending on the location.
While we’re all used to seeing EPTs and other PokerStars-branded live events on the yearly calendar of poker festivals, these multi-day affairs doesn’t just “happen on their own.” How long in advance do you and your team begin preparing for each stop and can you please give us some examples of the types of preparations that need to be made?
Behind the scenes of every EPT and other PokerStars-branded live event lies a dedicated team that meticulously plans and executes each stop. Preparation for these multi-day affairs begins a year in advance, and our team’s tireless efforts ensure that every aspect of the event runs smoothly and seamlessly.
From securing venues and coordinating logistics to crafting the tournament schedule and promoting the event to a global audience, our team works tirelessly to bring these poker festivals to life. Their dedication and expertise are evident in every detail, from the well-organized poker room to the seamless player travel and registration process.
Our Tournament Director, Toby Stone, plays a pivotal role in designing the tournament schedule, working closely with PokerStars management and casino partners to create a thrilling and engaging experience for players of all skill levels. Meanwhile, our marketing team expertly crafts a strategy to attract a diverse player base, ensuring that each event draws a lively mix of poker enthusiasts from around the globe.
The success of our live events is a testament to the collective efforts of our entire team. Their hard work, dedication, and passion for poker are what make these events truly exceptional. We are incredibly grateful for their contributions and are proud to showcase their talents on the global stage.
I imagine you’re likely quite familiar with the live events staged by other poker companies. What are the types of things that you think makes PokerStars’ live events unique?
What sets PokerStars live events apart is our commitment to excellence, game integrity and the player experience. Excellence because I pride myself on working with the best dealers and floors in the industry. This is by far our biggest asset, as we have the same pool of dealers on the tour, some of whom have been with us since the very first season! Excellence can also be found in the way we design our schedule and tournament structure, constantly reviewing with consultants and poker players from different backgrounds what improvements we can make.
Game integrity is also an important pillar, as it is for the online business. PokerStars is known for never compromising on integrity and security, and we carry this philosophy through to our live events.
When it comes to player experience, we can of course think about the amazing parties, activities or goodie bags that take place at the EPT, but player experience also includes the entire journey from the moment you qualify or decide to play at an EPT to the moment you (hopefully) win a prize! Registration is a big part of this and we are always looking for new ways to simplify the process, avoid queues or waiting lists and make every player feel like they know what to do and how to do it.
Over the years, you’ve held events at a litany of locations around the world. Some have been one-offs, while others have been annual staples. Is there one particular PokerStars live event festival that sticks out as an amazing memory or a favorite location? If so, why?
It’s hard to pick a favourite as we’ve had many incredible stops over the years. However, locations such as Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Prague are perennial favourites due to their vibrant poker scenes and beautiful surroundings. These locations have always provided a fantastic backdrop for our events and created lasting memories for both players and our team.
Also worthy of mention are all the events held in the Bahamas; the PCA and PSPC, with their stunning beaches, crystal clear waters and amazing resorts. Add to that a fantastic atmosphere with players and fans from all over the world and some of the biggest prize pools in poker!
What sort of factors go into the decision-making process when picking a host city/venue for PokerStars’ branded live events?
The selection of host cities and venues is based on a number of factors, including accessibility, local poker culture, regulatory considerations and the ability to accommodate the scale of our event. We aim to strike a balance between established poker destinations and new and exciting locations such as Paris and Cyprus, which were added to the 2023 calendar and will feature in 2024 as well. We’re always committed to providing the best poker experience for our players and that includes considering new locations where possible.
Running so many live poker events around the world requires an inordinate amount of equipment. Can you describe the immense logistics involved in transport, set-up, clean-up, storage, etc.?
Behind the thrill and excitement of a live poker event lies an intricate network of logistics orchestrated by our dedicated team. The sheer volume of equipment involved – tables, chips, cards, and more – requires meticulous planning and execution to ensure a seamless experience for players and spectators.
From shipping and setting up to cleaning and storing, our team works tirelessly to manage the intricate logistics of each event. They carefully coordinate the transportation of equipment across continents, ensuring that everything arrives on time and in pristine condition.
Setting up the tournament area is a symphony of precision and efficiency. Our team works around the clock, transforming venues into bustling poker havens. They carefully position tables, organize chips, and ensure that every detail is in place to create the perfect ambiance for a thrilling tournament.
During the event, our team remains vigilant, maintaining the smooth flow of players, spectators, and equipment. They provide security, ensure catering, and address any unforeseen issues to guarantee an uninterrupted experience for all.
After the final hand is played, our team’s work continues. They meticulously dismantle the tournament area, carefully cleaning and storing each piece of equipment until the next event. Their dedication ensures that our facilities are always ready to host another unforgettable poker experience.
The immense logistics behind live poker events are a testament to the hard work, expertise, and passion of our team. Their unwavering commitment ensures that every event runs smoothly, creating a memorable experience for players and spectators alike. We are incredibly grateful for their contributions and are proud to have them as an integral part of our team.
Can you describe for us a typical day in the life of a live events manager when on-site at an event, as well as “in between events” when back at the office/HQ?
A typical day for the Manager involves overseeing the smooth running of the event, dealing with any issues that arise and ensuring that the players have a great experience. It will also vary depending on the different stages of the event. The build-up is a busy time with many meetings with partners to ensure coordination between the hotel, casino and various departments (blog, PR, photographers, media, poker team, etc.). Then, during the event, the workload is dictated by the poker schedule and the various activities for the players. There are no set hours for the on-site manager, which is what makes the job so exciting. You can start in the morning and finish late at night, it’s a 24/7 job!
In between events, we plan future stops, work on marketing and promotions, and handle the logistics for upcoming events. It’s a mix of event management and strategic planning. The work in the office is no different from any other department, with lots of emails, phone calls and Zoom meetings! But the perspective of planning something that we will be able to live is very rewarding.
To what degree do you need to coordinate and liaise with other teams (e.g., film/production crew, tournament director/dealers, etc.) or does that all essentially fall under your team’s umbrella?
Co-ordination with other teams is vital and everything falls under the Event Manager’s remit. There are obviously many departments that know what to do from one event to the next, with talented and experienced people. If we take the TV webcast team as an example, there could be anywhere from 50 to 100 people working around the clock to make sure the set is built on time and the production runs smoothly. The event manager has to make sure that everyone has what they need to do their job in the best possible conditions.
Daily meetings are held with the media and PR team to discuss the day’s agenda and what important tournaments or activities need to be covered.
The Tournament Director is in regular contact with the Event Manager. They share feedback on completed tournaments and plan the rest of the event. Do we need to add or remove levels in a tournament, is there enough room for Day 2, should we keep the dinner break after level 10, etc.? When planning with as much detail as possible, being flexible and adaptable is key to the success of the event.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you and your team face in coordinating a live event that players are probably unaware of?
One of the biggest challenges is dealing with the unexpected. From technical issues to unforeseen logistical hiccups, our team must be ready to adapt and find solutions quickly without disrupting the player experience. It’s a high-pressure environment that requires flexibility and problem solving.
I could give you many examples, but in recent events, our container of tables was delayed before the PSPC in the Bahamas, and I can assure you that the entire team was quite stressed when the tables didn’t arrive a few days before the event. We even looked at alternative options to hire tables locally, which would not have been an ideal start! Luckily we got everything at the last minute and the crew worked overnight to get everything set up. The players didn’t notice that the last chair was probably added five minutes before the doors opened!
What sorts of things do you most look forward to during live events? In other words, what are the highlights from the operator’s perspective?
The highlights for us are seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of the players, seeing the event come together successfully and knowing that we’ve created a memorable experience for everyone involved. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the players enjoying the fruits of our hard work.
Just last month was the first time PokerStars ran an EPT stop in Cyprus, and by all accounts it was a stellar festival. Were there any sort of special/unique preparations involved in producing this live event?
Yes, staging an event in a new location like Cyprus requires extra preparation, especially on the logistical side. Getting more than 10 trucks to the island is not the easiest thing!
We also didn’t have any direct reference to prepare the schedule, staffing, number of tables, etc. So we had to make a guess based on partner feedback, hotel bookings, online qualifiers, etc. We went with a very safe 125 tournament tables and a schedule similar to EPT Prague. We have seen that the numbers exceeded our expectations for this stop, which has proven to be very popular with the players.
Even after all these years, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have yet to attend a PokerStars live event. Why should they make the trip out, what can they expect, and which specific event would you recommend they attend to dip their toes in the waters for the first time?
Attending a PokerStars live event for the first time is an unforgettable experience for poker enthusiasts. Players can expect high quality poker tournaments, a vibrant poker community and a variety of side activities to add to the overall enjoyment. For first-time attendees, I’d recommend a flagship event such as EPT Barcelona or EPT Prague. These stops typically offer a wide range of tournaments and activities, making them an excellent introduction to the live poker experience.