Exclusive Interview: PokerStars Unveil What's in Store for EPT 2024
With less than a month to go until the European Poker Tour (EPT) kicks off the year in Paris, PokerNews sat down with PokerStars Associate Director of Live Events Operations Cedric Billot to talk about what players can expect from PokerStars Live and the EPT in 2024.
We also asked him about new destinations, what players can expect from the same schedule as 2023, and the improvements that have been made for the tour's return to Paris, after apologising for a "subpar experience" at the inaugural event.
Return to Paris
Back in 2004-05, the EPT visited Barcelona, London, Monte-Carlo and Copenhagen to name just four of the seven stops in the inaugural season.
But it could have included Paris. According to Billot, PokerStars had wanted to host an EPT in Paris as early as the first season, but were thwarted by regulation. Indeed, poker in Paris has a rich history, yet one complicated by occasional government and sometimes police intervention.
In 2014, a stop on the France Poker Series (FPS) was cancelled after police raided the venue.
Poker then appeared to die completely in the French capital, with famous 'cercles' or gaming clubs such as Aviation Club de France and Clichy-Montmartre closing their doors in the 2010s. However, in 2022 the EPT announced it was holding its first event of 2023 there at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile.
Paris was the 13th different European capital to host a stop on the European Poker Tour how many can you name? Answers at the bottom of the article!
"Paris is our second-strongest stop after Barcelona. It's the city that everyone wants to go to"
While Billot was President of the FPS when the decision was made to cancel the event in 2014, come 2023, he was responsible for the entire EPT festival and said that French players had always been important to the EPT as a whole.
"As soon as it was possible to do so, we went to Paris," he told PokerNews. "At every single EPT stop, French players are our number one demographic. From Prague to Barcelona, even in London, we had more French players than British!
"Paris is our second-strongest stop after Barcelona. It's the city that everyone wants to go to."
The inaugural EPT Paris event wasn't without its flaws, with huge player numbers causing bottlenecks in the venue and complex registration systems complicating matters furter. In order to fix these issues, PokerStars conducted a proper assessment and analysis of the venue and, along with Club Barriere, came up with a number of solutions.
"Last year we saw some great numbers, which had consequences," said Billot. "But the issues weren't just down to the large number of players. The entrance to the venue and the logistical access to the venue were both a nightmare.
"There were temporary fixes last year and eventually, during the second week, we improved the process and it became way smoother. But we absolutely knew we needed to change for 2024."
As a result, the festival has moved to an entirely new venue in the Palais des Congrs, a state-of-the-art conference center in the heart of the city. The bigger venue has allowed for more capacity for tables and more space overall and promises a quicker check-in and registration process.
Cameras and Game Security
However, PokerStars isn't just investing in a new venue for the EPT. With an increased focus on game integrity, PokerStars has increased its investment and focus on the security of the game. This has seen new CCTV cameras installed that will enable the monitoring of the action at every single table the only live event operator to do so all with the aim of making events as safe as possible.
Related: PokerStars Head of Game Integrity says: "Trust is Everything"
"We pride ourselves on physical security and game integrity at all of our venues," said Billot. "That's why we've purchased brand new state-of-the-art cameras to help us maintain this level of security. Every single EPT tournament table will have its own CCTV camera.
"We know our players value game security and we know PokerStars live events already work hard to ensure our games are safe. And in order to maintain this trust between player and operator, we need to continue to improve and invest. And this is a big investment.
"It allows us to review every single hand, every single play, every single chip race. It has security properties at first, but the quality of the equipment is so good it could allow us to stream from these cameras in the future."
EPT 2024 Schedule
The 2024 EPT schedule was released back in November, and featured the same five stops as 2023. Billot told PokerNews there was a simple reason for the repeat schedule, but also admitted he was open to the idea of adding new stops in future years.
"If something isn't broken, why would you change it?" he said. "If we could improve it or offer something different to our players, we would."
But, Billot says, all of the destinations on this year's EPT schedule are "no-brainers" and not all for the same reasons.
"We'd be nuts not to go back to Barcelona"
"Paris was obviously incredibly strong last year, and we're looking forward to going back. Monte-Carlo, for different reasons, is also an incredibly strong stop it has the glitz and the glamour that we'll never find anywhere else.
"Barcelona no need to explain. With the record-breaking Estrellas Main Event, we'd be nuts not to go back to Barcelona. And Prague was also record-breaking with the Main and the Eureka, and everyone loves that stop in December.
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Paris wasn't the only stop making its EPT debut in 2023, with Cyprus also proving incredibly popular with the players.
"It saw our best player feedback ever," said Billot. "The players bloody loved Cyprus! We had amazing numbers on low buy-ins, high buy-ins and the Main Event with the best experience ever. So that was a very, very easy decision to go back."
So for 2023, the stops remain the same, but the door is open for new destinations to make their case for inclusion in the 2025 schedule and beyond.
"Look at other sports. On the ATP tennis circuit, you have some stops that never change and others that come in and out. Formula One goes to new destinations like it did in Las Vegas last year, but there are also races that are always the same.
"Nothing is set in stone. We're always keeping an eye on new locations which we think will be popular. We've looked at Germany and the Netherlands, even one day coming back to London. It's something we are looking at for next year."
Crafting Unforgettable Live Experiences
The live event offering by PokerStars is considered by many to be among the best in the industry, not just with the choice of events, buy-ins and destinations, but also the player experience on offer while at the events.
This is down to a "perfectionist mentality" according to Billot, with PokerStars improving all the time. From the introduction of Power Path to the recent decision to allow players to win multiple seats to its regional events.
"It's thanks to an amazing team of experienced colleagues that we can strive for perfection. We really want to make the EPT shine.
"We want to be more ambitious with our events, and try to make them way bigger with a better experience on-site"
"That's why it's important to have an equilibrium and balance, and 4-6 events a year I think is optimal. Any more would be a mistake, and we would clash with other events. It's important that we have enough time to build up and promote each and every one of our live events.
"One thing that is guiding our strategy and our vision is a focus on quality over quantity. We want to be more ambitious with our events, and try to make them way bigger with a better experience on-site. More time to qualify, more time to promote the event and more time to really make some noise around it."
Outlook for Live Poker in 2024
Although the coronavirus pandemic sits firmly in the rearview mirror, Billot admits that it helped change people's perspectives and, as a result, certainly aided live poker as a whole. As a result, live poker surged in 2023 and looks to continue that resurgence into 2024 and beyond.
"The world spent two years in lockdown, stuck with mobile phones and TVs. I think that helped people to appreciate and enjoy anything which is live, because there's that level of social contact and interaction. And live poker benefitted big time."
European poker also saw many records broken, including the record for the largest PokerStars live tournament ever held, with Lucien Cohen winning the Estrellas Barcelona Main Event for 676,230. That wasn't the only regional tour breaking records, with the FPS record for largest Main Event broken twice, and the Eureka Prague Main Event closing out the year with another record field.
|Largest PokerStars Live Tournament
|Largest EPT Prague Main Event
|Largest FPS Main Event
|Largest Eureka Main Event
EPT Main Events were also posting huge fields, with Prague setting a new largest EPT Main Event field, Paris becoming the largest non-Barcelona EPT Main Event, and Barcelona continuing its dominance with the second-largest EPT Main Event ever.
"Audiences want live poker it's the best content to watch"
Billot says that the idea of a new live poker boom is "naive" but does admit that the growth has been enormous.
"The appetite for live poker is way higher now than it was before the pandemic. I'm not saying we've reached the top just yet, but we're also not going to double our numbers from last year. PokerStars expects to keep growing that number, but only if we do our job well.
"Audiences want live poker it's the best content to watch because that's where the big bucks can be won. In order to win a million bucks online you have a handful of chances a year. To try and win a million bucks live, you have 20 chances, if not more.
"In our digital era where we spend more and more time on our mobile devices and on our screens, I think live poker is safe for a long, long time."
Answers: Vienna, Prague, Copenhagen, Tallinn, Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Monte Carlo, Warsaw, Dublin, Madrid, Kiev, London
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