When looking back on 2021, the online poker world will not only remember the launch of the hybrid tournament due to the Covid lockdowns but also the decline of PokerStars. For 15 years, PokerStars has dominated online poker. But, 2021 saw the rise of competing newcomer GGPoker.
Over the last 12 months, the venerable PokerStars has faced stiff competition from the four-year-old upstart, GGPoker. Now that we have entered 2022, the two online poker behemoths are nearly identical when it comes to cash game traffic. This comes as a surprise to many poker veterans.
Last January, PokerStars’ traffic was nearly double that of GGPoker. While the four-year-old poker site has seen steady growth, no one knew how GGPoker would turn the tables in 2021.
GGPoker Continues to Grow as PokerStars Bleed Players
Early last spring, GGPoker’s cash numbers remained static, while PokerStars saw a decline. By early summer, the two giants of online poker had nearly the same cash numbers.
By the last week in June, GGPoker triumphed over PokerStars with more cash game players. This unexpected turn of events suddenly made GGPoker a top dog. While this narrow lead only lasted a month, it set the wheels in motion for a new king of online poker. While many thought this was a fluke, those in the know saw the writing in the stars.
It is hard to say exactly why PokerStars began bleeding cash players. The fact is, nearly all online poker websites have struggled, once the Covid lockdowns set players free to reenter the real world. Without players locked in their rooms, the surge of traffic quickly fell off. But, for some reason, PokerStars had more of a struggle.
In early February, PokerStars averaged around 8,500 concurrent players. But by July, that number crashed to just 4,800. While that is a dramatic drop in traffic, it’s virtually the same amount that PokerStars had pre-lockdown. All the same, the operator surely desired to keep at least some of that lockdown traffic. But, PokerStars was down for the count yet.
PokerStars Puts the Money Up
The venerable poker brand launched a few new promotions, including some celebrating their 20th anniversary. It also rebranded its Grand Tour as the Neymar Jr Kickoff. Now, rather than a bicycle race theme, the game is fashioned after a Brazilian soccer game.
Moreover, the poker brand relaunched its Dare2Stream Twitch campaign in search of a new brand ambassador. The campaign encourages players to stream their poker action for a chance at a one-year brand ambassadorship. During the 2019 Dare2Stream campaign, Georgina “GJReggie” James and Mason “pyefacepoker” Pye seized the titles.
PokerStars’ training platform also received a much-needed update. But, the most profound update was a complete reworking of its Rewards program; now, players can get up to 25% fixed rakeback, and by completing personal challenges, players can get an additional 40%.
At first, the strategy appeared to pay off, with PokerStars overtaking GGPoker for the title spot. Ever since, the two have been battling it out for the top spot, with the lead going back and forth, back and forth.
Between mid-October and mid-December 2021, PokerStars firmly held first place. But, by the end of December, GGPoker seized the title once again, but only for a week.
The Winter Poker Tournament Season is Upon Us
Traditionally, winter is a busy time for online poker rooms; the weather locks players in their homes, rather than a virus. Predictably, the two giants of online poker will be battling it out once more, with juicy offers to entice players away from the competition.
Surprisingly, GGPoker did not run Christmas promotion, but rather, launched huge monthly giveaways. For example, the company set aside a cool $10 million for Leaderboards and other daily promotions through December and into January. Leaderboard promotions run between $5,000 up to $25,000.
Meanwhile, PokerStars is giving away 35,000 free chips for new sign-ups. Plus, more free chips drop every four hours. But, if you want to win free chips, play the Sunday Billion, No-Limit Hold’em tournament. Not only that, Team PokerStars can make a surprise appearance at the weekly tournament. Take one of them out for a five million chip bounty.
Sunday Billion is just one of PokerStars promotions; special games and tournaments are played every day.
Right now, it’s impossible to predict which of these two poker giants will be on top by the end of this year. But, there is no reason why players can’t play both sides, taking advantage of what both sites have to offer.