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2020 looked like a bright year for live poker, that is before COVID-19 happened to the world. Like the other sectors, the pandemic has forced even the poker industry to revamp the way it operates. While live operators have been left in the lurch, online sites have been witnessing a significant surge in player traffic.
Facing the daunting task of catering to peak traffic and that too, without the familiar office environment, has forced operators to innovate and devise strategies to maximize the opportunity presented to them by this crisis. However, at the same time, they have had to overcome the logistical and other challenges that have cropped up for the exact same reason!
Most of our lockdown features have focused on the player community and live operators. Here we bring you an update on how the most prominent online poker companies have managed to run their operations with so many restrictions in place because of the lockdown. Here are more details on the behind-the-scene heroes and their super passionate teams that ensure things run smoothly round-the-clock.
A large section of the online poker workforce is physically located across different places. Most of the PokerBaazi team is centered across Delhi, but it also has employees working as far out as Kashmir to Chennai, Gujarat to Bengal. Sensing that trouble was brewing, the site got their team working from home even before the lockdown began.
Varun Ganjoo, the Marketing Director at PokerBaazi, told us, “We had taken measures to ensure that our teams could work from home safely. Anticipating that such a need would arise helped us map out the important tasks and processes. Recently, we completed over 100 days of Work-From-Home!”
And it looks like this is how things are going to be for the foreseeable future. “As a technology-driven firm, we’ve been able to rely on online communication and video-calling, etc. to manage processes,” Ganjoo added.
The Spartan Poker team is working from home as well, and the brand has a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) that kicks in, in case of an emergency. The site`s co-founder and MD, Amin Rozani, explained, “Apart from that, with the lockdown in place the head of the departments have built processes for the smooth functioning and ease in the daily work of the team. Yes, all our employees are 100% productive, and all are working from home. The team has been phenomenal during this time, each team member has contributed to other team members who may have faced any concerns.”
Even the Poker Dangal team is managing the majority of its operations from home, and only those close to the office are reporting for work. “Some of them who live close to the office are managing to come over with the best possible precautions,” said the site`s co-founder Karan Gandhi.
9stacks also preempting what was coming, directed its team to work from home two weeks before the shutdown was announced. Most of its Delhi-based employees have returned to their native towns and are working remotely, while a few among them decided to stay together.
The CEO and co-founder of 9stacks, Sudhir Kamath, clarified, “There hasn’t been any significant change with regard to internal communication among the team. We have an active slack channel where everyone is interconnected with each other along with that, we have regular team meetings for everyone via hangouts twice a week to have open space discussions, strategy creation, way forward, weekly plans which have resulted with positive workflow.”
The action never stops for online poker sites (the successful ones at least). Still, to manage operations better, Spartan Poker has ensured that the essential technology and support are provided to employees to help them accomplish their day-to-day responsibilities. “Our admin & IT teams ensure the least downtime ensuring our customers are always attended to,” Rozani added.
For Poker Dangal, the COVID-19 crisis was a challenge that the team took on heads-up. Gandhi revealed, “The Poker Dangal team has pledged not to let any of its adverse effects reflect on the operations or daily business handlings. To avoid any unexpected flaws, each member of Team Dangal is coordinating digitally with their superiors.”
The servers of 9stacks being entirely cloud-based, the operator hasn’t faced too many problems in handling the surging traffic. What was tough was to get the internal processes realigned to the new reality. “It took some effort to ensure all team members could work effectively from their homes without compromising the productivity, collaboration, and creativity. Thankfully, we’ve always been using tools like Slack, Trello, Jira, and Github, which have made remote collaboration quite easy,” Kamath said.
Sound processes in place and team coordination have kept PokerBaazi at the helm of things. “Poker has been growing in India at a rapid pace for quite some time now, regardless of the Covid-19 situation. While we’ve always believed in providing players value for the time and effort they put in, we are now focusing on the softer aspects of poker with many new, inexperienced players entering the game. Keep an eye on our social channels for a major webinar on mental health and poker, kicking off mid-July,” Ganjoo revealed.
It is business as usual (BAU), at least on the customer support operations front at Spartan Poker. The site didn’t really have to make any significant changes that impacted customers. The team’s energy and drive reflect in the site`s tournament and cash game offerings.
As for PokerBaazi, running daily operations and backend functioning was not much of an issue. The site has been processing withdrawals seamlessly for customers, even given the higher frequency. The team has also managed customer support effectively through chats and email. As Ganjoo added, Players have been appreciative of our speedy response time and have also been very understanding.”
Poker Dangal`s Gandhi underlined how the early issues with tech and backend support were quickly dealt with. “The lockdown did affect our business, but positively. This was unpredictable for us, too, as the economy has gone down, but our player traffic received a massive 70% boost. Our customers are highly satisfied with our services even during the pandemic. Like every other business, we also experienced minor problems with our tech and backend systems in the early lockdown days. However, we smartly managed to get out of the troubles in no time.”
With the online poker workforce slowly getting used to the work from the home mandate, some initial communication gaps were bound to crop up. This even resulted in a build-up of stress, but the operators came up with unique ways of overcoming these.
PokerBaazi has been regularly reaching out to its team to help them stay focused. Founder and CEO, Navkiran Singh, recently addressed the company`s employees in a 150-plus town hall meeting and allayed their concerns. The company also conducted a survey focussing on employee attitudes towards work-life balance, vacation time, and distractions at home, etc.
Early into lockdown, Internet connectivity issues hit the Spartan Poker team, but the company acted quickly and sponsored cable Internet at home for all its employees. It has also provided the team with Netflix accounts so that they can enjoy their time off, and has been conducting fun activities on Fridays for them.
The company informed us, “Adding webcams to ensure we can have face to face conversations with the team helps maintain the bond amongst team members. We have weekly housie, bingo & other fun activities.”
The surge in player traffic has brought security concerns to the fore. Spartan Poker has expanded its team for security checks while adding more compliance & quality checks in all its processes.
PokerBaazi’s robust surveillance system is being handled by a team that, though working from home, can monitor and assess any behavior that is not in line with the site`s fair-play policies.
Poker Dangal is backed by advanced security measures that continue to run brilliantly, according to Gandhi.
9stacks’ Kamath feels it has. “I think the coronavirus pandemic is going to have a big long-term impact on online gaming, just like demonetization had on PayTM and digital payments. Overall, we think that the current 100% increase in new user acquisition and the significant jump in revenue is transient, but there will probably be a lasting uplift of 30-40% for us.”
The poker community has responded to the health crisis by making active contributions for COVID-19 relief. The PokerBaazi team has been at the forefront of these efforts, “When we did the first charity edition of PMVS, we were able to raise over ₹10 lakhs for migrant workers and the underprivileged thanks to an overwhelming response. Time and again, players have stepped forward whenever there has been a need and an opportunity to help others.”
With the number of COVID-19 cases rising in India, work from home seems to have become the new normal. But is this temporary, or has the pandemic changed the online poker industry forever? We will have to wait and watch!