Online poker and war

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Ruslan Bangert, CEO of PokerMatch International, shares a very personal portrait.

Online poker as an industry started in January 1998 when poker room Planet Poker opened its virtual doors to players. Can anyone in the industry remember a time when any poker room had to operate during a full-blown war in their country? I’ve been in this business for 12 years and I don’t remember such a case. I am convinced that this experience needs to be described and recorded for history.

Ukraine is a crucial market for the PokerMatch brand. In the first days of the war, there was a 73% loss of revenue, but the main agenda at that time, of course, was not money but people’s safety. Chat rooms in the player support service were switched off, all communication with players was moved to email and measures were taken to ensure employees’ safety to the extent possible. Briefly speaking, the package of measures included moving to a safer region, relocating some people to other countries and organising financial aid.

For the first two weeks of the war, the business was in fact running on its own. All the processes in the company had originally been organised in a way that enabled it to go on for a long time without the active participation of people, if the situation required it. And it did. At the same time, it is impossible not to note the resilience of the team, who continued to perform their duties. Meetings were simply cancelled and the business went into survival mode from the usual development mode. The support staff tried to help players in between sheltering in bomb shelters, and some important conversations were held to the sound of air-raid sirens.

After two weeks, the number of active players began to increase. This is primarily thanks to the fact that many have moved to safer regions and have started to return to their usual way of life. At the moment, most of the daily active unique players have returned to the game. All global promotions have been stopped and major tournament series have been cancelled. The company has focused on humanitarian aid for Ukraine and private offers to those players who have actively returned to the game.

In terms of developing new features, firstly, we’ve added the option to transfer money for humanitarian aid to the country directly from the player’s personal profile on the website. In other words, every PokerMatch player can now use the Cashier to cash out directly to help their country.

It only takes a few clicks – and then PokerMatch takes care of everything. We’ve also organised charity tournaments without rake, where all the prize money raised goes to humanitarian aid. So far, two such tournaments have taken place and almost 400,000 UAH (£10,171/$13,377/€11,976) has been raised.

Around the third or fourth week, the company gradually started to return to strategic subjects, long-term planning and the release of new technical developments regarding the interaction between the player and the product. We can also note that people have fully adapted to the current reality, regained their morale and are trying to live and work to the fullest.

There’s also an interesting point about working during a war. I have come across many discussions about the idea that all men should take up weapons and go fight in wartime. I don’t agree with that. Someone has to support the economy and the people by earning money and redirecting it to real needs and humanitarian aid. Despite enormous financial support from many countries, there are still substantial local needs from small groups of people in Ukraine that the global support does not reach. And many people who are now working and supporting the economy are giving part of their income to support such people.

We are also happy to see many people from the poker community using their resources to inform the world community about the real situation in Ukraine. Special thanks to the International Sports Poker Federation and its president Patrick Nelly; the Ukrainian Sports Poker Federation and its president Serhiy Efimenko; the Ukrainian sports poker team; and many famous poker players.

As for the PokerMatch brand’s long-term planning and business goals, we are certainly not talking about new regions and expansion at the moment. On the contrary, the brand has stopped serving player accounts from Russia and has frozen plans to enter the Indian market. This strategy is also highly dependent on how global events unfold. But one thing is certain: even during wartime, an individual adapts to the new conditions in 3-4 weeks, and they begin to strive to return, at least a little bit, to the way of life from which they were ruthlessly yanked out.

In the near future, PokerMatch will bring back online chats for its players and will slightly increase the guarantees in tournaments. Also, a major new release has already been introduced in the casino section – now there are missions for players, which they can activate, complete and get rewards. It’s worth noting that one very global strategic process has been resumed by the company, but it’s too early to tell. In general, the work goes on.