Amaya has made a lot of subtle moves since acquiring the Rational Group last year: working to gain regulatory approval in the United States, for instance, and changing some of PokerStars’ rake policies.
They’ve also made some bigger moves that were probably inevitable, such as adding casino games to the PokerStars client in many jurisdictions.
But it may be only now that Amaya is tipping their hand when it comes to where they see their business heading into the future.
A string of new initiatives has shown Amaya to be pivoting towards the Asian market, an area that many in the online poker world believe could be the key to continued growth for the industry.
While poker is now a firmly established game in North America and Europe, many Asian nations are only now becoming familiar with the game, and nations like China and Japan could provide the next big poker boom for Amaya and other major poker companies.
New Signings, Tournament Sponsorships Show Interest in Asia
The latest sign of a new focus on Asia was the addition of a new celebrity to the PokerStars.net team: Japanese model and actress Yuiko Matsukawa. She’ll serve a role similar to other “brand ambassadors” in other parts of the world, as tennis superstar Rafael Nadal and soccer legend Ronaldo have done in Spain and Brazil, respectively. Matsukawa has already begun playing in tournaments as part of her promotional efforts, showing up to participate in the Macau Poker Cup.
That signing comes on the heels of the news that PokerStars will sponsor the 2014 Nanjing Millions poker tournament next month at the Beijing Star Poker Club. The tournament series, which will be part of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) and take place at the Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre, is expected to be one of the largest in China this year.
“The growth of poker in China has been tremendous and we are committed to support this sport throughout the region,” APPT President Danny McDonagh said. “Nanjing is a key location that allows players from all over the country to participate. The previous two Beijing events last year were very successful and we are proud to be a part of this government-supported event.”
Growth Areas Include Asian Markets, Online Streaming
These latest moves continue what has been a steady ramp-up for the PokerStars brand in Asia. PokerStars already had an active Japanese team of pros, having signed online professional Kosei Ichinose and World Series of Poker bracelet winner Naoya Kihara to their team.
These signing have been in contrast to the overall trend for PokerStars and the industry as a whole, which has seen the number of sponsored pros shrinking nearly across the board.
But that’s clearly not the case in areas that Amaya believes are primed for growth. Asia is one of those, as is the world of online gaming streams, where PokerStars has also made recent moves.
The world’s largest poker room recently signed Jason Somerville to their roster, and he is currently in the process of streaming a season of “Run it Up” episodes that are being played exclusively on PokerStars. The company has also launched its own official Twitch channel, which will host a variety of streams featuring members of Team PokerStars Pro.