Ty Stewart on the Best and Worst of the Inaugural ‘Colossus’

Ty Stewart

The Colossus accomplished most, if not all of, the goals it was created to achieve as a tent-pole event at the 2015 World Series of Poker. It crushed the record for largest life tournament with all most three times as many entries as the previous record-holder, and it attracted thousands of players who had never played a WSOP bracelet event before.

It wasn’t without controversy or issue, however. Logistical issues, foreseen and unforseen, left players waiting in lines for hours on the way in and the way out, and the payout table had some players up in arms because it was so flat.

Regardless of those and other issues surrounding the tournament, running through more than 22,000 entries and keeping the event itself running smoothly was a remarkable accomplishment, and this event, should it continue on in future WSOP’s, will be the easiest way to reach poker players for whom $565 is an reachable buy-in for their bankroll.

BLUFF spoke to WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart, who’s never one to shy away from the issues or controversies, about the good, the bad and everything in between when it comes to the inaugural Colossus event.

BLUFF: What does the number 22,374 mean to the WSOP? How does it reflect the health and interest in the game of poker?

Ty Stewart: Obviously it’s just a stunning, amazing turnout. It ended up that there were some 15,000 unique players, and 7,500 of them were making their first trip to the WSOP. It says to me there are still a lot of Chris Moneymakers out there, we just have to let them know they’re welcome amongst the wizards.

They are quite happy to go on with their lives unless something speaks to them. It says to me that it needs to be an even bigger focus of what we do, to connect with the recreational player. Even at the apex, a player had the opportunity to get here through the internet for, in most cases, less than the Colossus buy in.

BLUFF: What decisions that were tough in making this tournament are you happy with, having seen the results? What’s one thing that stands out as needing to be changed/altered should it come back in 2016?

Ty: It’s been a roller coaster of emotions. Some high highs and also extreme lows. Basically, I think we got an ‘A’ getting ‘em in and then an ‘F getting ‘em out. So that’s a net C, and that’s a grade that’s not up to our standards, much less the expectation that the poker community has for us.

I mean, I think we nailed running what was perhaps the most complex tournament ever attempted. But we didn’t foresee the difficulty we would have in getting players paid out in a timely fashion. It’s brutal seeing someone’s euphoria over cashing turn to frustration. We’ll do like we always do, grab our lunch pail and get to work on fixing the issues.

If we feel we can create an experience that guarantees repeat visitation, Colossus will be back. But if we feel we ultimately bit off more than we can reasonably chew under current constraints, then the records set by this event may stand for a long while.

Could you talk a little about the payout situation, and why the process has to be done in a certain way that led to lengthy lines post-Colossus?

Ty: Being a regulated gaming operator, we have to do things by the book. That means tax forms and ID checks and input into a central database, and it’s just hard to get that transaction in under five minutes, particularly with new players asking a lot of questions. And nobody has ever faced a situation like this, trying to pay out 2,000 players who, to a large degree, had lives to return to and couldn’t come back to the cage when the line died down.

If nothing else, I think the Colossus will be the event that is the watershed for pursuing new payout options. We’re going to get to work with Nevada Gaming ASAP on what kind of technological solutions we can use to decrease the on-site time.

BLUFF: What have you learned from running this tournament?

Ty: I can’t answer that question yet, too much still to digest. Beyond anything I’m encouraged that there is a big base of players that will come to the WSOP for the right event. That we can in fact execute huge tournaments that were unthinkable not long ago. That we’ve built buzz and expectation for these flagship events, but we’ve got to see them all the way through.

Is it hard to see a group of players so upset, despite feeling like you’ve made the right decision for the good of the community?

Ty: Im not sure players need to care about my feelings and, for certain, we don’t get everything right. But sure, we know our intentions and so it’s very difficult to see players on tilt at you. We love this event. So we take things personally. We’re trying to be a positive force in an industry that doesn’t have a lot of them.

On the payout issue, I’m still generally conflicted. Of course it makes sense on first blush that with $11 million in the prizepool, the winner could get seven figures. Hey, as a career marketing guy no one wants those headlines more than me. But this was such a unique beast, paying out some 2,200 players. No one’s ever done that, with the exception of [tournaments on] the internet, where there are no travel cost considerations.

With a player firing on average 1.5 bullets, it would have been a travesty to see the bottom of [the payouts] be lower than $1,000, and it would have been the worst thing to see thousands of new players go home with a negative ROI on their trip feeling like a sucker. But what is inaccurate is that we somehow changed gears for this payout. It’s the opposite, actually.

We discussed whether we should modify the payouts to give more to first, generally for optics of the media and recreational player to advertise what they missed… but decided against it. We used the same general formula we’ve been using for the past several years, it’s just never run out to that many places paid. Lesson learned is that the payout table needs to be as front and center in every event as the structure.

It seems the debate rages on in the forums, but we’ll regroup and collect more formal data to determine best path if the event comes back. But it appears $1 million is an emotional number, even if the final table payouts to get there were going to influence a chop.

It’s been an exciting first week. But I know players and staff alike are looking forward to some semblance of normalcy returning to the Rio. If 10,000 entrants turn up for Millionaire Maker, hey, it’s going to feel easy by comparison.

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Tim Fiorvanti

Tim Fiorvanti graduated from St. John's University with a B.S. in Journalism in 2008. After several years in the industry, he started working for BLUFF in the summer of 2010. He worked his way up at BLUFF and joined full time as a Senior Writer in April of 2012. Fiorvanti now serves as the Managing Editor of BLUFF. He's a tortured Mets and Jets fan, along with several other frustrating allegiances, but he's also a two-time defending BLUFF Fantasy Football Champion.
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