We are delighted this week to welcome Olybet to The Festival family as an online partner. We spoke to Olybet’s head of poker Herli Olop about working with us to deliver live events after what’s been an exceptionally grim year for the bricks-and-mortar industry.
“As you know, the Olympic Entertainment Group is both land-based and online. The last two years I’ve been mainly online but before that it was 50/50 land-based and online.” A veteran organiser of live Olympic Casino events back in his land-based days, Herli is now responsible for the online satellites that bring qualifiers from their market of Estonia, Finland and Latvia to these same live events.
Olybet are planning to run online qualifiers from March, with Main Event buy ins, accommodation at the glitzy Hilton Tallinn Park, and players’ choice of spending money or side event tickets included in the €1,500 packages. Flexibility is the word for them in the time of corona. “Because of Covid, last year we tried to run some flexible live event packages where a player can choose which festival they want to use it at - like Battle of Malta or Kings of Tallinn and so on. So now we are adding The Festival as well.”
“It’s not easy to get [our customers] to play qualifiers,” he sighs, “As they don’t know that they will participate or not, or at all that this event will be held. But yes, we are flexible - they can choose, in one year, whatever.” The Festival In Tallinn, of course, has its own contingency plans in place - if the event can’t go ahead, or players are unable to get there, all packages will automatically be rolled over to The Festival In Bratislava in September.
Herli is cautiously optimistic that this flexible approach will soon bring online qualifiers back in the kinds of numbers they saw in the good old days before the plague. “We sent last year 150 Estonians - not only Estonians, some Finnish and Latvian players as well - to this Battle Of Malta, and this was crazy, it was record-breaking.”
Online qualifiers might be suffering with Europe in lockdown, but overall business is booming for Olybet’s online operation. “As we moved to GGNetwork, then it was crazy for us. We had 10 times more traffic, and it was crazy. For me it was like motivation. Today GG is the same level like PokerStars - even sometimes we have more players.”
Players may be nervous about qualifying while the Covid situation is still precarious - the cancellation of Kings Of Tallinn this year didn’t help - but Herli knows that the hunger for live events is there. “Yes, of course - and if this vaccine starts and so on, when we are back again in the normal life, then I think all these live events will be doubled. They want to have this live experience, but it’s totally different for the moment.”
He feels though that the confirmation of The Festival In Tallinn will give players the confidence to start qualifying again, with the guarantee of rolling packages over to Bratislava making it risk-free. “Yes! Yes - today that is normal to do. For sure I think we can get 50 or more players to Bratislava if Tallinn is not held. It’s like a community thing, and in Estonia we have it on a very good level.”
He speaks wistfully of the Kings Of Tallinn event that was held last year, just two weeks before lockdown. “It was very successful, over 1,000 players, and it was crazy! Someone said that it was... not a party, but, like European Macau or something.” Estonia’s comparatively low accommodation costs and so on - not to mention lower taxes than its Nordic neighbours - may also help persuade players to qualify for The Festival In Tallinn. “June is a very great time, it’s summertime already. It will be massive, I think, because the €550 buy in, it’s more for recreational players, it’s great.”
The casino aspect of The Festival is also a good thing as far as Herli is concerned. “They want to have more fun, and this is why all these poker formats, flip ‘n’ go’s and whatever… We did flip tournaments at the Kings Of Tallinn, and they loved it!I think it’s a great thing to have. Probably some of [the players] don’t like it. But we do all these side events to have more fun, and not take it as, like, a joke, but it should be not only poker but all the other stuff.”
For Olybet players, this includes a party atmosphere. Herli has been impressed by previous events that The Festival chief Martin “Franke” von Zweigbergk has been involved in. “Franke knows exactly what to do, all this TV table streams and side actions and events - that players can have more fun.” Details of Olybet’s satellite schedule will be confirmed soon, with full-package satellites likely to start running at the end of March with buy-ins from just 1¢, and there’s talk of possibly even running a freeroll. Either way, Olybet players will soon be able to start qualifying online again, safe in the knowledge that until such time as everyone has had the vaccine, at least their packages for The Festival In Tallinn are definitely