When I first began to play slots online, finding a casino that offered tournaments was extremely rare. I found that surprising because tournaments were always extremely popular at the land-based casinos which I frequented at the time. The tournaments held in those casinos were often thrown together in an ad-hoc manner, however – some casinos would give players a fixed amount of credit to use for the tournament, whilst others relied on their players cards to award prizes based on who had the largest single win during a fixed period of time.
Casinos which used downloadable client software such as 32Red were always the most likely to offer slots tournaments, as that technology allowed them to configure the games in a manner which just wasn’t possible using the web-based clients of the day. The 32Red online slot tournaments used similar terminology to the poker tournaments of the day; for example, ‘freezeout’ tournaments would only let you buy in once for a fixed amount, and ‘sit and go’ tournaments would begin as soon as the required number of players had signed up to participate. 32Red were undoubtedly ahead of their time with these games, as the same model that they were using more than a decade ago is still frequently used today.
The ‘Death Spiral’
Those early attempts at online slot tournaments failed to catch on in the same way their land-based counterparts did. It’s hard to say exactly why that was the case, but I suspect that a major factor may have been the relatively small number of players who competed in them. The tournaments were only available for users of the downloadable casino client, and many players preferred to stick to the web-based client rather than installing software onto their computers.
A small player base forces the casino to reduce the prizes on offer, and that in turn is likely to further erode the size of the player pool, leading to a kind of ‘death spiral’ which eventually saw many casinos cancel their slots tournaments altogether. But tournaments were still as popular as ever on the casino floor – could anything be done to spark a resurgence of interest in their online counterparts?
Technology Moves On
The technology used to deliver websites across the internet advanced significantly during the 2010’s, leading to a new wave of multi-platform online casinos which offered all of the best games from a multitude of developers, replacing the single-platform model which had been the industry’s main focus during the previous decade. Unsurprisingly, this new style of casino proved to be a big hit with players who could finally enjoy all of their favourite games in one place.
These advances in technology also inspired the developers of forward-thinking casino websites to take another look at the issue of slots tournaments. With the help of the slot developers, custom versions of popular machines were developed to allow separate balances to be transferred into games separately from the players main casino balance. Most importantly, data regarding wins could now be recorded in a leaderboard, opening up the possibility of a true tournament structure that would even improve on the methods used to offer these contests on the casino floor.
The Freeroll Floodgates Open
With the technology finally in place, the last piece of the puzzle was to ensure that there would be sufficient interest in these new-style slot tournaments to ensure that they would remain a permanent fixture at online casinos. Many sites chose to offer ‘freeroll’ tournaments as a VIP benefit for players who had deposited or wagered a specific amount at their casino during the previous week or month. The average player would win access to the freeroll tournaments just by playing their favourite games as usual, so there was no reason not to participate.
Freeroll slots tournaments regularly began to attract thousands of players, and many participants found the format so enjoyable that they would be more than happy to try some of the paid-for competitions as well. This led to the creation of new formats such as the ‘survivor’, where players are eliminated in waves based on their total winnings and several fixed time intervals, as well as the ‘extender’, giving players an extended period of time during which to try and obtain the highest score possible by reloading their balance as many times as they wished.
Today, slot tournaments can be found at most of the biggest online casinos where even a paid-for contest is now easily able to attract a sizable player base. The technologies used on the web continue to develop at a breakneck pace, so it seems likely that we will see further developments in the area of online slots tournaments in the future.