The world of online poker as we knew it during the ‘boom’ of the mid-2000s has changed beyond recognition, and that’s something many within the poker industry are proud of as the game has sought to move with the times and remain relevant.
It seems like a lifetime since accountant, Chris Moneymaker scooped the World Series of Poker Main Event jackpot in 2003, inspiring a generation of new poker players to play online and in brick and mortar casinos. Fast forward well over a decade and the poker industry is working hard to educate poker enthusiasts in new ways. The poker economy has had to contend with the abandonment of the US poker market by all of the leading brands, which saw millions of amateur and professional poker players in the States left without an online network to play on.
Twitch has added an extra dimension to the online poker world
Fortunately, the industry has a new glimmer of hope in the form of live video streaming. Twitch.tv has created a platform for poker pros and amateurs alike to stream their games and commentate on live action, perfect for use as entertainment and education alike.
Twitch.tv used to be known as Justin.tv and was primarily a platform to watch others playing video games live. However, attracted by viewing audiences of over 100m a month, Amazon acquired Twitch in 2014 and has helped the network grow from strength to strength and build upon its poker following.
Poker commentators are now some of the most watched content producers on the Twitch network. Millions of enthusiasts have tuned in to watch their favorite poker heroes and personalities in action too. Back in September 2015, Jason Somerville saw 37,000 Twitch users tune in to watch him play the final table of a major tournament.
While television commentary of poker tournaments has always been popular, it has failed to scale the heights that would have seen it becoming part of mass media. Some brands' television channels were binned due to low viewing figures, for instance. It’s the sheer immediacy and relevancy of live Twitch streams of poker action that has helped create a growing community of poker enthusiasts online. If a complete unknown is making a deep run in a big-money multi-table tournament, poker fans can now share in the drama live, rather than watching it back on a YouTube video after the event.
Twitch poker "celebrities" are leading the online discussion
The online poker networks are quickly signing up the Twitch personalities as ambassadors. The likes of Parker Talbot, Jason Somerville, and Doug Polk have provided content on all aspects of poker, not just live coverage of their own games. Doug Polk is arguably the most charismatic of all the poker streamers, with his outspoken views and up-straight personality telling it exactly how it is. Polk has often been outspoken about the subject of automated bots in leading online poker rooms. It’s one of the main reasons why people are turned off from the online game and switch to live poker.
One of the best examples of how Polk’s Twitch streaming has enchanted the online poker audience was when both Polk and Parker Talbot live streamed their experiences in the same online event, “The Cage”. Labelled a multi-table time-based cash game, all players were required to make a $1,000 buy-in, with the action lasting five hour-long levels. After five hours of gameplay, the tournament stops, and players can leave the table with whatever is in their stack. In a fascinating twist, both Polk and Talbot worked their way to the final table, before becoming embroiled in a couple of heart-pounding heads-up hands. Polk first out-flopped Talbot to win with three-of-a-kind sixes against pocket aces, then Polk got fortunate again with his pocket tens running into Talbot’s pocket nines to rake in two massive pots that lit the blue touch paper for their Twitch viewers.
Doug Polk and his move from Twitch to YouTube
Over the years, Doug Polk has also regaled his Twitch followers with true stories from the poker world. Polk provided a fascinating insight into a story regarding poker pro, Tom Dwan, who allegedly lost a $20 million pot in a high-stakes cash game in Macau, China. Polk was present in Macau at the time of this game and retold the story on his Twitch stream, revealing that the pot was actually worth $30 million, not the $20 million initially reported – eye-watering figures!
Despite Polk’s popularity, he was never able to compete with Twitch’s number-one poker streamer, Jason Somerville. Polk eventually took the decision to move his stream to YouTube, with the chance to secure a monopoly of YouTube poker fans. In fact, Somerville has developed such a following that Polk believes other streamers have to make it a priority not to stream at the same time as Somerville, otherwise they will never attract viewers.
It’s, therefore, encouraging to see that Polk has diversified and moved to offer live streamed content on YouTube, which can only be good for the community of online poker fans, maintaining a popular avenue of insight and advice for beginners and seasoned players alike. Whether Polk’s move to YouTube will spark more budding online poker streamers to follow suit remains to be seen.
When you consider that many of the leading poker room operators sponsor the biggest live streaming poker personalities, it is clear poker rooms are increasingly seeing the value of the poker community on Twitch. It is rapidly becoming the easiest way for poker brands to entice inspired recreational players to sign up and play themselves.
Many ambassadors for poker brands are transitioning into entertainers and figureheads for the game as opposed to professional players – despite how profitable they may still be at the tables. In fact, Doug Polk has veered away from playing much poker in recent months, instead preferring to act as a commentator rather than a participant. Twitch’s poker brand could explode exponentially in the years to come, as enthusiasts seek to share in the life of pros that win hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s personalized poker in its purest 21st-century form.