Will Live Streaming Rescue The Poker Industry?


There’s a new type of poker celebrity that’s taken the world by storm. It’s all thanks to a service called Twitch. It was bought out recently by Amazon for nearly one billion dollars. Originally Twitch was used as a way for gamers to live stream the games they were playing. This has become quite popular online and many gamers and viewers alike enjoy streaming and watching live. It’s been a surprise to many that online poker has become a sensation on Twitch and has made many online celebrities.

Jason Somerville is a name that some of you may be familiar with. Many of you may have watched him compete in the World Championship of Online Poker. It was an online competition that had a $1.2 million dollar prize pool. Jason has also streamed himself winning and losing massive amounts of money online. The largest he’s ever lost while streaming is $100,000. Even though Somerville is from Long Island, he plays in Toronto, Canada to avoid any legal ramifications. This is because online poker is illegal in his home state of New York.

Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Twitch. Though, you’re going to be hearing more about it in the future. It currently has a hundred million visitors a month and that number is growing. Even though the site itself was geared towards gamers, poker players around the world have now call Twitch home. The site gives every person watching an up close and personal feel of someone else playing online poker. It’s something that most poker lovers haven’t experienced. After all, televised poker usually takes place in a casino. The only downfall to Twitch is that it doesn’t have the color commentary that most are accustomed to when it comes to watching poker. Streamers make up for that by offering their own commentary with their live streams.

The appeal of sitting down in front of a computer to watch someone else sit in front of a computer and play cards is not immediately obvious. Somerville himself describes most poker videos as “sedative alternatives.” On his stream, a portion of the screen shows what he’s seeing on his computer, while another, smaller portion shows him looking at his monitor and giving commentary. TV networks generally create dramatic poker-game narratives in post-production—mostly by editing out all but the most exciting action. With live streams, the burden rests almost entirely on the player’s abilities and personality.

“As someone who watched a ton of poker videos, particularly poker-training videos, I was always shocked at how bad they were from a performance point of view,” Somerville said. On Twitch, he plays the consummate host-cum-tour-guide: inclusive, knowledgeable, and relentlessly entertaining. The key element of his broadcasts, which regularly run longer than seven hours, are his inexhaustible monologues, during which he cheerfully expounds on everything from basic poker strategy to his social life to the opaque world of professional gambling. He also responds candidly to questions that viewers submit via Twitch’s chat box. This interactivity, Somerville said, “allows you to get more inside my head. From both a learning point of view and an entertainment point of view, that’s so much better.”

If the market is to return to any semblance of its pre-2011 levels, the change is likely to occur slowly. More than half of Somerville’s audience is in the U.S., but it still represents only a tiny fraction of Twitch traffic. A number of big industry players are intrigued, though. Since his stream’s debut, Somerville has signed partnership deals with PokerStars, the world’s largest online cardroom, and DraftKings, the hugely popular (and controversial) daily fantasy-sports site. Meanwhile, Poker Central, a new streaming service dedicated exclusively to poker coverage, which also has a cable-television network in the works, has started to host original content on Twitch. Some see a future in which the platform replicates, albeit to a lesser degree, what traditional media did for poker a decade ago. “The first poker boom came, in part, from television teaching the game to people,” Eric Hollreiser, the head of corporate communications for PokerStars, told me. “Twitch represents the next-generation opportunity to have that channel of communication with consumers.”

This an excerpt from the original post that sparked my commentary – found on The New Yorker

Watching live streams of online poker can be both entertaining and educational. There’s nothing better than watching something live as it happens. The sheer excitement of a live event can make anyone bite their nails in anticipation of what’s going to happen next. It also gives poker players the ability to see how others approach the game. The commentary provided by the person streaming can give invaluable insight to how the game is played. It gives you a bird’s eye view of the game and what the player is thinking. You also get to see real time reactions by players as the game happens. Finally, you’ll get to see how someone else reacts to a bad beat.

Poker isn’t on television as much now as it was during the last decade. It means that people have to go elsewhere for their poker entertainment. It seems Twitch is the new place where poker players can get their fill of the action. Don’t be a stranger and check out the site for yourself. You very well may end up more than just a little entertained. You may also learn something by watching one of the many live streams that will change your game play for the better.