2015 has been The Year for not only Twitch Poker, but also for its most popular host, Jason Somerville. The Run It Up host, WSOP bracelet winner, and $2.2 million online poker tournament winner has had a great year, breaking Twitch Poker live streaming viewership records left and right.
Despite the multi-talented streaming star’s frantic schedule, the 28-year old native New Yorker was kind enough to grant an exclusive interview with PokerUpdate recently.
Following is a transcript of our Skype Q&A session with Jason Somerville.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us, Jason. A lot of things have been happening in the poker world. Before we get into that, what’s been going on in JCarver’s world?
I’m about to finish another 30 days of streaming. By the time all of this has been said and done I would have streamed over 180 days this year, and something like 1,100 hours of air time. I’ve put in a lot of hours this year up on the Twitch streets.
2015 has been awesome. One of the most, if not the most, fun years of my life. It’s been amazing this year to see the stream grow from what was basically just a concept at the start of this year. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of people come to the show and it’s been awesome, really, a ton of fun.
We’ve got a lot going on in the poker world right now and the big news right now (in December of 2015) are the changes to the VIP Program announced by PokerStars. We’ve seen and heard emotional opinions from both sides. What are your thoughts on the controversial issue?
Well, the poker world is changing. The poker world of today is not the same poker world of 5, 10 or even 3 years ago, so I understand why PokerStars wants to make changes. I have heard the arguments from Dani Stern (Ansky) and Daniel Negreanu.
I think those guys did a great podcast with Joey Ingram, talking about the VIP changes. I definitely think that Ansky and the players make some points about the broken promise of the Supernova Elite plan.
That’s a 2 year program, and changing it right in the middle seems unfair, and they bring up a lot of other points in terms of rake changes and things that I think merit consideration. I am just a partner of PokerStars. I’m just the guy that talks on the screen with my robotic bird, you know? I have no influence in terms of the rake changes, or things like that. That being said,
I really hope some sort of a compromise is reached on a variety of the issues, but we’ll see. I can understand why some people’s emotions have been running high – there are significant changes in the future, but hopefully everything works out for the best.
There is some momentum on both sides of the legalization of online poker argument as we come to a close in 2015, RAWA is in the news again and there are significant efforts for statewide legalization in California, Pennsylvania, and even Massachusetts. Do you think that one of those states, or perhaps more than one, will formally receive licensed online poker in 2016?
Well 2016 will certainly be an interesting year because of the Presidential Election. I’m not sure how much online poker progress will be made because of the Presidential Election, but that being said, the model of regulated online gambling has worked great in New Jersey.
There have been no instances of underage gamblers, and no instances of out-of-state players. They’ve really done a great job in New Jersey creating a model for what modern regulated online poker can look like. I did a lot of advocacy this year in California for regulation out there, with Negreanu in the Spring and then as part of the PokerStars Pro Tour in the Summer, and I feel like the winds of change are coming.
I feel like it’s happening but I’m not really sure of a timeline for these things. There is a lot of education that has to happen, a lot of grassroots and team building work that has to happen to create the momentum to show the politicians that this is an issue that matters to many Americans and that it can be done in a safe and correct way so that we can build these industries in these States.
Next year I want to really take a forward role in demonstrating what a modern online platform can look like, integrating with live streams and live events. I was a part of Ultimate Poker’s launch in New Jersey a few years ago and I definitely want to be a part of PokerStars’ launch in New Jersey this upcoming year. I hope that we continue to see changes.
I think the model of showing that it’s working in New Jersey and then going to Pennsylvania, then Massachusetts, New York, California, Florida and saying, ‘Hey, we can do this here too,’ and showing that we can build all these jobs, create a safe and fair game for the players, and create tax revenue for the State, will be very appealing in the next couple of years. Hopefully we’re moving in that direction.
Speaking more about PokerStars coming to New Jersey, the Garden State will finally get regulated online poker from the most widely recognized poker brand worldwide. What are your thoughts about that? Do you believe that it will have a huge impact on the Garden State market once PokerStars launches in 2016?
You know, I’m not really sure that PokerStars launching will create a massive growth in the market. I don’t think that that is necessarily going to happen, but I do know that PokerStars is treating this New Jersey operation very seriously and that they want to launch in New Jersey to kind of show the other States what they could do in every State.
I know that they are not holding back on their campaign and goals in New Jersey are certainly high. I think that’s going to invigorate the market, and like I had said before, I think that the most reliable road for online poker in America is to take a state-by-state patchwork network where we connect all these different States that want to connect liquidity.
You take that approach by showing what things could be like, and then you can start showing off the model to other States like New York, California, etc. I think that we will continue moving in that direction and I think that PokerStars coming into New Jersey is just the first step.
2015 witnessed an explosion in Twitch Poker live streaming with a lot of new streamers coming up and a lot of popularity on the platform. Do you think that poker live streaming, on Twitch and perhaps on other platforms, will continue to grow in 2016 or will it flatten out?
I think that it’s going to continue to grow. Realize this, I was the first official Twitch Poker Partnered Streamer on Twitch in November 2014, so I’ve only been doing it for a little over a year now. The category is still very fresh on Twitch. I mean, I really only began streaming in earnest on PokerStars in March of 2015, so it’s still a very new segment, and I think there are a lot of different ways that people can improve and innovate.
I don’t think that the ideal way of streaming has been settled and I still think there are a lot of different avenues for creativity and growth. Look, we’re pulling tens of thousands of people that are coming through each and every show that I’m streaming for. We’re getting pretty ridiculously huge audiences. 27,000 people watched the Stud Hi/Lo Final Table back in September. We had 37,000 people concurrently watching the $700 No Limit Final Table that I made during WCOOP in September. We’re seeing massive audiences that haven’t existed outside the top echelon of TV.
Poker really fits well in a streaming landscape, and it’s meant for the internet in terms of having the ability to stream for longer periods of time because Final Tables take a while, and I think there are so many lessons we can learn from E-Sports. These video games are getting hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers and are able to connect with fans and create a lot of interesting and compelling content. I think that poker content is still changing, growing and evolving and I think there’s plenty of room left for that. So I anticipate that next year we’re going to be seeing Twitch continue to grow, I think that Twitch Poker will continue to grow, and I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the end stages of what poker content will look like in a modern setting.
Twitch was even on hand at the 2015 Run It Up Reno poker event at the Peppermill Casino and that was unique as well – streaming the final table live. Talk about Run It Up Reno, and perhaps why you chose Reno as opposed to perhaps a more traditional venue such as Las Vegas. Do you have any plans for having another similar event in 2016?
Run It Up Reno was amazing. I selected the Peppermill because we had done events there in the past, never on the scale of this, but I had worked with the team at Peppermill starting with Ultimate Poker back in the day. They were a part of Ultimate Poker back in the day and I had met them through my relationship. The guys at Peppermill are super hard working and so good to work with.
They have a world class poker room there – a huge and gorgeous venue – and they really wanted to host the event, and it really showed when people were there. Everyone was treated great. It was amazing, we had 450 people across the tournaments in terms of unique players. 350 people flew or drove in, and 100 locals played in our events across the 6 days. It was amazing. It felt more like poker camp then a poker tournament. People were just having a good time, making friends, and everyone was really friendly at the table. The atmosphere was something that I had never seen before in all my years playing poker.
This is one of those things where every time we do an event it gets a little bit bigger, a little bit better and a little more special. This last one was an explosion in that sense because we had to do the live stream at the final table. That was the first time we ever did a live stream and that was a ton of responsibilities and work, but I was pretty happy with how that came out. We had to host all these people, we ran qualifiers on DraftKings, where we had 20 people qualify and win packages to Run It Up Reno. I was really happy with how Run It Up Reno went and I definitely think we will see more events next year both in Reno and maybe outside of Reno.
Thanks to everyone who participated (played, watched, or tweeted) for making Run It UP Reno such a unique event! pic.twitter.com/ABZPhMBOrJ— Run it UP Reno (@runitupreno) October 25, 2015
So what can our readers here at PokerUpdate expect from Jason Somerville and Run It Up in 2016? A lot more Twitch Poker Streams, perhaps some crossover with other video games? I saw you streaming a video game the other day on your channel. DFS perhaps? What can they look forward to?
I’m working on a bunch of cool things for next year that people have been asking for a long time. I started Run It Up two and a half years ago, and I have heard people asking for events on the East Coast, events in Europe, and events in Australia. I’ve hear a lot of different people ask for a bunch of different things and a bunch of different content stuff. and I’m not sure if everyone will be happy but I’m pretty sure we’ll have some happy campers come the end of next year. I’ve got amazing partners and I’m very excited for the next year.
it's a wrap! we streamed 185 days of #runitup in 2015, 1100+ hours of broadcasting and almost half a BILLION minutes watched! thank you all!— Jason Somerville (@JasonSomerville) December 11, 2015
There’s going to be a ton of streaming. I think the streams have gotten better and better over the course of this year, as I’ve gotten more and more hours under my belt. Of course that’s just how life works. I think the streams are going to continue getting better and better, the quality is going to rise, we’re going to have more live events that are hopefully going to be more integrated into the show – in the sense that there should be more qualifiers, and more ways to win your way to come hang out, and more options to get there – and I think we’re just going to continue trying to create the best poker content in the world and I feel like we did a good job of that this year. I think that’s shown by the numbers.
I don’t know including the December off the top of my head, but we served over half of a billion minutes of poker content this year and that doesn’t include the last month (December 2015) so maybe it’s like 600 million minutes or something. Who knows what the exact number is, but it’s a crazy amount of people who have come through the watch Run It Up this year, and I take this responsibility very seriously – that I have all these poker fans who clearly love the game.
Thank you Jason. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you and we wish you continued success in 2016 and beyond.
Thank you for inviting me for an interview. 2016 will be an exciting year!