When Twitch launched in 2011, a select few poker players saw its potential for their game. Jason Somerville took the live streaming video platform and made it into poker’s latest venue, something that not only allows poker fans to follow an entertaining and skilled player compete online, but it has become a place to learn more about poker and interact with that pro.
Today, Twitch Interactive has 1.5 million broadcasters who attract approximately 100 million visitors each month. Somerville attracts tens of thousands of poker fans and players to his broadcasts, especially those featuring his online poker journeys that take him to final tables of big events like WCOOP on PokerStars. Jaime Staples also grew his viewership through solid performances and grew his audience far past the 10K mark when he final tabled the Sunday Warm-Up.
Somerville has even used Twitch for broadcasts of live events, which led him to be invited to the 2016 Aussie Millions as the official broadcaster for the series.
Interaction and Entertainment
There is more to Twitch streaming than a simple poker broadcast, however. There must be entertainment value. Viewers who tune in to watch Staples or Somerville find much more than poker; they are entertained and educated, and they can chat and interact with the players to ask questions, offer compliments or criticisms, or meet other fans. It becomes an experience rather than a show.
It helps that players like Somerville and Staples are respected, well-liked, gracious, light-hearted while taking the game seriously, and possess the skills from which poker fans can learn.
Twitch gives poker the opportunity to again become interactive and the poker pros to become celebrities.
Since many poker television shows disappeared after Black Friday, the number of popular poker stars diminished, and many casual poker fans no longer have “favorite” players that they follow and watch on a regular basis. And the lack of American pro players with sponsorships – another casualty of the US market – gives players fewer dreams of joining that kind of elite group of pros.
The growth of Twitch can reverse that trend, though. Since Twitch is open to anyone who wants to stream their poker games to a live audience, anyone with a unique poker personality and the ability to interact with fans in an entertaining way can become the next Twitch poker star. Of course, there is also a business aspect to it, as the Twitch star must be able to leverage the viewership to attract advertisers and companies for sponsorships, but it is not a pie-in-the-sky dream.
The ability for Twitch streamers to grow the poker market is a huge plus. With the United States and some other countries taking a very slow path to online poker regulation, a method such as live streaming can keep poker in the spotlight and the fan base alive.
Meanwhile, players like Somerville have the power to connect poker to other games, whether a trendy game like Hearthstone or an industry like daily fantasy sports. The recent announcement from Full Tilt of its sponsorship of a Hearthstone professional team is evidence of the overlap that can occur and be beneficial to all parties. More incidences of crossover of Twitch streams with poker pros and sponsorships are almost inevitable.
Twitch intersected with the poker scene at a time when poker needed it the most. If the industry can utilize and monetize Twitch as well – or better – than Somerville, Staples, and other poker pros – poker may be headed for another popularity boost sooner than expected.