As I tuned in recently to all three days of ESPN’s coverage of the 2015 WSOP Main Event November Nine, my thoughts wandered to how much more fun the broadcast would be if it were hosted by one of today’s top Twitch Poker streamers. I then wondered aloud, “Would ESPN coverage ratings of the WSOP improve if the show was hosted by one or more Twitch stars such as Jason Somerville, Joey Ingram, or Jaime Staples?”
For me personally, there was one saving grace that prevented me from tuning-out during Zvi Stern’s incessant tanking and other pauses in action, Antonio Esfandiari.
Accompanied by two mega talented yet recreational-viewer friendly casters, Lon McEarchern and Norman Chad, Esfandiari nimbly eluded a minefield of “casual” commentary aimed at “recreational” poker fans by utilizing actual professional poker situational analysis.
The way he did so is comparable with the feat of outlasting 6,400+ opponents to reach the Main Event final table. For every Norman Chad scripted joke feigning a lack of poker knowledge and Lon McEarchern description of basic poker rules, The Magician was right on cue with strategic data that a non-casual poker fan could relate to.
Both McEarchern and Chad are legendary poker commentators who have paved the way for audio-visual poker programming for over a decade. Yet one question that comes to mind is, “Has the watered-down approach to poker content overstayed its welcome?” More importantly, “Is that type of programming really more attractive to casual fans of the game?”
Recent content and product trends in an industry that has a lot of similarities with poker — the video game industry — suggest that holding consumers’ hands may not be the best method for peaking their interest.
Before we take a look at that, let’s examine the three Twitch Poker streamers mentioned above and how they relay information to their respective viewers.
Somerville, Ingram and Staples — Different Casting Styles
The undisputed King of Poker Live Streaming at the moment is Run It Up host Jason Somerville, also known as jcarverpoker on his Twitch channel (nice Fallout 4 Insulated Vault #420 Suit, Jason). His one-tabling action attracted roughly 30,000 new player signups to the world’s largest poker site, PokerStars, during his daily streaming deal with the online behemoth before the 2015 WSOP.
There are many factors that go into why Somerville is the number one poker streamer, but if you could narrow it down to a single trait, it’s probably his on-air personality. With all the hype about “dumbing-down” poker content for the recreational consumer ever since Moneymaker waffle-crushed Farha in 2003, you would think that jcarver’s show provides a heavy dose of Poker Hand Rankings and other basic tidbits aimed at non-pro viewers — but you would be mistaken.
In fact, you’re more likely to witness Somerville beam about big-breasted honeys on his show than you are to get a definition of what Fourth Street and Fifth Street are. In case you weren’t aware just how successful Somerville’s programming was for the PokerStars brand in 2015, here’s a May 2015 interview with Joey Ingram:
Joey Ingram, commonly referred to as Chicago Joey or Papi, casts the ever-popular Poker Life Podcast via Twitch and Google Hangouts. Our readers who have watched episodes of his show already know that his podcasts revolve around “informed” poker content.
Whether it’s an honest, no-holds-barred discussion on high stakes poker with Mike McDonald or a two-hour analysis of recent PokerStars VIP Club Changes, the Poker Life Podcast is a “serious” poker fan’s dream show.
Viewers who tune-in live via Twitch or YouTube to ask about basic poker terms are more likely to be directed to the Google search engine than to have their queries replied to in real time, yet Joey Ingram’s show is among the top rated poker casts on the Internet.
Which brings us to another Twitch Poker superstar, Jaime Staples. Contrary to Somerville and Ingram, Staples’ poker streaming does focus heavily on “casual” poker fan questions. His PokerStaples Twitch Channel is watched by thousands on a daily basis, and if you had a nickel for every time the e-cigarette-smoking Canadian answered a basic poker question from a viewer, then you’d probably be $30 richer each month.
Staples is the quintessential “recreational” poker fan’s streaming personality, but don’t let that fool you. He’s a profitable online tournament pro with solid results in $10 to $200 buy-in events who also attracts a high percentage of regular professional poker players to his stream.
I keep placing adjectives that describe a poker fan’s knowledge of the game, such as recreational or serious, in quotations for a reason. That’s because nearly all the buzz about how to attract more players to the game over the past decade has been focused around these buzzwords — and the go-to opinion on how to do this has typically been to water-down content to make it more palatable for new players.
If analyzing the three Twitch Poker casters with the most market share hasn’t convinced you that it may be time to rethink traditional methods for bringing more players to poker, then perhaps it’s time to look at the video game industry.
Video Game Sales Trending Towards Serious Gamers
Chances are if you’re reading this article, you’ve either taken a break from the new Fallout 4 video game or have yet to play it. If you haven’t heard about Bethesda Softworks‘ latest release, here’s a Fortune Magazine article that highlights the video game’s success within 24 hours of its November 2015 launch — Fallout 4 Breaks 2015 Video Game Sales Record.
And here’s another News Flash — Fallout 4 is not a game that constantly holds the hand of recreational players, guiding them along the journey with never-ending tutorials on how to become a successful settlement foreman.
The second most successful game of 2015 is Call of Duty: Black Ops III, which has a loyal player base dominated by hardcore fans who are very serious about their play. Neither game reached the all-time gross sales record of $815 million within 24 hours of launch set by Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, but that game definitely did not make any attempts to water-down its content for recreational video game players. By the way, GTA V has generated more than $3 billion — with a ‘b’ — in overall sales.
Of course, the fact that GTA V is #4 on the all-time “Units Sold” list behind casual game blockbusters Tetris, Wii Sports, and Minecraft is noteworthy, but the counterpoint to that info is that Grand Theft Auto V has generated more gross revenue and is the newest release among the bunch. Indeed, times have changed.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself that mobile games have had a great run on touch screen devices, and that is absolutely true. The Free-To-Play Money Making Machine has enjoyed resounding success since 2010 — prompting Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain publisher Konami to abandon the PC and console Triple-A gaming market altogether in pursuit of cashing-in on this business model.
But that could be wishful thinking. Many former casual gamers who were originally attracted to simple gameplay have moved on to demand content with much more depth. Couple that with the beaten-to-death Pay To Win Micro-Transactions that are prevalent in the mobile gaming world and we could be looking at a bubble bursting within the casual gaming market.
Much like their video game counterparts, poker consumers have matured over the years. As Global Poker League CEO Alex Dreyfus pointed out in an October 2015 Huffington Post interview, the average age of a poker player has actually increased since the turn of the decade. Alongside video game players, the poker consumer market is comprised mostly of 25-year-old and up “old farts” who are no longer teenagers.
I have one final point to make about video games and how popular titles generate interest without spoon-feeding new players. Rather than write it out for you, I’ll link you to this YouTube video of the 2015 League of Legends World Championship Finals in Berlin. If you’re not familiar with the game, do yourself a favor a watch just the first 90 seconds of that video, and you tell me… do the announcers come off as dumbing-down their commentary for the benefit of recreational fans?
League of Legends license holder Riot Games broadcast that Finals matchup on Twitch and got half a million concurrent viewers — and the game has over 70 million monthly players, so it must be dong something right.
Poker’s all-time tournament winner Daniel Negreanu defeated Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier in a Hearthstone Exhibition Match.at Blizzcon 2015 in California. If you’re familiar with the ultra-popular card game, then you know that the commentators did indeed omit advanced strategy from that broadcast, but only enough to attract poker players to the game. If you’ve never played Hearthstone, then you’ll be lost within the first moments of in-game play by play. And apparently that’s just fine, because Hearthstone has 30 million players and counting.
Does all of this mean that it’s time for poker media representatives to stop holding back when it comes to in-depth strategical analysis within their content? Let us know what you think!