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The Past, Present and Future of Poker and Twitch.tv
Twitch.tv originated as a spin-off of general interest live-streaming site Justin.tv and catered to a core group of online gamers.
It was – and is – a platform where top players of online games like League of Legends and World of Warcraft would live stream when they were playing.
People could log in and follow the action from everywhere in the world and have direct contact with their favorite players through the chat box.
It took several years before poker recognized the value of Twitch for online poker and Jason Somerville is generally credited with being the pioneer of online poker streaming.
At the PSC Bahamas, PokerStars’ top five poker streamers got together for a panel discussion to elaborate on the state and potential of the phenomenon that is Twitch.
Along with Somerville were fellow streamers Kevin Martin, Jaime Staples, Randy 'nanonoko' Lew and Bertrand 'ElkY' Grospellier.
Randy Lew: When I started playing poker I didn’t know anyone who played but obviously I had a lot of questions.
Twitch was an easy way to communicate with like-minded people. It helped me learning because I could watch players and ask questions.
I learned many basic things like maybe I shouldn’t put it in with Q-T off-suit all the time as I keep losing.
Jason Somerville: Twitch started as a gaming portal. The major advantage is the level of interactivity of this platform.
Now, with poker being more established on Twitch, it brings people into the game. They see it trending and tune in.
First they only see people playing cards, then they realize that this game is actually played for money.
That’s a big part of the thrill as anyone can see us winning or losing hundreds or thousands of dollars – hopefully winning.
We have this event called “Runitup Reno." We’ve now hosted it three times, I think, and we have people coming over from Norway, Sweden, Germany, the UK, everywhere. And they all heard about it when they watched the stream.
Also, you can always find someone who’s interesting just for you. There are many who would watch one or two of the five of us, but not the others. The diversity of the players makes it interesting.
ElkY: It’s so much more fun to watch any tournament as you’re closer to the streamer and they’re closer to you.
It’s an amazing experience to have someone following until 4 am. The dedication is incredible and it’s a great way to build a community.
Kevin Martin: Twitch reaches people who never played poker before. We have a guy here at the PSC Bahamas who started playing because of Twitch and now he’s won a package for the main event.
How to Start a Twitch Channel and Grow an Audience
Jaime Staples: I freaked out the first time when I went online and I was very clumsy. But the thing is, anyone can do it, the process is very simple. You just download the software and open an account.
Lew: Consistency is crucial in the initial stages. Stay away and you lose your viewers. If you won something big and start twitching, you might have 5,000 people watching you.
But if you then think you’re such a big deal you don’t have to show up for six months and you’ll still have these people watching, trust me, you won’t.
Somerville: When I started out I streamed for 77 days in a row at least 7 hours a day. That sounds crazy but there are guys who stream even more.
You have to do a lot to grow your audience and you need to be in some way unique.
Martin: The first time I was streaming was also the first time I played online. I did have a lot of live experience but non online. And it showed.
I played terribly and lost. Then I said I will stick to $5 tournaments until I win, and I did that. I think following that progress was something that also attracted viewers.
How to Keep the Audience Coming Back
Somerville: It’s about the broadcaster finding their own rhythm. Everyone can come up with some innovations at some point, although even after years the most successful streams are still similar to what they were years ago.
Does Twitching Hurt Your Game?
Martin: I play low stakes with a pretty short, three-minute delay. That’s still long enough to not give too much away but it helps to stay close to the viewers as things have only just happened when they come up on the stream.
Staples: Daniel Negreanu once said to me that self-awareness is key and I thought that was pretty cool.
Of course, you’re telling people what you know. But you also know what they know, so as long as you’re aware of yourself and what you’re doing there’s no damage.
It actually makes a difference how long your delay is. Four to six minutes is my range and shorter is always better. It’s weird when comments about a hand come in that you played six minutes ago.
Somerville: Believe me, jokes are weirder. People go 'haha' in the comments and I have no idea what they’re talking about.
Lew: Streaming is not to our advantage, believe me. But it does make us stronger as well because we have to adapt to people learning from us and become better players.
How to Deal with Trolls and Unfair Critics
ElkY: Sometimes you explain yourself when someone says you played a hand badly or weird. But sometimes there’s no point because people are just attacking you because it makes them feel better.
Lew: My motto is 'someone negative in my life won’t get the attention they want.' Don’t feed the troll because you cannot win the argument.
Staples: When you start to have a name, and people see you as a human being, your numbers go up. But things can always sway to the negative side. You need to find a balance between having some success without becoming a target.
Somerville: Daniel Negreanu once said to me don’t take anything serious, they don’t know who you are. And it’s true.
No matter if it’s something positive or negative. But you need mods to delete the worst nonsense otherwise people start echoing each other.
One says “that was terrible” and the next guy answers “you have no idea” and then things get out of hand quickly. I have two guys who are reading Twitch comments full-time just to clean up the worst mess.
How to Stay Motivated
Lew: In tournaments it just happens that you just bust and bust and bust, but it makes me want to keep playing. Downswings are amplified by being public but I always try to spin the negative energy to use it for something good.
ElkY: If you bust, all the people on the stream bust with you, which is extra motivating. I mean, I can’t let people down who’ve been following me so long, so I have to play my best even if I have deep runs for several days in a row and I’m getting really tired.
Staples: I had a really bad year in 2016. I had some money from my income in the beginning so I tried playing higher stakes and better players - and they crushed me.
Maybe that was a mistake and I learned from it. Everyone has their own approach; while Kevin went for the straight development, I took the swingy line.
Somerville: There’s a lot of losing in poker. Get used to it! We lose 80 times of a 100, maybe a little less if we’re really running well.
Heck, even Phil Ivey would bust 75 out of 100 tournaments -- if he’ll ever play another 100 tournaments.
But to be honest, when you have a deep run, make the last two tables as chip leader and then boom, you lose and finish 15th, if then 5k people laugh at you, it hurts.
I guarantee you we’re all more thick-skinned today than we were ever before, peaking in not caring about what people think.
Will Twitch Kill the Game?
Somerville: When I started there was no book except Super/System. Then the book market exploded and players went crazy because all this information was given out. But it hasn’t killed poker.
Lew: It’s naïve to think the level of a game wouldn’t evolve. It does just like mankind has always evolved and still is. But it’s still possible to become a consistent winner in poker, and it’ll stay that way.
You don’t need to be better than everyone in the tournament you play in; just better than the guy at your table you’re playing right now.
Elky: We became good at poker without books. Today, with or without books, whoever is motivated and talented will become good anyway.