Is Twitch TV the Next Big Thing in Poker?

 
 

It’s hard to go anywhere in poker this year without hearing someone mention Twitch.tv poker. Twitch tv is a very divisive new innovation in poker, most people know what it is, but not everyone really understands it…..yet.

Twitch.tv is a live streaming website exclusively for video gamers. Quite simply, at any one time there are thousands of gamers playing their favourite videos live on the site, and millions of avid fans watching their every move. These gamers usually are visible via a webcam on the screen, and they are commenting on their play as they do it.

Twitch TV is a website unlike other websites which offer streaming services of some type, among them hitbox.tv; gaminglive.tv; Ustream.tv; and Dailymotion Games; in that it is, as stated above, exclusive to streams of video gaming.

Some streamers take an educational approach, where they show aspiring gamers how to beat their chosen games. Others take an entertainment approach, almost with the gameplay being secondary to the mischief that can be had on the stream. In many cases viewers watch these streams simply to get a better idea of what a video game is like before they buy it.

What really defines Twitch, and what perhaps gets lost on first viewing, is that almost every single successful stream involves an element of direct engagement with the audience, via a chatbox. It is this level of interaction that is the secret sauce of what makes Twitch such an entertaining and compelling platform.

Previously it was banned on the site, but now poker is one of the games available on Twitch, and streaming poker is fast becoming very popular. It has a long way to go to compete with gaming legends like League of Legends, Counter Strike and FIFA, but it is gaining a lot of traction. Video game streaming may one day make way for poker streaming in terms of popularity.

 

The history of Twitch

Twitch.tv got its start in 2011 as a spin-off from the video streaming website Justin.tv. Justin.tv was a general interest site which broadcast anything, much like YouTube. Twitch, however, had a very narrow focus and specifically targeted the streaming of online video games, which was a surprise organic success of Justin.tv.

It’s growth was exponential and in February 2014 it was the fourth largest website in terms of traffic in the United States. It currently gets over 100 million views a month, with 1.5 million gamers broadcasting. 10,000 of those are Twitch Partners who are invited to monetise their channels,. Some of them are so successful they are able to make a living from their Twitch activity alone.

In September 2014 Twitch was acquired by Amazon for $970 million, beating Google in the race to capture the streaming phenomenon. One would think Google would be the ideal partner for Twitch, given they own YouTube, but Amazon also makes for a logical partner. It was Amazon, after all, who empowered potential authors to bypass the publishing industry entirely with the Kindle, so it seems fitting they are now doing the same with fledgling broadcasters.

In November 2014 Twitch introduced poker to the list of games that can be played there, and in the small space of time it has been around, it has become very popular. Jason Somerville is the poster boy for Twitch in poker, with his peak broadcasts attracting over 22,000 simultaneous viewers and at times making poker the most watched game on the site.

The exciting thing for poker, from a wider industry perspective, is that Twitch has opened its doors to a whole new audience of potential poker players. Watch any stream and you will see a lot of questions in the chatbox that signify that non-poker players are watching, such as “Is this real money?” and “What’s an ante?”. I was fortunate enough to look at some of the back-end Twitch analytical data for a major poker operator and they revealed that 65% of the viewers were over 18 and in a region that offers real money poker. This suggests that Twitch has 65 million potential poker players waiting to discover the game.

 

How to use Twitch

If you fancy yourself as a poker Twitch fan, then it really is quite simple. Head over to Twitch.tv, set up an account and then press the browse button. You will find a huge list of games, and somewhere in the middle you will see poker.

From there, you will see all the current live poker feeds. The most popular ones will be at the top. You can’t see the Twitch poker feeds that are currently offline.

When you watch a feed they are usually on a five-minute delay, so the streamer’s opponents cannot see their hole cards. However, you can chat with the broadcaster via a chatbox, and in almost all instances, he or she will answer your questions (The most popular streamers are usually the most interactive).

If you enjoyed the broadcaster, you can like them (Similar to the function on Facebook), which means you will be alerted the next time they are online.

If youreally like the streamer, you can pay $4.99 to subscribe to their feed. Everyone has access to the live streams, but subscribers usually get access to exclusive pre-recorded content that others do not.

If you really really like them, you can even choose to make a random cash donation to them. As ludicrous as this sounds, it happens all the time. In fact some players have gotten $1,000 donations from big names like 2012 WSOP champion Greg Merson for having entertaining streams.

That really is all there is to it. Just like ground-breaking platforms like Twitter or Facebook, I could describe it more, but it only really starts to make sense when you try it for yourself and visit a few streams to get the lay of the land.

 

Twitching to get into some hot poker action? There are plenty of reasons to play with us (hint: poker freerolls).

 
 

 

Why do people watch gaming?

The most baffling thing about Twitch which almost anyone from a non-gaming background has to get to grips with, is why do 100 million people watch gaming, when they could instead be playing themselves? Surely playing a game is infinitely more fun that watching one?

To understand, you have to watch Twitch for yourself. It is surprisingly entertaining, even if you are unfamiliar with the game being played. The best streamers are genuinely engaging and entertaining. There is also something very compelling about watching something you know to be live.

I don’t know about you, but when I watch football, I find it much more exciting when I know its live compared to a recorded show – even when I don’t know the result. Knowing something is live makes you feel part of it, like your support has an actual influence on the outcome. With Twitch that goes double, because one of the best features is the real time chat with the broadcaster.

If you didn’t understand why a poker player folded, you can ask them. If you thought they made a mistake, you can tell them. If you want poker advice, or simply to get them to give you a shout out, you can. The way the broadcasters engage with their audience is why Twitch is so popular.

The nearest thing poker has to Twitch is the ‘training site’ where you can watch pre-recorded videos of a coach playing. While I believe that is still the better way to learn the game, Twitch is much more entertaining for the live value of it. When we watch a pre-recorded video, there is a selection bias - we will invariably see a recording where the coach won money. With Twitch, anything could happen. Our broadcaster could get totally outclassed, they could lose their internet connection, they could go on tilt.

In fact, anything really does happen. Quite famously earlier this year Charlie "Epiphany77" Carrel was streaming on Evan ‘Gripsed’ Jarvis’s Twitch channel and he had a hacker break into his computer when he was away at the bathroom. The hacker managed to access his account using TeamViewer and proceeded to transfer $1,000 to his own account. This was witnessed by many of Jarvis’s 5,000+ followers and thankfully the crime was prevented before the money was lost.

Poker is a perfect new game for non-poker gaming fans because of the money on offer. There are a select few gamers who make reasonable money in league style events, but every poker streamer is playing for thousands every night. So far the biggest poker stream on Twitch had gamers witness Jason Somerville win $30,000 in a tournament, which really captured gamers’ imaginations much in the way Chris Moneymaker did in 2003 (Albeit on a much smaller scale).

Twitch is also fast becoming the new platform to watch live poker. The European Poker Tour has been broadcasting on Twitch and at the time of writing the Global Poker Masters attracted 1.2 million views. As someone who has worked on a lot of live broadcast events, let me tell you that this is an incredible viewership figure and dwarfs most of previous live poker broadcasts out there.

 

Why would streamers give away their tactics?

If we accept why people would want to watch gamers, it makes sense why poker games would be popular on Twitch. But why would anyone want to broadcast their live play in a game like poker? Even though most broadcasters have a five-minute delay on their stream for obvious reasons, it still doesn’t make much sense why someone would willingly give their opponents so much free information.

In other video games, the skills needed to thrive are usually fast reactions, so watching your opponents streaming would not really help, in fact it would be a distraction. Poker is slower, but importantly, poker is a game of imperfect information. The skilful player is the one who can make the most accurate approximations about their opponent based on what little information they have. It would seem that purposely revealing their hole card information and tactical thoughts, even with a five-minute delay, would be like playing football without a goalkeeper.

I was surprised to discover that almost all of the people I spoke to said that streaming helped them focus. Knowing they had an audience forced them to be much more mindful and deliberate in their thought processes, rather than autopiloting. The sheer pressure of having an audience, it seems, is enough to ensure they play in the zone.

Several players have expressed to me that being vulnerable in this way has actuallyimproved their game. It has forced them to think more about what their opponents will do to adjust to them now they know their cards, which in turn forces them to think of a way of adjusting again. It is not unlike live players who would purposely give false information if they suspected their opponents had spotted a physical tell on them. There was once a time when people felt that hole card cameras on TV shows would kill the game, when it in fact they caused the industry to boom. Twitch streaming, it seems, is just a modern version of that.

Then you have the not-so-small matter of the fact streamers can monetise their stream. Twitch partners get a cut of advertising revenue, affiliate revenue and merchandise sales. Fans can pay to subscribe to channels to access premium content and, most surprisingly, a lot of Twitch fans simply make cash donations to their favourite streamers.



So while the broadcasters accept that they might be giving up a little bit of edge when it comes to their opponents having information on them, they say the increased focus, Twitch revenue and general enjoyment of streaming more than makes up for it.

It’s hard to get your head around Twitch poker, but the facts do not lie. If Amazon’s $970 million acquisition does not showcase the potential of this site or the 100 million active members, you may be interested to know that Google are poised to come out with a video game streaming site themselves (A relaunch of their YouTube Live streaming site) this year.

The gaming industry already eclipses the movie industry in terms of revenue, now it seems like video game streaming alone might become a rival to traditional TV. Whatever your thoughts on live video game streaming, it is very exciting that poker is now part of this conversation.

twitch tv

 

Twitching to get into some hot poker action? There are plenty of reasons to play with us (hint: free cash).

 
 

 

Have you ever watched a Twitch Poker video? Comment and let us know!


Barry CarterBarry Carter is the editor of PokerStrategy.com and the co-author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2. He has been working in the poker industry for almost ten years as a writer but is still primarily a poker player at heart. Barry has spent the last five years working alongside renowned mental game coach Jared Tendler, which is why is why you will often see a lot of unique perspectives from the world of psychology in his writing.


 

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