GPWA Times Magazine - Issue 32 - June 2015

Twitch opens the door for new marketing channels Live streaming is not just for sportsbetting anymore By Dan Podheiser T here's a new phenomenon taking place in the online gaming world, thanks in large part to the intuition and drive of one boisterous professional poker player. Jason Somerville began broadcasting his online poker sessions on YouTube in early 2014 while he was still a sponsored pro for Ultimate Poker in Nevada. He later moved to Twitch, where he could live stream his sessions to an audience. He created a brand called Run It Up, symbol- ic of the mission of his videos: to turn $50 into $10,000 while encouraging viewers to watch, listen and learn. Run It Up was an instant success. While prerecorded poker training videos have been around for more than a decade and still have a niche in the poker commu- nity, Somerville's live stream approach marked the first time that a well-known professional broadcast his games in real time (on a 5-10 minute delay) for fans to follow along. Somerville and Ultimate Poker parted ways shortly before the site shut down late last year, but in February, the 28-year-old signed with online poker giant PokerStars. On March 1, Somerville began a 70-day campaign of streaming his poker play on Twitch every day for an average of four hours per day. As of May 5, the Run It Up stream had 97,481 followers and 6.6 mil- lion views. Poker fans are now learning about and interacting with the game in ways they never had before. Traditional training sites like CardRunners and Phil Galfond's Run It Once charge a fee and provide high-level, inside information for players willing to invest seriously in their games. Somerville turns that business model on its head, offering his Run It Up stream for free as a training vehicle geared toward experienced players and novices alike. He gives invaluable lessons as he thinks through every hand and every decision in real time. He answers his fans’ questions and provides his own insight when they send him hand histories to review. As a Team PokerStars Pro, Somerville is changing the way the site markets its top professionals. Now Daniel Negreanu, a longtime PokerStars sponsored pro and arguably the most well-known face in the poker community, is broadcast- ing his own sessions on Twitch and has 26,000 followers of his own. The site even signed Twitch streamer Jaime Staples to become another arm in PokerStars' live stream surge. Staples has only been a professional pok- er player for seven months, so his results on the felt don't match up with veterans like Somerville (over $6 million in career tournament earnings) or Negreanu ($28.4 million). Still, he was able to build a loyal following on Twitch that enabled him to engage with fans in ways that other, per- haps more well-known, players hadn't. "The signing of Staples is part of PokerStars' initiative to continually in- troduce the game of poker to a new audi- ence," the site said in anApril press release following the Staples signing. "Twitch is a new medium for the poker world, and Jaime Staples is one of its biggest stars." (Of course, PokerStars' marketing strate- gies aren't all rosy; see the back page of this issue to learn why PokerStars has earned a spot on the APCW's Wall of Shame.) The Twitch revolution in poker is just be- ginning, but it's been a staple in the com- petitive video game community for years. And poker, like video games, is a social game at its core. Players love to talk strat- egy with each other. They love to watch or "rail" their friends when they feel like they have skin in the game, whether it's a finan- cial or emotional investment—especially when the stakes are high. Somerville and Staples have attracted loyal followers be- cause they are personable and have creat- ed an "us" mentality. Somerville regularly rewards his followers with freeroll tour- naments through his private PokerStars Home Games group. It's that kind of engagement that can pro- vide value to online gaming sites that use Twitch or other live stream sites, such as Meerkat and Periscope, and it's not unique to poker. "Online casinos can open their own chan- nels and reward players that watch daily," said Harry Bienenstock, a social gaming acquisition specialist at Income Access. "They can share the playing experience if they ask a high-stakes, VIP player to set up a stream." Imagine if new Casino Floor sponsor Rio Ferdinand, former captain of England's national football team, broadcast himself live playing blackjack or roulette on the site. Or if Rafael Nadal went on Twitch during major sporting events and made in-play bets on PokerStars' new sports- book, taking suggestions from fans and fellow punters along the way. Those are just a couple of examples of how online gaming sites could use live stream to leverage their celebrity spon- sors to attract new players. But the beauty 16 Twitch opens the door for new marketing channels