Why would someone choose to watch another person play a game instead of playing the game themselves? You’ve no doubt heard that question asked whenever Twitch–the world’s biggest video live streaming service–is mentioned.
It’s not an absurd question. After all, when you’re gathered around the TV or computer playing video games with friends, it’s a lot more fun when the controller is in your hands than it is to have to watch your friend bumble along losing life after life while you patiently await your turn.
There’s simply no denying Twitch’s popularity in the video game world, though. Ever since the service launched in 2011, gaming streamers have built enormous fan bases and made hearty livings from their play, with Tyler “Ninja” Blevins (16.7 million followers), Turner “Tfue” Tenney (10.2 million followers), and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek (9.2 million followers) leading the charge, according to theloadout.com.
It was only a matter of time before online poker popped up on the platform and positioned itself as perhaps the perfect game for the Twitch experience.
But how did Twitch poker begin? Why is it growing in popularity? And what do people get from watching others play poker instead of playing poker themselves? These are a few of the questions we’re going to cover in this ‘all you need to know’ guide of Twitch poker.
Poker on Twitch is different to other popular games widely played on the platform. For starters, there’s real money involved. All poker streamers buy in to tournaments and cash games using their own money (aside from occasional buy-ins allotted through sponsorships) and there’s big money to be won too.
This makes poker incredibly exciting to watch on Twitch, particularly in tournaments where you get to follow the streamer’s entire journey, from buying in to navigating the middle stages and hopefully securing a big payout on the final table. The audience becomes invested along with the streamer and this keeps people tuning in for a long time as they wait to see the final outcome.
Twitch poker is also an ideal educational tool for beginners and aspiring poker players to use in order to improve their own games. That simply isn’t the case in many online games. Ninja doesn’t break down everything he is doing in a game of Fortnite–the game simply moves too fast for that–so it’s not like viewers can play like he does after watching for a few hours. Instead, they’re tuning in for the entertainment that comes with watching a great player do their thing.
But Twitch poker is both entertaining and educational. Poker streamers show viewers their cards (that’s why the game is often played on a five-minute delay, preventing their opponents from peeking in real-time) and openly discuss their strategy during hands. This allows viewers to not only see what they’re doing but also to understand why. This is massively beneficial to the learning process.
But people also tune in to their favourite poker streamer’s Twitch channels for the communities that are built in the chat. It doesn’t matter if you’re only known by your Twitch username, real friendships are forged over time. Poker might not yet be as popular as other games on Twitch, but in a way, that makes the community experience greater.
Take an event like ‘Lex Live’, for example. Lex Veldhuis is currently the biggest Twitch poker streamer in the world and has grown an incredible community over time. To ensure everyone got to meet each other in real life and get to know the people behind the usernames, he started running live poker events aimed at his community members, with great success.
It’s safe to say that the vast majority of people who tune in to a Twitch poker stream are poker players themselves, albeit at varying degrees of experience and skill level.
But there are also many viewers who have never played a hand of poker in their lives. As the popularity of Twitch poker grows, more and more people are being drawn to the streams through other content, such as the chess community and gaming streams. Poker is a game that can be watched and enjoyed purely for entertainment.
As for the demographics of the Twitch poker audience, it’s difficult to hone in on specific numbers just for poker. But as far as Twitch goes overall, here are a few of the top Twitch statistics according to research by backlinko.com:
- The US has the biggest share of Twitch viewers (nearly a quarter of all users)
- 65% of Twitch users are men
- 73% of Twitch users are below the age of 35
- 41% of Twitch users are aged between 16-24
- 35% of Twitch users are aged between 25-34
- 17% of Twitch users are aged between 35-44
- 10% of Twitch users are aged over 45
- 35% of Twitch views come from mobile
Remember: You must be over 18 to play online poker and to watch poker on Twitch.
While the legendary Doyle Brunson is referred to as the ‘Godfather of poker’, Jason Somerville is rightfully considered the ‘Godfather of Twitch poker’.
Somerville was already a highly skilled and successful poker player before he ever fired up his webcam. The former PokerStars Team Pro discovered poker in 2004 as the poker boom was in full swing. He started playing online freerolls and went on to build a six-figure bankroll without ever needing to make a deposit.
He won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2011–the same year Twitch was launched–defeating 3,175 entries in a $1,000 No Limit Hold’em event to win $493,091. He’d also won millions in online tournaments, and had experience in front of a camera in both training videos and poker documentaries.
All of this gave Somerville the perfect recipe to make poker successful on Twitch. He began streaming under the name JCarver in 2014, naming his community RunItUp (a company that has now gone on to be one of the driving forces in the growth of Twitch poker). Somerville’s streams were a huge success and he became the first poker player to gain 10 million views on Twitch.
“I remember when the poker category was just me and Jaime Staples,” Somerville told blog.twitch.tv in 2018. “Now it’s grown into this huge community with hundreds of broadcasters putting out entertaining content around the clock. When I first signed my Twitch partnership deal, it expressly forbade streaming poker! It’s been amazing to see not just Twitch itself but our entire poker industry embrace the platform. There’s still so much more to come.”
He was right. Somerville was known not only for his staggering consistency (for a long time he streamed six hours a day, seven days a week) but also for his community building. The RunItUp community gave Somerville’s audience–the self-proclaimed “dirty basement kids”–a place where they could hang out, talk to like-minded people, be entertained, and make friendships that would crossover into the real world.
Today, every poker streamer aims to build a strong community of their own.
At the time of writing, there can be no doubt that Lex Veldhuis is the most popular Twitch streamer. Like Somerville before him, Veldhuis was already massively successful in the poker world before he ever fired up a stream. A PokerStars Team Pro with millions in earnings, Veldhuis also loved watching video games on Twitch and knew the platform well.
In 2016, after years of grinding, he decided it was time for a change and began streaming his own poker play on Twitch. Since then he’s enjoyed huge success having risen up to the high stakes tournaments, gaining 276,000 Twitch followers along the way.
In 2020, Veldhuis smashed Twitch poker records when he finished 15th in the PokerStars SCOOP Main Event, winning $62,620. During this event, his stream was watched by a peak of 58,799 viewers, a record for poker streamers. His channel became the most-watched on the entire Twitch platform during this stream.
According to twitchstats.net, there have been 9,491 poker streamers on Twitch since the platform was launched.
In the 30 days leading up to June 10, 2021, the most-watched Twitch poker channels–according to twitchmetrics.net–belonged to PokerStars247 (450,005 viewer hours), followed by Veldhuis (412,206 viewer hours).
At the time of writing, four PokerStars Team Pros sit in the top 10 of the Most-Watched Poker Twitch Streamers in 2021, according to twitchstats.net. This shows the total channel views for the streamer since they have started streaming. Those are:
- Lex Veldhuis – 42,951,264
- Benjamin “Spraggy” Spragg – 10,552,483
- Fintan “easywithaces” Hand – 8,921,664
- Felix “Xflixx” Schneiders – 8,687,500
- PokerStars247 – 8,161,911
The great thing is that Twitch poker is only just getting started. As poker streamers continue to expand their fan bases and more and more celebrities, sports stars, and other content creators embrace poker, the game will only continue to grow in popularity on Twitch.