U.S. Fans Of Twitch Poker Find They Cannot Play The Game Themselves
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Twitch Streamers Are Engaging New Generation Of U.S. Online Poker Players. Too Bad There’s Nowhere To Play

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On September 7, top Twitch Poker streamer Jason Somerville broke his own record as over 37,000 people tuned in to watch his final table run in PokerStars WCOOP-07.

At the time, Somerville’s channel was the most watched live show of any on the platform, a status almost universally reserved for popular video game streamers.

To say it was a big night for online poker may qualify as understatement of the year.

Yet for would-be U.S. online poker players, the joy derived some watching Somerville and other PokerStars streamers is paired with a sobering dose of reality, as they’re quickly learning that unless real money isn’t involved, they cannot join their heroes on the virtual green felt.

Tracking the meteoric rise of Twitch Poker

Gamoloco is a site that tracks a variety of Twitch metrics, including views by channel, game and platform.

As of last week, poker ranked as the 16th most popular game on Twitch with over 765,000 hours watched, and maximum concurrent viewership of over 30,000.

To put the latter statistic into context, that’s more than the number of cash game players who play on PokerStars during prime time hours. Based on PokerScout.com traffic figures, PokerStars hasn’t peaked at more than 30,000 cash game players since late April.

The relevance of Twitch Poker becomes all the more pronounced when one considers that just a few months ago the channel ranked a lowly 35th, two spots behind Blackjack. Back then, it took nearly a month for the channel to accumulate the viewership it’s now regularly pulling weekly.

Admittedly, a fair portion of Twitch Poker’s ascent up the charts has to do with the return of Somerville, whose stream currently accounts for just over half the game’s traffic.

But now that popular poker personalities such as Phil Hellmuth, Liv Boeree, Daniel Negreanu and Elky are all logging significant hours, Twitch Poker stands to remain heavily viewed even in the absence of its unofficial ambassador.

Why Twitch Poker?

Moving beyond the tireless efforts of the streamers themselves, there are a litany of other reasons as to why the channel is gathering steam:

  • It’s one of the few Twitch channels in which viewers can regularly watch streamers play a game for significant sums of money, adding an element of drama to the viewing experience.
  • It serves as a cost-free and interactive training tool. Players are generally encouraged to chime in with their thoughts regarding how a hand is played, and more often than not the streamer is happy to walk through his/her logic.
  • Twitch Poker grants viewers direct access to some of the same players that were instrumental in spreading online poker awareness during the poker boom.
  • The majority of top streamers host Home Games, where players can test their newfound skills against the streamers and their followers/subscribers, often for real-money prizes.

Over the long haul Twitch Poker will likely play a small but vital role in balancing the online ecology. While professional grinders may be put off by recreational players learning the ropes for free, this is ultimately a net win for operators, who are desperately struggling to acquire and retain depositing players.

Thanks to Twitch Poker, they might not have to dig so deep into their bag of tricks.

Poker streamers to U.S.-players: “No online poker for you”

As effective as Twitch Poker streamers are at spreading online poker awareness, they’re equally successful at driving home the point that the U.S. is lagging behind many countries with regards to iGaming regulation.

To most first-time viewers, many of whom are from the U.S. and have never set foot in an online poker lobby, any allusion the streamer might make to online poker not being available in the U.S. comes as a complete shock, and is typically followed by a demand to know why.

Generally speaking, the streamer will then respond with an answer ranging from “that’s just the way it is” to a more thorough explanation of U.S. gambling law and the current regulatory climate.

The frequency of user questions such as “Why isn’t PokerStars allowed in the U.S.?” to “When will we be able to play online poker for real money?” strongly suggests that there are a sizable number of U.S.-based poker neophytes eager to test their mettle at the online poker tables for the very first time.

The question is, what role can Twitch Poker play in making that a reality?

How Twitch Poker can make a difference

Twitch Poker channels have become so well-attended that it would behoove pro-online gaming legislators to mention them at informational hearings.

By doing so, proponents will be able to offer clear and compelling evidence that:

  • The United States is a vastly underserved market ripe with a growing contingent of prospective players.
  • Professional players will gravitate to unregulated sites in the absence of legal poker. One needn’t look further than the abundance of Bovada and America’s Cardroom streamers to illustrate that.
  • Poker is indeed a game where skill triumphs over the long-haul, evidenced by the swelling bankrolls of regular streamers.

The only problem is, the average legislator and commercial stakeholder is likely unaware of the impact Twitch Poker is having in the United States.

That’s where the streamers come in. Twitch has provided streamers with a powerful platform by which they can advocate for online poker regulation, either by encouraging their legions of fans to reach out to legislators, or by becoming champions of regulation themselves.

Some, such as Dutch Boyd and Dan O’Brien have already taken to doing so, not only through their words but by streaming legal online poker games from Nevada.

As the popularity of Twitch Poker grows, the voice of the streamer will become increasingly difficult to ignore. And while streamers are unlikely to push on-the-fence states over the tipping point on their own, they can play a strong supplementary role in the conversation.

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Robert DellaFave
- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.