Jason Somerville Becomes First Twitch Poker Streamer With 10 Million Views
WSOP Bracelet Winner Leads Poker Entertainment Into The Next Generation
At around 1:30 PM pacific time on Monday, March 21 the view counter on Jason Somerville’s “Run It UP!” Twitch Poker live stream channel ticked over 10,000,000 views.
Twitch is the world’s foremost video game live streaming community, with more than 100 million unique views across the platform each month. It was created to allow fans of different video games to broadcast themselves playing or to check out some of the more highly skilled players ply their craft in order to pick up some tips on how to improve. While some of the most popular games have far surpassed the 10 million views mark, Somerville is the first poker streamer to achieve the impressive milestone.
The World Series of Poker gold bracelet winner has more than $3.8 million in live tournament earnings to his name, but recently the Team PokerStars Pro member has shifted his focus from simply playing for profit towards becoming to foremost Twitch Poker streamer.
Card Player caught up with the 28-year-old from Long Island, NY about becoming the first poker streamer to 10 million, the shifting landscape of poker media, PokerStars’ return to America in New Jersey and much more.
Erik Fast: Congratulations on crossing the 10 million viewers mark! Must feel good.
Jason Somerville: Yeah, thank you. It is a milestone that represents a ton of work and time invested in the medium. We did 1,100 hours of streaming last year and I’m on track to do a similar number this year. It’s awesome because I enjoy every day and it’s great that people are enjoying hanging out with me.
EF: The great thing about Twitch is that there’s so much diversity that there is something for everyone, but without passing judgements on other streamers it is safe to say that ‘Run It UP!’ has risen to the forefront as far as Twitch Poker channels go. What do you attribute that success to?
JS: I think there are three main components to success in Twitch streaming. First is being consistent, for example I live stream seven days a week for six hours a day. People know that they can watch me. Secondly I try to be welcoming and engage with my community. There are people who show up in the chat everyday or at least multiple times a week, and that helps create a community. Finally, I think it’s important to have a unique approach that is interesting. In my case I try to not just be educational and informative from a strategy perspective but also just to have fun every single day, win or lose.
EF: How did you come to decide to really get behind Twitch Poker? Did you discover the site as a fan of other games?
JS: I have been a longtime video gamer. I’ve watched hundreds if not thousands of hours of StarCraft II streams and League of Legends streams. I watched these guys and saw what made these gaming streamers, who were way more successful than any poker streamer has yet become, stand out. At the time I felt like the whole setup would be a great fit for poker.
When Amazon bought Twitch in the summer of 2014 they directed Twitch to look into some non video-game areas, and that’s how we got to where we are now with the existence of poker, the creative channel, the music channel, I mean, Bob Ross! Poker was one of their first forays into a non-traditional video gaming market.
One of the guys they hired to run Twitch Poker was a fan of mine from some content I’d made on Youtube, and he reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in poker streaming. I was like, ‘Yeah! This is going to be perfect.’ People were already watching video gamers play with no money on the line. If that’s interesting, it made sense to me that it might be even more interesting for viewers to watch people play for tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in poker. So far it’s worked out really well.
EF: In recent years technology has made huge changes to the way people find their entertainment. As a result media creators are at a crossroads, and that is true for poker content creators as well. What are your thoughts on the future of poker entertainment?
JS: Poker TV coverage has definitely declined in the last few years, to the point that TV poker here in America is a shadow of what it once was. Twitch, on the other hand, is very Democratic in that anybody can stream and if you are entertaining and interesting enough you can build a following and go from there.
I just had the honor of working with both the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and the Aussie Millions, and Run It UP! was the exclusive broadcast partner of the Aussie Millions on Twitch. I had watched their shows on TV for many years, so to be the exclusive partner of Crown Casino in broadcasting their great event was an honor. I think we are going to see more of a movement in that direction, as live streams become more popular.
These days more and more people don;t have cable Tv subscriptions. They are cutting the cord, so to speak, and consuming their entertainment online. Twitch is a great example of this new form of entertainment, in that you can watch for as long as they want, as often as they want. We had the most engaging and interactive broadcasts in poker history at the PCA and Aussie Millions, with something like 600,000 or 800,000 lines of chat, off the top of my head. That’s hundreds of thousands of messages on Twitch alone, not counting Twitter and other social media, of people who are engaged and talking about the show. It’s not a presentation, ‘Here is the Aussie Millions.’ It’s more like, ’Let’s watch the Aussie Millions together.’ So, when something happens people react and then interact. That’s almost never been done before in poker, to have that kind of engaged interaction, and that’s what Twitch brings to the table that the traditional presentation model of content just can’t compete with.
EF: So as you mentioned earlier, one of your keys to succeeding at Twitch streaming was being consistent. Is doing Run It UP! is essentially a full-time job for you?
JS: When I’m streaming seven days a week, this is all I’m doing. I wake up and I’m answering emails, talking to all of my partners, working on live events, working on projects around the stream. Coordinating with PokerStars and all of the stuff they’re doing, that’s how I ended up back here in New Jersey, where PokerStars just went in the U.S. live for the first time in years. We have hundreds of thousands of Americans who watch the stream every single month. To harvest all of the angst of those Americans who just want to play a $5 stud tournament with me, I think we can really use that to advocate for change here in the States. I’m really excited to be a part of that.
But yeah, it is a full time job. I stream seven hours a day on average. I wake up, eat, answer emails and do other work, stream, then answer all of the emails and messages I got during the day, and go to bed. Then do it all over again. It’s a bit of a nonstop grind, but every single day I have fun. There is nothing but enjoyment from me, but it is a lot of work for sure.
EF: Through that hard work you have built a brand, or maybe it’s more accurate to say a community. How are you taking what you’ve built and the support thats grown around that and moving forward with it? What are your goals for Run It UP! and it’s future?
JS: It is a brand in a way. We shipped things from our Run It UP! store to Africa, to Japan, all across the world. A lot of people identify as Run It UP! warriors, part of my community, and that is incredible. I come from a very interesting place as a player, a media person, and someone who has worked with both Ultimate Poker and PokerStars, so I feel like I’m uniquely positioned to know what players want in live events and content. I’ve probably consumed more poker media than just about anybody on the planet. Every TV show, every training site. So I feel like I can do things like partner with the Aussie Millions and improve and make innovations with the more traditional broadcasts. I also feel like we can still innovate and improve so much of what we are doing on Twitch as well, because really it only got started a year and change ago. I don’t think that the format of what Twitch poker will look like is all that established yet. I think the World Series and the World Poker Tour look at games like League of Legends, which has hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers watching their streams, I think they can embrace that same model and look at the lessons to be learned from their success.
On top of all of that, I want to use what we’ve built to advocate and campaign for regulated online poker across the States. I don’t think that there is anybody who is better positioned to help drive all of that energy that we have on the stream to help make a difference in States that are already considering online poker.
EF: Being based on Twitch you probably get a lot of visitors to the stream who are poker beginners who happened upon your channel while browsing video game streams. You probably end up being the ambassador for the game in a lot of ways to these potential fans and players.
JS: I’ve answered tens of thousands of questions that would be considered as stone-novice. I mean, What’s the button? What’s an ante? What’s the blind?’ I’ve answered that question more than anybody else on planet earth, I’m pretty sure. I feel like I’m the tour guide for the game, so it’s up to me to show people why this game is so fun and to educate them. People often ask why poker is illegal to play. ‘Well it isn’t illegal to play in almost every state in the United States.’ There is a lot of education that can be done and advocacy, and I end up fulfilling that role a lot. It’s a uniques position to be in, but it’s a lot of fun.
EF: So, do you have any exciting events planned on the horizon?
JS: Today we are announcing that we are having another live Run It UP! series in Reno, Nevada. It will be taking place May 24 – 30, 2016 with a $150,000 guaranteed main event. It’s a recreational, fun, new-player friendly festival. It will be our fourth time doing an event at the Peppermill in Reno, and they are always a great partner in hosting these super fun events, so I’m super excited to go back there for another event in May.
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