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Lex Veldhuis Discusses His Record-Breaking Run On Twitch

How The Dutch Pro Became One of The Stars of Online Poker Streaming

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On May 19, 2020 Lex Veldhuis set the record for the most viewers ever watching a single poker broadcast on the popular online streaming platform Twitch. The 36-year-old Dutch poker player and streamer peaked at 58,799 viewers, which not only saw him set a new high-water mark for the poker directory but also led to him being the number one most watched stream on the whole platform, which hosts millions of broadcasters and more than 100 million viewers per month.

The record-setting broadcast featured Veldhuis playing on the penultimate day of the $10,300 buy-in PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) main event alongside his friend and fellow PokerStars ambassador Benjamin “Spraggy” Spragg. The two popular Twitch personalities were both among the final 40 players remaining from a field of 609 entries. The hype for their broadcast swelled as tens of thousands of viewers were able to sweat the action as the two online tournament grinders chased the title and the top prize of more than $1 million.

Spragg was knocked out by Veldhuis in 30th place, prompting his viewers to then tune in to Veldhuis channel. The influx provided a large enough boost to secure the Twitch poker viewership record for Veldhuis, who battled on for a few more hours before ultimately falling just short of the final table. He earned $62,620 as the 15th place finisher, one of his largest online tournament scores ever.

Veldhuis is now best known for his online streaming but has been a poker professional for over a decade. He has $665,568 in career live tournament earnings, and spent years playing high stakes cash games online and on popular televised shows like High Stakes Poker and The PokerStars Big Game. Over the past five years he has shifted his focus to playing mid-stakes and high-stakes tournaments online while streaming, and has already established himself as one of the stars of this new platform for poker.

Card Player recently caught up with Veldhuis to learn more about his record-breaking run in the SCOOP main event, his thoughts on streaming and its role in poker, how he got into being a streamer and much more.

Card Player: Can you just go through a little bit about what that moment was like for you when you set the record for Twitch poker viewers?

Lex Veldhuis: It’s really hard because even when I just describe that moment, I get that rush of excitement again. It’s still a really surreal experience for me because I have my poker goals, I have a poker career, and there are so many things tied into poker for me, but what makes my Twitch journey so special is that I have that same affinity with eSports. I discovered poker through eSports. I created my Twitch account back in 2009. So, I was already on the platform for a long time, just watching streams and big events. As a result, I know what the impact of something like this means. If I think back about all kinds of events that were number one in Twitch, people doing some insane raid boss in World of Warcraft, a Dr DisRespect stream, Ninja streaming with Drake, well this felt like securing poker in that regard. For me personally also it’s just insane. It’s like a dream. At peak time, to be the number-one stream in the world, that’s something I will cherish forever.

CP: What are your thoughts about the future of poker on Twitch now that you’ve seen it’s possible for it to be the most-watched game on a given day? Are you optimistic that there’s potential for reaching a lot of new fans who come from more of a gaming background?

Lex VeldhuisLV: Yeah, for sure. In a couple of years, if we look at the state of poker and online poker and things are going great, I believe that Twitch will have played a monumental part in the game’s growth and getting people excited about poker. There are a few things that make streaming really amazing. First of all, people cannot get closer to you than when you stream the games. So, if I’m talking directly into a camera, if I want to have a good stream, I’m forced to talk through my decisions out loud. If somebody would be sitting next to me in the same room, they would get a different vibe because I would not be talking about my hands, I would just be sitting, they would look at me from the sides, they wouldn’t even see my screen as well as people that watched the stream would.

If you were watching somebody play online in person, you wouldn’t ask questions, right? You’d just let them play their game or whatever and you watch for fun or to try and learn from your friends. But with streaming, the people watching have such a direct connection. I genuinely feel that you cannot get closer to the action than when you watch a stream. I don’t think there is any platform or anything where poker is being shown right now in the world where people can cross over as easily as on Twitch.

If a Twitch viewer logs in and sees the number-one or a top-ten stream is poker, even if they normally are tuning in to watch some Fortnite, they might see the poker and say, ‘Whoa, this guy’s playing for a hundred thousand dollars or a million dollars? Okay, click.’ It’s a platform at the forefront of one of the most booming industries in the world with eSports and streaming. You’re one click away for people, and I think the value of that is something that people in the poker world have started to recognize in recent years.

This is such a good gateway for people to enter through. They come in and they get to ask questions. There’s a community, there are moderators that help you. They can say, ‘Hey, Lex, I want to get started in poker. What do I do?’ And I get to say stuff like, ‘Play with play money, start playing freerolls, learn about the game, etc.’ So, I think it not only is it a great way for new players to find out about the game, but it’s also the best way for them to then learn how to transition into playing themselves.

CP: Over the past few years you’ve become one of the biggest stars in the Twitch poker directory. In a way, you’re one of the vanguards of a new type of star in poker, and you’re doing so as a PokerStars ambassador. What are your thoughts about this relatively new way to be a sponsored pro?

LV: What’s cool is that Twitch streamers who are ambassadors are making their way to the forefront a lot. You see the media getting in tune with the scene, there are more articles about it, people are talking about it more. Recreational poker fans are more aware of it. So, everybody’s catching on, and I think that’s really cool, because the streaming world is taking off in other big ways these days. One of my best friends is the cofounder of Team Liquid, and they sold a big part of Team Liquid to the Golden State Warriors. Just 10 years ago it would seem crazy to imagine major businesses would be buying into eSports. But talent agencies, sports teams, business owners, everybody’s tapping into the eSports world.

CP: You had appeared on the biggest stages in poker before, being on shows like High Stakes Poker and the Big Game. Do you think that gave you a leg up at all compared to some poker streamers from an online background who aren’t as well known?

Veldhuis at the 2017 PokerStars Festival MarbellaLV: One hundred percent. I think that it’s so important. If you think about it in terms of viewers, getting from zero to 10 viewers is so incredibly hard. Getting from 10 to 100 is just as hard as a task. So, I think that I definitely had a head start, having a social media following, having been on certain televised cash game shows. There are a lot of YouTube highlights with my name featured, and people that watch a lot of Twitch also often browse YouTube. So I started with 150 viewers or so, which is massive, so there’s no denying that definitely gave me a head start. But it is still hard work to build from that point on as well. And honestly, I don’t think that work ever stops. I thought it was hard work back then, but I think it’s nothing compared to what I do now to improve as a streamer.

CP: It seems like being a poker pro and being a streamer both have some similarities, in that both take a lot of work and commitment, grinding. In both you can do all the right things and it still have setbacks. What are your thoughts about having two jobs that you do simultaneously? How do the two careers align well, or sometimes make things harder for each other?

LV: That question describes so well exactly the conundrum that you find yourself sometimes in. That’s the thing. When people watch me play online, I get classified as a poker professional. But at the same time, my life and my professional life would look a lot different if I was solely focused on being a poker professional. And it’s something that can work super positively. For instance, a good example is you just had three bad sessions, you think ‘I could use the day off,’ but you know that you should also grind because games are good. It’s always good to keep putting in work. And you’re going to struggle in poker, sometimes for weeks on end.

And it’s important, because if you play well, the long term is secure. You just need to put in hours, and you’ll be fine. You know this throughout your whole career, but it’s very easy to sometimes want to just take a trip to the beach for a week, even when it could not be the smartest thing to do. Now there are times where I’ve had a bad week playing, but I’m really excited about streaming. I get people saying, ‘Hey, Lex, when are you going to come online? I took a day off today to watch all day, because I know you’re going to play the Thursday Thrill.’ that kind of support helps get me really excited about playing, and acts as a safety net.

If you’re having fun with the stream, if you’re playing music, if you’re talking to people, the topics are fun, then you’re going to have a good time, even if the poker aspect sucks.

Another common problem as a poker pro can come up during long sessions. Let’s say you’re playing a Sunday and the last tournament you’re in is the $33 Bounty Builder, and you just lost $9,000 in buy-ins. When you’re on the lower end of your buy-in level and you’ve had a tough day, you’re just not going to play your best poker. You’re going to go crazy in hands, you’re never going to make the tough folds, all that stuff. But when you’re streaming, it’s different. You don’t want to play bad when there are thousands of people watching.

I don’t want to have them invest in me for 11 hours, and then when I have one final shot at winning back the losses that I had that day, I don’t want to just waste that opportunity. If the viewers are invested, I don’t want to play bad and have them feel like, ‘So I could’ve gone to bed three hours ago if he was going to do that.’ Having the stream makes it very easy to show up and play well. It’s like you’re playing with all your friends there supporting you, like you’re having some kind of house party or something, an evening with your friends over. And you’re the one playing, and everybody’s just giving you space to grind, and everybody’s supporting you and just having fun. So, it’s really cool, because it just gives it multiple dimensions.

CP: I hear Twitch streamers talk about their communities a lot. Can you talk about the responsibility as the star of the show in setting the tone for the community?

LV: I think a lot of it starts with deciding how you want your experience to go on Twitch. As a streamer, you make the rules, you set the boundaries. And for me, what I really always liked about social media or being at live events and meeting people is the social interaction. It’s something that I’ve always really liked. So, from day one, even when I had just 100 viewers, if people were being toxic, if people were being nasty, if people were saying bigoted things, then I would just ban them. Obviously, there’s a warning system, but if somebody would come in and just say to somebody, “Go fuck yourself, and you’re dumb,” then is that person really going to contribute? I don’t think so.

So, the way I wanted to shape it is a place where people can come in and just have a conversation. I just want there to be a nice space where people can be critical, where people can make fun of each other, but where it’s within boundaries of where it’s still fun and social, and where criticism is constructive and not just hateful. From the get-go, I’ve always really wanted to create a community around that, and I really love listening to what viewers have to ask me, and then what they say to me. I started to literally read every single question in chat, and that strengthened that community and lots of the same people came back and it grew as more and more people came in.

Veldhuis at the EPT Monte Carlo in 2010CP: You mentioned that PokerStars helped push you to commit to streaming. Can you tell me more about how you’ve continued collaborating with them on the stream and on things like Lex Live festivals?

LV: It’s just fantastic, because I really feel like the relationship is so complimentary. I’m the one that streams, I know my community, I know the platform, but I know a whole lot less about a lot of other things, like ‘How could I run the live event? What can we do in terms of promotions? What can we do in terms of giveaways? How are we going to do that?’ They’ll come up with something crazy, like a support message will pop up in chat that flames me and I have to do something to win tickets for my chat or something. I always feel like we’re kind of pushing each other to a higher level in terms of being creative and always brainstorming.

When I wanted to run Lex Live, I would come to pitch the idea, and even though it’s my event, they give me great advice. They helped me decide what to focus on, and would have suggestions like, ‘Have you thought about doing satellites?’ I was like, Yeah, that’d be awesome if we could do satellites online.’ Right away, they’re like, ‘Okay, let me propose to you a satellite structure.’ They come up with the amazing plan to have steps, where people are qualifying into Lex Live for 70 cents, which is exactly what helps incorporate that community feel. The people getting in are journeymen getting into the game and not just poker pros traveling around Europe. So, that’s just an example of how that is going so well. They set up stuff like ‘Streamer Showdowns’, where we’re all having banter with each other and it goes back into chat, and then they put up the UFC belts for me, Fintan Hand, and Spraggy to play for throughout the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP). In the end we played sit-and-go for a belt. All that stuff is just so crazy and everybody on Twitch remembers from our communities. I really feel like it’s not like a site and people that are part of that, and I’m just an ambassador. It really feels like we’re doing and coming up with all of this stuff together.

CP: What are your goals, both as a poker pro and as a streamer, moving forward?

LV: It can be very dangerous in poker to set monetary goals. If you say, ‘I want my bankroll to be $80,000 at the end of the year.’ You cannot predict downswings and all that stuff. So, it’s really good to set attainable goals, like I want to study 10 hours every month. I want to play my game, I want to watch my diet, and do this before I play. All these things that allow you to play well and make you play better over time. So, I’ve always been a big believer in setting goals like that in poker, and with streaming, it’s the same thing. I might think to myself, ‘I want to go to average 14,000 viewers,’ but it just doesn’t work like that on a platform. So, it’s really hard to set goals like that. But I will say that, after being in the number-one spot, I really do have a drive to grow into the mainstream of Twitch and consistently get in like top 10 or top 15 streams more often so it’s easier for people to find the channel, so that I can do my part and chip in to growing the game of poker. That is definitely a goal of mine, because poker is awesome and I want to showcase that to people.Spade Suit

Photos provided by PokerStars.