Jason Somerville has long been a popular poker player, if not quite on the level of the biggest and most successful superstars of the game. But if the World Series of Poker bracelet winner only had a cult following before, his recent streams on Twitch may be quickly vaulting him into the upper tier of mainstream poker ambassadors.
Somerville was one of the main sponsored pros for Ultimate Poker, the first ever regulated online poker site in the United States. While with the site, he began a YouTube series known as Run It Up, in which the poker pro shared sessions in which he tried to turn $50 into $10,000 through the Ultimate Poker site.
The series became rather popular on YouTube, where Somerville now has uploaded 250 Run It Up episodes and boasts more than 20,000 subscribers. When Somerville was dropped from the Ultimate Poker roster shortly before the site closed, he still worked to finish the most recent season of the series and promised there would be much more to come.
The most significant of those projects since then has been his Twitch broadcasts. In recent weeks, the Run It Up streams have become easily the most widely watched poker shows on Twitch, a service designed for streaming live gaming coverage to audiences. While the vast majority of streams are related to video games, there are also channels devoted to chess, board games, card games, and in recent months, even real money poker.
Compared to some of the biggest streams on Twitch, Somerville’s channel might seem fairly small: he has about 38,000 followers right now, compared to hundreds of thousands or even millions for some of the top streamers for games like League of Legends and Minecraft. But when Somerville goes live, he sometimes attracts crowds of more than 10,000 viewers, many of whom aren’t even poker fans (or at least weren’t before they started watching). That often puts him among the most popular live shows on the site.
“It’s been a very fulfilling journey so far,” Somerville told PokerNews while speaking about the growth of the Run It Up project. “My plan now is to finish up 2014 with our best live streams to date while continuing to lay the foundation for Run It Up’s projects in 2015.”
Somerville’s popularity on Twitch may be a combination of great timing and his lively personality. Twitch recently changed their policy to allow for poker streams, at least for casters in jurisdictions where the game is unambiguously legal. Somerville was perhaps the first well-known poker player to take full advantage of this, giving him little competition for an audience interested in the game.
But the content of the streams has been just as critical. Typically playing on a delay of a few minutes to avoid “stream sniping” (the ability for opponents to simply watch his stream and know his cards), Somerville mixes days of tournament and cash game play with special streams for novices and occasional hand history reviews. The streams are typically several hours long, and Somerville talks almost constantly throughout them, both about poker strategy and just about anything else viewers want to discuss.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that even a popular Twitch stream will bring lots of new blood into poker, but even skeptics have admitted that at worst, it can’t hurt.
“As an active [League of Legends] spectator I can tell that reaching 10k concurrent viewers by streaming a game that has never really been a thing to stream in such a short period of time is…huge,” wrote “zobenfeja,” a poster on the Two Plus Two forums in a thread about Somerville’s streams. “[Somerville] might just singlehandedly change things around there.”