Lee Davy sits down with Lex ‘RaSZi’ Veldhuis to talk about the evolution of his brand and his current plans and goals for his Twitch stream.
When you begin an interview with a declaration that not a single thing could be better in one’s life you know you can take the handbrake off and freewheel home. That’s how Lex Veldhuis feels, and with good reason.
The PokerStars Team Pro commands a following of over 83k Twitch followers. On a daily basis, he can muster an army of 7.5k concurrent viewers. I left my 16-year-old son in his hotel room to interview Veldhuis. What was my boy doing when I left him? He was watching people like the man I am about to see.
Something had to come along and sprinkle fairy dust on some of poker’s stale lives. People were beginning to snore quite loudly. The gut burning mornings spiced with coffee and cigarettes had to change. Lying in bed, cold, and alone, you stretch your big toe, and it touches the healthy skin of Twitch.
It’s much more than a streaming platform.
It’s an entrepreneurial platform.
It’s the home of dreams.
It’s the home of startups.
“The interesting thing about creating a business, brand or a marketing platform is I’m driven to do it because it opens up more opportunities to do more in my branch,” says Veldhuis. “I love Twitch; I love streaming, I love poker. The more significant my stream gets, the more doors open and the bigger my level gets.
“It’s the same with poker; I have never been financially driven. It has always been about more success, more attention, more achievements. Even though climbing the stakes means you make and need more money it was the competition and the new challenges that made me better.
“When it comes to improving my stream, I’m not thinking about how can I get more subscribers? I’m thinking, “What’s missing on my platform? What would enhance the experience? I played a mainstream esports tournament: H1Z1 Invitational at TwitchCon. 75-people were competing and Dr DisRespect was in the same heat. I was thinking, “Wow! I want to be able to do that more often”. I need to become more legitimate within Twitch; bigger, more mainstream. It’s about setting goals on something I love and achieving them.”
While Veldhuis might not be directly thinking about his subscribers without them, there’s nothing. So how does he provide value to ensure they stick with him?
“Even if you’re financially motivated it’s still better to start from a quality perspective and work your way up,” says Veldhuis. “You don’t say, “How can I make a million dollars?” You need to find something that you have the skills to do that drives your passion. When you have an audience, I want to think of stuff before they do. I want them to come online and think, “That’s cool.” I want to be one step ahead. You show them you’re engaged that you don’t do things because they ask for them; you do it because you want to provide value. That shows commitment, passion and continuity because you are motivated and fired up to do things for them.”
The route Veldhuis is taking is fraught with difficulty. He’s not grabbing the skirt of his mother by sending questionnaires to his legion asking them to do his job for him. The man from Holland is trying to get inside their heads. Psychographics, not demographics.
“It’s important to understand you have this Twitch community that’s already there,” says Veldhuis. “If you come up with something in the channel that people have never seen before it shows you get the platform. I’m a viewer. I watch streams all of the time. Outside of my stream, 3-4 hours a day I watch other people’s streams. Sometimes, I am a fan. Other times, I look at what other streamers are doing and try to see how I could twist it and implement something in my channel. I don’t want to copy them. But get interested in what other people are doing and think, “Would my community like to see something like this?”
“I have been watching Twitch streams since 2011. When people do promotional streams and talk about products, I’m always taking that in. I understand the platform. I’m just another viewer. I moderate in other channels. I am banned from some channels because I troll too hard. I love the platform.”
Back to my boy, sitting in his hotel room, watching people like Veldhuis in between bites of the muffin I stole from the poker room. How does Veldhuis keep kids like that engaged? I know the Twitch stream is interactive, but to be Brand RaSZi you have to know what song your community members sing when they have a hairbrush in their hand.
“My subscribers and I communicate via Discord,” says Veldhuis. “We have movie threads, music, anything really. Earlier, I was reading how people are planning to watch movies together. People are non stop talking about poker, job interviews; it’s a community. People get angry with each other, support each other. They are even meeting up with each other. People open up about depression, people talking about suicide and how we have helped them. We’ve had people passing away, and their family come onto the chat to tell us. I get goosebumps thinking about it.”
The level of engagement Veldhuis describes is gravy. Of all the changes that his employer, PokerStars, has made over the years, in my opinion, creating a Discord Channel to communicate directly with their community has been the most important.
“It’s a complete line in,” says Veldhuis. “If you don’t like PokerStars you can tell them what you don’t like. It’s important that you create your own platform for your own community. If you use 2+2 for that, then you attract people who have been hating certain people in PokerStars or can’t play, so they are bitter. You can’t just bring your community to an open platform and start talking.”
An online community is like a bird’s nest to a snake. We are all lonely, misunderstood, feeling unease with our silence. The masks are so tight we can’t breathe. But we don’t want to slip into a Wall-E world. Having sex with an android may be convenient, but you’re not going to get that spark when finger meets thumb for the first time. Does Veldhuis have plans to take his brand on the road?
“There are a lot of things brewing,” Veldhuis confirms. “I would like not only to hold a poker tournament, which we are going to do, but also run a pool tournament, or everyone show up at 9 am, and we’re going to drink beers. Play indoor football tournaments. In the end, with the strongest communities, it doesn’t matter what you do. I play a game called Getting Over It. You’re a guy with a hammer in a kettle. It took me over seven hours to complete the game. I was raging so hard. I had 1.4k people watching me, having fun and making clips of embarrassing moments. I want to help create a community where it doesn’t matter what we’re doing we’re all going to watch.”
Jake Cody made an excellent point during our recent interview when he said we are all getting older together. There are very few 21-year olds bursting onto the scene like there was, maybe a decade ago. So how is poker going to attract the next flurry of players? It isn’t going to be on TV; the kids don’t watch the idiot box. The kids watch YouTube and Twitch, so this is where poker has to be.
“I think so,” says Veldhuis. “When you look at a poker growth perspective Twitch is so good because you can’t get closer to poker than Twitch. I believe if you sat next to me while I played live you would get less out of me than if you watched me on Twitch. Now they’re watching every move, my bad moments, good moments personal life. They literally see the food you eat, how close is that?”
Very close, but there is a price to pay when you let 83k people into your bedroom. I wonder how Veldhuis manages to stream for 9-12 hours a day, and then turn around and talk to his girlfriend about chrysanthemums and garden gnomes?
“My girlfriend is good at shutting me down,” says Veldhuis. “The balance is knowing when I need to talk, unwind or just shut up. I couldn’t do that without her. My girlfriend is never in the stream. If I stream for nine hours and people ask me to play a different game we haven’t touched for a while; it’s important for me to say, “Lads, I have been streaming for nine hours now. I need to see my girlfriend, sister, etc.”
“When you show up when you say you will show up you show commitment. There’s nothing worse than saying I will be streaming in February for 250 hours and then show up for 150 hours. Or, this week I will show up daily and only turn up for four hours. That has long-term repercussions. People won’t trust you. If you say you’re going to stream 20 days in a row, have some deep runs, and 15 hours days, they will understand if you need to take a day off. That’s one of the reasons my platform is growing so fast.”
I want more.
People aren’t only tuning in to Veldhuis because he shows up. There are plenty of people who show up. Why do people tune in to see Veldhuis instead of Jaime Staples, or watching the horses run, or snakes crawling through holes looking for sexier snakes to slime around with?
“Everyone has their own style and personality,” says Veldhuis.”What people like about my channel is I show more of my personality. People want to watch me rage. Sometimes I am legitimately pissed off. I am stuck 30k this month I lose a particular hand. I am two spots away from breaking even in the month that makes me mad. I will not keep that emotion in. I will let that out. I am one of the only people who do that in that way. Some people believe that’s too toxic. This is a look at my life. I said at the start when I had 400-500 viewers if it stays like this I would be legitimately happy. I am the most consistent in this way.
“Also, people don’t realise how much viewers motivate the streamers. How many times have I been able to win a $20 tournament at the end of a session when I have busted a $200 & $500 event. I receive encouragement, and suddenly, I’m deep in the tournament and win it for $3.6k, and it makes a huge difference on the day. They keep me honest, wanting to get better because I have pride in my poker ability as they drive me to study and get better. It’s a cool back and fore we have on the platform.”
And how will Veldhuis be building up to the $25k PokerStars Player’s No-LImit Hold’em Championship on his platform?
“I think the event is awesome,” says Veldhuis. “A lot of people will report back on what they’re doing. People will win tickets, and there will be a lot of hype. You can see the field building, and so you scope out the field. I will make it a subscriber goal. If I get to a certain number, I will play it and VLOG it. I like the way the Platinum Passes are distributed. It lives throughout the year and creates a lot of different possibilities. I think it will be one of the softest tournaments ever.”
And, after all these years, how does poker make Veldhuis feel?
“It’s very fulfilling. Achievement. Competition. You learn a lot about yourself,” says Veldhuis. “In my early 20s I knew I only wanted to play poker, but in the back of my head, I could see my friends dealing with problems and I realised that I could handle them better. I am learning stuff every day. I see myself playing for many years.”
And that’s good news for brand Veldhuis.
Good news, indeed.