As Kevin Martin becomes the third high profile star to leave PokerStars in less than a fortnight, Lee Davy ponders whether this is the end of the Twitch poker dream.
PokerStars continues to lessen their wage bill after news emerged that Kevin Martin will not be renewing his contract as a member of Team Pro. The news comes hot on the Jimmy Choos that Jaime Staples and Jeff Gross also left on a rocket ship destined for somewhere else.
When Martin joined PokerStars in 2016, the signing was a surprise to the poker community. The Canadian was a minor celebrity within those borders after winning the reality TV show Big Brother but was fiddling around at the $5 multi-table tournament (MTT) level.
Martin shared the news of his departure in a short video on Twitch where he was nothing but complimentary towards PokerStars for taking a punt on him when he was as competent at playing poker as I was at navigating my way around the Tokyo tube system.
“This wasn’t a firing, I left on my own accord,” said Martin before continuing, “I am hungrier than ever, and want to make content forever.”
The PokerStars live stream exodus coincides with partypoker announcing plans to focus on producing world-class live streaming content via a new Team Online division.
Is This a Strategic Change for PokerStars?
Failing to renew contracts of three of your most influential Twitch streamers and providing poker media with scant reasons why results in wagging tongues.
With PokerStars using the money saved from the three exits to hire the Player’s No-Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC) winner, Ramón Collilas, it does arouse suspicion that PokerStars is moving away from a live stream strategy, and back into the live realm, but I’m not so sure.
PokerStars saw the potential of live streaming when they hired the Twitch trailblazer, Jason Somerville, back in 2015. Somerville’s appointment began an impressive unearth of new stars, and PokerStars quickly became the most powerful entity in online poker when it came to streaming poker on Twitch.
A lot of time, money and effort went into building a platform for the likes of Jaime Staples, Kevin Martin and the rest to excel, and I don’t believe Stars are finished with that side of the business at all.
888Poker signed Parker “tonkaaaa” Talbot, and more recently, partypoker announced the Team Online concept, sponsored Bill Perkins’ ’Thirst Lounge,’ and began hiring people like Matt Staples and Hristivoje “ALLinPav” Pavlov.”
Competition is brewing; people like Jaime Staples, Jeff Gross and Kevin Martin have more leverage when it comes to contract negotiations. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Staples, Gross and Martin joining Team Online at partypoker.
Think about it.
If you were heading towards the end of your contract, and you felt you were a valuable asset for an online poker room, wouldn’t you shop around for a better deal?
Maybe, PokerStars didn’t let anyone go.
Maybe, Jaime, Jeff and Kevin left because they wanted a better deal, knew they could get it elsewhere, and PokerStars was not willing to budge.
I don’t think it has anything to do with strategy.
We have to remember that the core group of PokerStars Twitch streamers were mostly unheard of several years ago (except Lex Veldhuis). I believe that PokerStars could click their fingers tomorrow, and create a new stream team from scratch that given time and nurturing could be the best in the business.
From Poker Player Turned Streamers to Streamers Turned Poker Players
Kevin Martin’s success at PokerStars shows that there value in finding skilled broadcasters that have a massive and loyal following and teaching them how to play poker.
For example, last week, the World Poker Tour’s (WPT) sister company, Allied Esports, hired the Fortnite Caster and broadcaster Kristen “KittyPlays” Michaela to host a live Esports show at the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor, the home of the North American WPT Main Event Final Tables.
Michaela has 409,000 followers on Instagram, and over a million followers on Twitch. What she does works, and her audience will consist of similar demographics and psychographics as those who like a flutter.
The success of Martin shows that a company of PokerStars’ stature could hire someone like Michaela, teach her how to play poker, and take advantage of her standing within the entertainment industry.
Heck, you could even have fun teaching her how to play online poker while streaming live on Twitch.
I don’t believe the Twitch dream is dead.
I believe it’s very much alive.
Lex Veldhuis is about to launch Lex Live in Belgium, Run It One have recognised the power of streamers by making them an integral part of their business model, and then you have partypoker’s new Team Online concept.
The addition of Collilas to the PokerStars ranks shows that Stars have recognised that the success of the PSPC shows there are still aspirations from the poker community to compete in a live tournament of that stature, so the appointment makes sense.
More live streamers may go, but I expect more to come in over time.
Twitch brings people to online poker a lot quicker than any other tributary, and it also shows the game in its most entertaining light.
Everyone knows that.
PokerStars knows that.