By Arnold Warner
If you enjoy watching live-streaming poker on Twitch TV, or one of the many channels featuring top players, you can thank Walnut Creek’s Scott Ball.
Originally called Justin TV, Twitch is a social video platform for gamers with live-streaming games and chats, so there’s a community of people both producing and consuming the content.
Describing Twitch, Ball said, “What happens is, you have the same people that are watching the same screens on a regular basis. More and more people come and it grows. They grow a very large community of people who just become very close friends, and they all hang out and watch the content that’s being produced. Whether it’s live poker or Jason Somerville playing poker online and people watching that or one of those guys playing video games.
“People watch for the same reason they watch sports. It’s fun. It’s enjoyable. Honestly, eSports and professional gaming now is such a thing, that it’s very apparent that not everyone can be a pro gamer. Just like not everyone can be a professional baseball player or a professional poker player. It takes kind of a special person and a lot of hard work to get there and you also have to be gifted. You can watch people play games on Twitch that are actual professionals, that are very, very good. People just can’t … It’s an unobtainable skill that they have.”
Asked about how he got hooked up with Twitch, Ball explained, “Basically, when I was like 18 to 21 years old I got into poker and video games. So I owned an eSports team. I played poker recreationally. I worked some different jobs in eSports and worked for a few bigger teams after I sold mine off. And basically, what happened is I became really good friends with a lot of people with Twitch and a few of the executives.
“And three or four years ago at a Twitch party at a gaming event, I sat down with the COO and one of their VPs and I said like, ‘Why don’t we just do poker guys? It’s good fun.’ And they said, ‘Well, poker’s not a video game.’ And I said, ‘Yes, it is. I’m sitting there at home, looking at a screen online, and on an electronic screen clicking buttons. It’s a video game. I’m playing a game electronically, over video. Whether it’s a card game or not, it’s still a video game.’
“They bought it, and Amazon acquired Twitch, and Amazon was supportive of poker as well, and we decided to just make it a thing. So they did a 90-day trial and said hit these metrics and maybe we’ll bring it on as an actual thing. We hit the metrics in 10 or 12 days and they said, ‘Okay, we should probably do this.’”
They’ve been at it for about three years now and the number of both viewers and casinos participating continues to grow. “It’s a very difficult thing for a casino to break into, and kind of a scary thing. because it’s not super cheap,” Ball said. “It’s not super expensive, but it’s not super cheap to buy the whole RFID setup and the cameras and the tech crew and learning how to do all that stuff. But the more difficult part about it is when you come into the streaming. All these casinos aren’t used to marketing to this millennial audience as well as they are the traditional television audience, the older crowd. So a lot of it’s like learning how to actually reach this audience in an organically meaningful way.
“Imagine if you could watch, you know, Negreanu’s stream, for example. Or Jason Somerville streams all the time, you could just watch him play with his hole cards out … how much you can learn and the information you gain. I wanted to bring poker onto Twitch because I wanted to grow the game. As a poker player I wanted to bring more players to the game. I would love to do 2003 all over again and cause another boom. That’s really what the whole end goal is.”