Six friends sitting around a poker table, eating pizza, drinking beer. It could be absolutely anywhere in the poker-playing world, but somebody here says, “You’re going to break Twitch poker” and everybody else chuckles in agreement.
On the face of it, it’s just a home game in an anonymous house on a regular residential street, but the truth of it is something very different. The presence at the table of Jason Somerville should give the biggest hint that something special is afoot. This is actually the “Run It Up Live Home Game”, the latest concept from Somerville’s Run It Up studios. As ever with this outfit, it has the potential to turn the world of poker streaming on its head.
“We’ve been working on this concept for a little while,” Somerville says, as he offers the first behind-the-scenes tour of the new property to PokerStars Blog. “The sky is the limit for creativity and ideas. That’s something that always appeals to me.”
So it’s a house, with an RFID-enabled poker table in the main room, surrounded by a couple of arcade machines, a fussball table and two couches to sit and relax. There’s a kitchenette, a bookcase, and posters depicting poker players in various cartoon battle poses. But look closely and you’ll see at least seven small cameras focused on and around the table. In adjoining rooms there’s a production crew behind banks of broadcast equipment.
Having basically invented the concept of poker streaming on Twitch, and then mentored a cadre of some of the game’s hottest streaming stars (including Lex Veldhuis, Fintan and Spraggy, Arlie Shaban, et al.) Run It Up is now ready to stream live poker. In fact, they’re now two shows in. But this is not just the kind of “live” poker you might see elsewhere, which actually has a 30-minute broadcast delay. In the Run It Up Live house, the action will be viewed precisely as it happens, offering the very maximum in interactivity for people watching at home.
“If you watch a lot of other live stream poker games, it’s usually stiff, often with no player audio, often with no one that understands Twitch,” Somerville says. “We are Twitch, we live and breathe Twitch, particularly Twitch poker. So we know what the fans want.”
The lack of a broadcast delay is especially important. For the first time, it allows viewers to interact with players in real time. People sitting at home can join a conversation as it’s going on, overcoming the communication issues ever-present when a player is only reading a viewer input several minutes after it was sent. There’s even a feature titled “Twitch Chat Confessional” which will allow a player to leave the table and talk directly with the audience in a kind of confessions booth. It echoes concepts honed in reality shows such as Big Brother, and the overlap is deliberate. But uniquely this is not about isolating players and cutting them off from an audience, it’s instead a deliberate exercise in inclusivity, the likes of which has never been tried before.
“Our players can literally stand up, go to the side, Twitch chat is there with the camera, so you can talk and answer questions and hang out,” Somerville says. “There’s been nothing like that in terms of engaging with the audience. A lot of the cool things we’re working on are about, ‘How can we make live poker more interactive, more engaging, more entertaining?”
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And how about allowing a Twitch player to actually join the game? Pull up a virtual seat and take on the folk at the table? Yes, that too. In discussions prior to the game starting, players and crew referenced the popular Choose Your Own Adventure series of books, which formed a hugely influential part of the childhoods of creative minds of a certain generation. More recently, the Netflix series Black Mirror had an episode, Bandersnatch, in which viewers could decide the action a character takes, dictating the path of a dramatic narrative.
But that was fiction, and what the Run It Up Live Home Game offers is real poker, with the commentators in Twitch chat potentially given the chance to play a hand in the game.
“We’re working on a show concept called ‘Twitch plays poker’ which will, through the magic of technology, allow Twitch to vote on what to do on a hand,” Somerville says. “There will be one player with a camera behind them or on their shoulder and basically that will be the avatar of the Twitch chat. They will pull back their cards, and you’ll have a certain amount of time with which to vote on the action, and then the action will be taken in the game. Never before has this ever been a thing that happens. We’re able to do that only because it’s a home game.”
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This is in addition to what Somerville promises will be a regular menu of games played between a huge variety of players. The RFID table is equipped to host the entire rotations of dealer’s choice games, while Somerville has more contacts in the poker world than perhaps anybody, all of whom are eager to visit. And it’s not just for the big guns.
“We’ll have plenty of opportunities for fans to win their way to come and play certain games,” Somerville says. “We will be offering a lot of opportunities for people from PokerStars to win their way to come and play, fans from our community can win and come play with us. We’ll be inviting people we’ve met at Run It Up Reno and other events. We can resurrect shows like The Big Game, not necessarily for those stakes, but you could do that for 1/100th of the stakes, give people a $1K freeroll for people to come play this game, and it would still be amazing for Twitch and Twitch chat.
“I have so many ideas for game formats and we can service any community, any language across the world. Let’s say we want to do a show for the Brazilian fans, we can do a show in Brazilian primetime, with Brazilian players, with Portuguese commentary. The flexibility is where the power lies.”
Work has been under way on the house for around two months, and the crew broadcast the first game around two weeks ago. That was a three-game rotation cash game, but this week’s second show featured a series of sit n goes, with popular streamers Kevin Martin and Chris “Xecese” Liu, facing Run It Up Reno trophy winner Max Brown, pro player Ashley Sleeth and Platinum Pass winner Aleeyah Jadavji, alongside Somerville.
The buy-in was $200 and the atmosphere exactly like any other home game: plenty of chat, plenty of crazy moves, plenty of 10x opening-raises with K♣6♦. And that was just on the first hand of the day. The players are asked to put their phones away from the table, just in case they’re tempted to sneak a peek at the broadcast and discover what an opponent is sitting with. But it’s self-policing, at least at these lower stakes, with the emphasis on making an engaging show. Eliminated players can head up to the commentary booth to talk about the rest of the action, while the Twitch audience can make suggestions for new games or side bets or whatever.
“It was just a blast, so much fun,” Jadavji says. “You can have fun, but still take the game seriously…JCarver has so many connections, it’ll be huge.”
Somerville says: “We’ve had a lot of interest, from Phil Hellmuth on down from people who’d like to come and play in this environment. How many people play poker home games and say to themselves, ‘Wow, if this was broadcast, a million people would watch.’ Well, I got a home game with a set for you. We could literally run home games for you.”
In the meantime, as you get your friends together and get writing the letters to Somerville begging to play, head over to RunItUp.tv to see archive shows and the latest broadcasts, two of which should be going out every week.
“If this goes as well as I expect it to go, I think we’ll be able to put out content very often, to do shows that fans will enjoy on a regular basis,” he says. “I don’t know whether that will mean four days a week, five days a week, eventually getting to a point where it’s six or seven days a week.
“I’m definitely excited to see how it goes. It’s going to get a life of its own, I’m sure. This is show No 2, and it’s kind of hard to imagine what show No 200 looks like. But I’m already pretty happy with what we’ve created.”