Vloggers such as Brad Owen represent the future of poker, at least for how fans consume the game. But despite playing a key role in bringing players to card rooms, many question if these pros who share their poker lives on YouTube get enough respect from the more traditional poker media.
Owen has more than 95,000 YouTube subscribers. His videos routinely exceed 100,000 views and generate hundreds of comments on each. But he wasn’t nominated for Vlogger of the Year at the upcoming Global Poker Awards.
Doug Polk, however, was, which is odd considering he isn’t really a vlogger. In fact, he doesn’t even play poker anymore. But with nearly 240,000 YouTube subscribers and 127,000 Twitter followers, the man behind @dougpolkpoker does have influence in the game.
A selection committee consisting of more than 130 members of the poker media selected the nominees, and in the process showed that they may not be clued in to what sort of poker action is engaging fans on the internet. The Global Poker Awards panel picked Polk as a finalist in a category for which he simply doesn’t deserve recognition. That isn’t just my opinion. Polk said as much himself on Twitter, referring to the awards as a “joke.”
I do hope to win best vlogger for 2018, for my combined 0 vlogs put out ?
These awards are a total joke. https://t.co/bssxDx1EYH
— Doug Polk (@DougPolkVids) March 18, 2019
And it wasn’t like Polk slipped the voters a Bitcoin to include him on their ballots.
Lee Davy, a writer for CalvinAyre.com, was a member of the nomination panel. He admitted in an article that he was unfamiliar with who was popular and successful last year in certain categories.
“At times it felt like a multiple choice exam when you don’t know the answer, and think, ‘f*** it’, and get button mashing,” he wrote.
Many poker fans and pros on social media were echoing Polk’s sentiment that the Global Poker Awards were a “joke” for snubbing Owen and others like him.
Streamers and vloggers are as important as anyone in growing the game of poker in the post-Black Friday era. Not giving talented individuals the respect they deserve was a slap in the face to their legions of fans, not just them.
The Global Poker Index, the group behind the Global Poker Awards, put out a statement in response to the social media mockery that ensued, claiming they were aware of the complaints, would look into fixing it next year, but for now the show would go on.
They also invited everyone to register their emails and vote for the “People’s Choice” award.
Vlogging by Numbers
CardsChat News contacted Owen via email to get his take on the apparent snub.
“I was perplexed since out of people who actually make poker vlogs I’ve gotten the most views (+9.6 million) and new subscribers (+59,500) over the past 12 months,” Owen said.
With more than 95,000 subscribers, Owen is the second most popular poker vlogger on YouTube. Only his friend Andrew Neeme — last year’s Vlogger of the Year at the American Poker Awards — has more, with 111,000+.
While Owen acknowledged there were plenty of strong contenders this year, he thought numbers alone made him at least worth a look. He has the top three most viewed poker vlog episodes of all time, with 889k, 630k, and 557k views — far more viewers than a typical episode of the World Poker Tour.
“And two of those videos were put out in the last 5 months,” Owen said.
Owen put out 37 videos in 2018, usually between 10 and 20 minutes long. Fans seem to appreciate the highly stylized, heavily edited productions that are clearly a labor of love. Collectively, his episodes on YouTube last year have racked up 5.5 million views. And a quick scan of the comments on any of them show that the audience is totally engaged.
A 2019 study found that 67 percent of millennials prefer YouTube to traditional television. If the poker media doesn’t give enough attention to those who bring entertaining poker content to YouTube (and Twitch), should we be surprised when the casino industry wonders why they have a hard time connecting with the younger generation?
Packing Poker Rooms
While many vloggers are entertaining, Owen and Neeme have shown their videos are more than just vanity projects.
These two routinely host “meetup games.” MUGs, as they call them, are casual, booze-friendly cash games for fans of their YouTube channels. Instead of high stakes, these games have played as low as $1/$2 and as big as $5/$10.
Owen and Neeme’s games at the Westgate in Las Vegas have become so popular that they’re currently seeking a bigger host venue on the Strip. (Westgate has just six tables in their poker room.)
They have also successfully taken their games on the road. In January at the Texas Card House in Austin, the traveling meetup game had seven full tables running with a lengthy waiting list. The room was just as packed last month at Rounders Card Club in San Antonio for the next Lone Star State meetup game.
— Andrew Neeme (@andrewneeme) March 13, 2019
Filling a Poker Entertainment Void
The “High Stakes Poker” days and daily poker shows on mainstream television networks are over.
The demographics of high rollers has changed dramatically over the past few years, and that seems to have changed the way people consume poker entertainment. The poker games most viewed on television or livestream just don’t feature as many young up-and-comers transitioning from online poker to live high-stakes poker.
There simply aren’t that many hot shot 21-year-old online pros grinding the nosebleed games these days. The Tom Dwan’s and Phil Galfond’s of the world — popular American online players who went straight to the live televised high-stakes scene at a young age — are almost non-existent these days.
Post-Black Friday, without the US online poker market underwriting these online games and television productions, streamers and vloggers were able to step in and capture the attention of poker fans while also marketing the game to the next generation of players. According to public information, 37 percent of the 18-34 demographic binge-watch YouTube videos.
It’s a phenomenon that has served well the people with the talent to film their poker action, mix in sound and video, and tell a story about their personal poker adventures.
Poker Vlog Family
Even though they’re technically competitors, Owen says the vlogging community has become a tight-knit group that shares a mutual respect for the creative work they all do, and their role in helping market the game of poker to recreational players.
“There are so many great poker vloggers that have come up in the last year or so that are likable and should be recognized for a variety of different reasons,” he told us.
Owen gave a shout-out to Tim “TheTrooper97” Watts for being the poker vlogging OG. “TheTrooper” began vlogging his poker sessions back in 2012. He still regularly uploads content to YouTube nearly seven years later.
“‘Trooper’ is really the original poker vlogger and pumps out a vlog almost everyday, which is something that is incredibly difficult to do. I don’t think people fully understand that or give him enough credit.”
When asked which of his peers deserve to be nominated for Vlogger of the Year. “Andrew Neeme, Marle Cordeiro, Jaman Burton, and Johnnie Vibes,” he said. “I could easily list off about 10-20 other people that I enjoy watching and should be in the discussion.”
With so many people regularly putting out good work, you can see why they might’ve been excited to get an outside opinion on who’s creative endeavors have been most notable. It was disappointing to discover upon hearing the nominations that a lot of supposedly knowledgeable poker insiders were hardly aware of what they were doing.
Links to 10 Popular Poker Vlogger YouTube Channels
Being snubbed by the GPA panel is about more than a bruised ego — there’s future business at stake.
“Being recognized would help out a great deal when pitching Meet Up Games to card rooms,” Owen said. “It could help potentially open up some doors for other opportunities, too.”
Like Owen and Neeme, Global Poker Awards finalist Polk also has used his platform on YouTube to market the game of poker to a wide audience. His Upswing Poker training site teaches players how to improve at this difficult game.
But the GPA Vlogger of the Year category is intended to honor the top vlogger from 2018. Polk hasn’t vlogged since the 2017 WSOP. It’s got to be a kick in the stones for those who created the content that so many fans watched last year.
For Owen, being dissed by the GPA panel was about more than getting props from the poker community.
“The biggest reason I was disappointed this year was because my parents now know about the awards and I knew they were excited about the possibility of me being a part of it,” Owen said. “Showing family and friends that I’m not wasting my life as a professional gambler is why I started doing the vlogs in the first place.”