Jason Somerville on His Deal with PokerStars and the Evolution of Run it Up

Jason Somerville just kicked off a 70 day season to celebrate his new partnership with PokerStars and Twitch. (Photo c/o PokerStars)

Jason Somerville just kicked off a 70 day season to celebrate his new partnership with PokerStars and Twitch. (Photo c/o PokerStars)

In May 2014, Jason Somerville appeared on the cover of BLUFF, and though Run it Up was still in its earliest stages he had already garnered a lot of attention for the potential of live streaming online poker. Fast forward 10 months, and a lot has changed – Ultimate Poker, his previous sponsor and partner, closed its doors in the United States, but Somerville went on to partner directly with Twitch and didn’t waver on continuing Run it Up elsewhere. Through hundreds of hours of work, Somerville put together an idea that excited the right people – and ended up putting together a coveted partnership with PokerStars.

BLUFF talked at length with Somerville shortly after he wrapped up his second session of the relaunched Run it Up.

BLUFF: How did your second day go?

Jason Somerville: I started streaming at 12 pm. Basically, there’s so many options on Stars. The Hot 75, The Big 55. I just did a day of tournaments that included a deep run one $10 tournament earlier in the afternoon. Then later on I ran a Home Game tournament, and in between my busting and the final table I did other things. Then I came back to cast the final table which lasted until 7:30. That’s what kept me going.

BLUFF: You set up a Run it Up Home Game? Is that going to be a regular thing or kind of just a one-off for now?

Jason: I’m planning on running them often. We got 500 people to play with 20 minute notice for $5 bucks a piece, so I’m pretty happy with that. It’s our biggest real money Home Game to date. I think I’d love to have thousands of people playing on stream by the end of the week, hopefully.

BLUFF: That’s really cool. I guess the natural place to start with this story is from the beginning. It’s almost a year now since we last talked in depth, when we had you on our cover. Obviously a lot’s changed in the last year. Big things for Run it Up. Can you give me a quick timeline of how things have gone over the last 10 or 11 months?

Jason: Yeah. Run it Up obviously started in July of 2013 with Ultimate Poker. I made Run it Up with Ultimate for 18 months. We parted ways at the end of the year last year, but before the deal had come to an end, I had already established a partnership with Twitch to begin live streaming as of the beginning of October, or around the beginning of November in reality.

It was kind of an easy transition when I had no other partner but Twitch to say, “All right, well I guess I’m going to give this Twitch thing a try, especially since I was the kind of guy who consumed a lot of Twitch content in the past. I thought Twitch was a very easy fit for what I was doing and for poker. It made a lot of sense to embrace the platform.

I was in Reno for half of October, and I was making YouTube videos [that month]. I really only streamed for November of last year with some in December. Over that, let’s even call it a 10 week period of shows where I did maybe 25 or 30 live streams, I was able to acquire 3 million unique viewers over that time, which is obviously an incredible number.

These viewers weren’t like just coming and going. They were coming and staying for 30 minutes on average. I ended up with this kind of amazing viewer base that was way bigger than anything I had built on YouTube, really. We had more viewers on Twitch in those ten weeks than I did in the rest of the year on YouTube combined.

It just really took off. I took a couple weeks off at the end of December to play the Bellagio tournaments. Back in New York for Christmas, went to PCA and I kind of got a feel of what life would be like playing on a real online poker site with my entire fan base. Not having to worry about playing only in Nevada with limited time and limited offerings.

BLUFF: So how did things get rolling with PokerStars?

Jason: I got to work trying to put together this PokerStars deal. I had been talking to them, obviously. They are the gold standard for poker sites, I should say. Having an opportunity to work with them, in what I view as a co-promotional partnership, where they know my vision. They know my plans. I know what they are looking for from me. We’re working towards those goals together. It’s not a traditional Team Pro relationship. I never wanted a traditional pro relationship where they would treat me as a billboard. Where I’d walk around with a patch on or anything like that.

BLUFF: After watching for about 45 minutes or an hour yesterday, the interface that you have on Twitch is really impressive. The way that you interact with it seems to be pretty easy too. How was that put together?

Jason: All that technical visual stuff like that I’m very lucky to have a guy on my team who’s been with me since basically the beginning of Run it Up. A guy named Andre “Gretorp” Hengchua, who actually used to be a professional StarCraft player before transitioning into the eSports world as more of a broadcaster. He’s been on my team as kind of like my producer, helping me with all the video editing stuff. Basically, a lot of what looks good on Run it Up is thanks to Andre and his work.

The overlay is no different. Andre made the skin, Andre laid out the overlay, Andre made sure a real timer and all those other stuff works and it all makes sense. Basically all that stuff is all thanks to “Gretorp”.

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BLUFF: What are you hoping to accomplish now that you have so many different options in terms of game choice going forward with Run it Up?

Jason: Well you know, it depends on the day that you watch. I think it’s important to have a variety of content. I also like to do what I like to do. Some days that’s cash games. Some days that’s tournaments. Some days that’s Sit & Go’s all day. That’s one of the glories of PokerStars is that I can pretty much do whatever it is that I want to do.

If you watch the stream, my goal is to play serious, at least medium-level poker if not high-level poker that I try to make as palatable and entertaining as possible. I’m trying to make, not just play good poker. Not just trying to win, but also trying to keep it fun and entertaining. To me that sometimes means having a less serious attitude about the game we’re playing. It’s my role to play the tour guide as the kind of show that the viewers would want to see. Sometimes that’s, “I’ve seen this guy play this way and this way. That’s why I’m going to do this.” Sometimes it’s me telling a story about other situations.

My goal is to always create high-quality poker entertainment. I feel like I usually get there. Some days closer than others. I thought today’s was really good. Yesterday’s a little bit rougher, but it was my first show back, with less sleep having just gotten back from LA the day before at midnight. Today was much better. I think tomorrow will be even better than that. I have 70 days to improve. I can’t make the first day at 10, right?

BLUFF: At one point on your first day back, you talked about why you don’t use an overlaid heads-up display (HUD) when you’re playing. Tell me a little bit about that thought process.

Jason: If I’m on the front page of Twitch talking to an audience that is not familiar with poker, there’s enough going on when you open it up that you don’t really understand. If I open it up and there are stats on all the players, and I’m like okay, “This guys fold to flop percent is 12, so I’m not going to fold. I’m not going to c-bet because this is going on. Instead I’m going to do a delayed c-bet on the turn.” That stuff does not appeal to a more mainstream viewer.

My goal from the beginning with Run it Up has been to target a mainstream viewer, and not the kind of player who’ll watch every single Phil Galfond video ever made. I think Phil Galfond videos are fantastic, and I’ve consumed a ton of them myself, but I’m not trying to compete with that. I’m not trying to be that. That galaxy is well flushed out.

BLUFF: How do you plan on continuing to grow the relationship with what’s obviously a very loyal group of fans that you’ve picked up with Run it Up?

Jason: I think that one of the best things about Twitch, is that it allows for an interaction level that you don’t get watching the majority of content. Watching TV. Listening to radio. There’s not really a high degree of viewer interactions. Where as Twitch, today I spent 7 1/2 hours today answering maybe not 90 percent, but probably 75 percent of questions that were asked to me on Twitter. In chat.

We had something like 30,000 or 40,000 or something like that unique human beings come through the show today. Like 70,000 in the last 48 hours. That level of interaction is something I really think is awesome in Twitch. Especially for poker.

BLUFF: How do you see your relationship with PokerStars expanding into live events?

Jason: I’m planning on doing 10 weeks straight of live streams basically, every single day over on Run it Up TV. Once that season is over, then it’s WSOP, and then it’s August. Then the fall brings a new season of the EPT. I would love to participate in all of those things. I had a lot of success running Run it Up-branded events, mostly in Reno in the last 18 months.

I would definitely love to continue that as well. Kind of take what PokerStars does excellently and what I think we have learned that works for us, and combine those things into awesome compelling live events. That’s the plan.

BLUFF: If the EPT’s your target, it seems like you’d probably have to have a big audience there. Do you see the metrics or stats or just general info in terms of where your audience come from?

Jason: Yeah. I am pretty aware of the demographics of where we hit. It always depends on when I stream. It’s one of those things like, if I stream I’ve been on a schedule of like noon eastern to like 6 or 7 eastern time. You’re not going to get a lot of Californians to watch you if you’re on that schedule.

I’m aiming for the Estonians at that time, you know? I’m not aiming for the Californians. It always depends. When I was casting last year it was about one-third U.S, one-third Europe, and then one-third the rest of world including Canada and Australia. You know, I had a guy from Thailand make the final 7 of my tournament today.

We’ve got a pretty global audience. It’s pretty awesome actually. It’s one of those things where I wish I could stream at different hours. I’m sure I would have a similar viewership, if not a greater viewership at 8 pm than I would at 8 am. I think there are people who are poker fans hungry to consumer high-level poker content, and quality poker content at any time of day.

BLUFF: You’ve obviously put in hundreds upon hundreds of hours over the last couple of years with Run it Up. Not only establishing it, but keeping up with it, investing your time and playing. How have things changed since you began?

Jason: Let me tell you man, if you go back and you watch Run It Up episode number 11 or whatever, I have come a long way since then as a broadcaster. That just makes sense because I never went to broadcasting school. I never had a broadcasting mentor or anything like that. I learned through doing.

It took me two years to even get where I am now, and I still think I’m not very good. I still think that there’s a long way that I could go to improve as a broadcaster, and it’s one of those skills that you can really only get through experience.

When I started, I was just a kid who wanted to make videos. I had been very frustrated by working on my bracelet hunting video series. I had spent a lot of money trying to produce this series. Working with Dan O’Brien and Jason Mercier, two good friends of mine, but it was very frustrating to try to coordinate that production with other people, Caesars and the Rio. I really did not like how that whole process turned out.

Run it Up, for me, was a chance for me to kind of take full possession. I was the producer. I was able to make the videos myself. I was able to cast the show. I put the hours in. I set the bar a certain way. That was one of the things that I really was attracted to Run it Up. It’s basically been that way the whole time. I set this 70 day schedule. Nobody at PokerStars suggested to me that I do anything. I want to do 70 days of roughly 6 hours of content a day. I want to do these things.

Basically, I already had my plan and vision for what I wanted to try and work on this year. That basically, I took it to the them and I said, “You guys want to be a part of this? Let’s do this together.” They did. I was very happy to have them as a partner.

BLUFF: A deal with PokerStars isn’t an easy thing to come by these days.

It’s an amazing opportunity. I understand how rare it is, and I’m going to make the most of it. To me, this is the first day or I guess it’s the second day technically. To me it’s the first step of the toughest mountain I have to climb. When I got signed by Ultimate, I remember feeling like I had just climbed the mountain. I’m like, “Here I am. I’m a signed Team Pro. This is awesome.”

Then after like a week had gone by, then I had kind of realized how many responsibilities I had and all the stuff that I had to do. That it was just the beginning of more work than I had ever really known before.

When the Stars deal came about, I never looked at it as though I was climbing a mountain or anything like this was some achievement in an of itself. I looked at this as “Okay, it’s time to get to work. This is the time to really make the most of it. This is the time to put that time in, to really co-promote. To drive value to my partner on this.

That’s how I looked at this from the beginning. I never looked at this like it was some pinata that I was just going to hit and be like, “Score. Got it.” I think that’s one of the things that sets me apart from other pros who are just more focused on the simple game of playing poker.

BLUFF: You think your motivation and drive are your biggest attributes?

Jason: All you can do in life is control how hard you work. A lot of times that’s all you can do, so I try. I’ve tried to put a lot of time in it. I think it’s awesome and so humbling that people care as much as they do about Run it Up and the streams and all the other stuff. I don’t take it for granted and I appreciate every single person that watches and participates and has thanked me and welcomed me to PokerStars. It’s been awesome man, but we’re just getting started.

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Tim Fiorvanti

Tim Fiorvanti graduated from St. John's University with a B.S. in Journalism in 2008. After several years in the industry, he started working for BLUFF in the summer of 2010. He worked his way up at BLUFF and joined full time as a Senior Writer in April of 2012. Fiorvanti now serves as the Managing Editor of BLUFF. He's a tortured Mets and Jets fan, along with several other frustrating allegiances, but he's also a two-time defending BLUFF Fantasy Football Champion.
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