WSOP 2015: The relationship will be televised
Jenny No has her feet kicked up on a bed in a posh high-rise Las Vegas suite. In the next room, the cavernous bathtub is surrounded by glass windows looking out over the Vegas strip. It's a place where someone might stand naked before the world, scrubbing off another bad beat, and claiming the desert below as his domain. No has little interest in the tub or anything in the Vegas riches beyond. Her face is buried in her phone a she marvels at the long list of people who are virtually tapping their feet and counting the minutes until the show begins.
"They're waiting," she says.
Her boyfriend has platinum blonde hair, the kind that looks like a Buddhist sand sculptor took a break from his normal duties and spent four days pointing each strand of hair in the right direction. The room's light is romantic, almost too dark to see anything with any clarity, but the boyfriend wears sunglasses. He will not take them off at any point for the next four hours. One gets the feeling that if the shades came off, the entire face would come off with them.
Half an hour earlier, No and her boyfriend, a quiet Frenchman his mother named Bertrand Grospellier, walked into the suite carrying a large box. It held a big computer monitor, one that No and the guy most people know as ElkY carry with them all over the world. It's their portal to their fans.
"We should start, no?" ElkY says.
His girlfriend looks listless, but the virtual crowd is getting restless. "Yeah," she says. She leans her face a little closer to the monitor. "I'm hungry," she says. ElkY offers her a snack, but No shakes her head.
"I'll wait," she says.
No is only afraid of one thing. Boredom terrifies her. From her birth in Korea to her more recent life in Washington D.C., No has run with arms flailing from anything that seems tedious.
Three years ago, that retreat brought her here to the Las Vegas desert. Her sister had just turned 21, and they came looking for a party. What No found ended up turning her life upside down. Before long, she would be quitting her job, lying to her parents, and dancing in front of a computer monitor while DeadMau5 plays in the background.
Down the street at the Rio, a man neither No nor her sister knew, had just busted out of the $10,000 WSOP Main Event. Steaming and in need of his first cocktails in two months, he went out to the clubs with a friend.
"My sister was pretty drunk already," No said. "We were dancing on the top of the table. She actually danced so hard, she tripped and spilled a drink on his friend. His friend was really pissed off. He turned around like 'what the hell?' Then he saw my sister, and was like, 'Do you guys want to drink with us?'"
ElkY sized the women up as they climbed down, and without missing a beat, the Frenchman leaned over to No and asked her a question...in her native language
"He asked for my number in Korean!" she said.
What No would learn much later was that ElkY, while clearly French, was already a superhero in her home country. He was Korea's first European professional video game player, the type of guy who would get recognized on the streets of Seoul.
Three years since No's sister got tipsy with her drink, ElkY remembers the exact hand that knocked him out of the WSOP (pocket eights vs. ace-three), and marvels at the serendipity of it all.
"I didn't go out the whole summer," he said of his dry summer in the desert. "If I didn't lose that hand, I never would've gone out."
"I wouldn't have met him at all," No said.
If they hadn't met, they wouldn't have started dating, and if they hadn't started dating, their thousands of fans wouldn't be watching every time they fire up their Twitch channel.
No relates the story as she and ElkY make their final preparations for their broadcast. She, a one-time animator and gamer, and he, a one-time gaming rock star who became a poker millionaire, have developed a cult following for simply letting people watch them play games online. He narrates in staccato bursts, and she comes in to dance every time someone new subscribes to their channel for $4.99. They have nearly 20,000 regular fans.
For people who have never played video games, or for those who still think "Pacman" instead of "Diablo," it's sometimes hard to understand the appeal of watching someone play a game, but No and ElkY are among an elite group of people who draw fans from all over the world on the virtual Twitch platform (For an in-depth look at how Twitch and poker came together, see this piece from Bluff's Lance Bradley). For poker fans, ElkY's success on Twitch is no surprise. In the decade since he arrived on the poker scene, he has consistently been among the most successful early adopters of new innovations.
"Gaming is actually a very lonely activity," No says of the time before Twitch. "You don't really talk to people. You don't really socialize at all."
Live streaming broadcasts changed that. Entire communities have grown up around ElkY, as well as his fellow Team PokerStars Pro Jason Somerville's Twitch efforts.
On this day in Las Vegas, ElkY and Somerville aren't scheduled to play in the WSOP Main Event, so they have all teamed to broadcast from the PokerStars Playhouse at the Palms. Within minutes of their start, 2003 WSOP champion Chris Moneymaker can't resist poking his head in. He stays for the next two hours.
No, meanwhile, watches impassively from the bed, staring at her phone and laughing in all the right places. It's amazing it came together at all.
See, No's family is deeply religious, and at first blush, ElkY and his rocker personality represented everything the No parents wanted their daughter to avoid.
"I had to lie the first year," she says.
She told her parents she got a job abroad. In reality, she was cementing the relationship with a guy who represented, in No's words, "the root of all evil."
The funny thing was, No's father actually played one the video games that made ElkY a rock star. That is, Dad already knew who his daughter's famous boyfriend was.
There was still the matter of convincing Mom. For that, ElkY just played it as smooth as he had with Jenny No that night of the club.
"He actually opened the door for my mom and spoke Korean to my mom," No said.
Now, No and ElkY rarely leave each other's sight. She's on the road with him 95% of the time.
When their broadcast is finished, ElkY puts the monitor back in its box. He looks a bit like a musician putting his guitar in its case before heading off to the next gig. It doesn't matter where he and No go. We'll see it all on the small screen from wherever they light. The relationship that almost never was will be televised.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging