PokerStars Festival Hamburg: German eSports presenter Melek 'm3lly' Balgün on her first major poker tournament experience
The crossover between poker and eSports has been evident for years now. You only have to look as far as the PokerStars Team Pro rosters, where the likes of Bertrand 'ElkY' Grospellier and Lex 'RaSZi' Veldhuis transitioned from professional eSports (Starcraft in both cases) to winning millions in poker.
As we're in Hamburg, one of the biggest names in the German eSports world is Melek 'm3lly' Balgün. Counter Strike player, TV host, YouTube personality, social media consultant; Balgün has many strings to her bow, and she's here at the PokerStars Festival trying to add one more.
"I haven't played any poker for the past three years!" the 29-year-old told us on dinner break during her Day 1A debut outing. "This is my first real-money major tournament, and I think - as I'm still in - I can't be that bad, right?!"
Balgün grew up in Cologne, but now spends most of her working days on the road travelling from event to event. Whether she's putting up content on her YouTube channel, recording TV programs about games, or news reporting for DW.com, Balgün is always on the move.
We wondered then, how was she faring sitting in the same place for hours on end?
"My problem is I'm not a very patient person," she tells us. "I want results fast! So it's been a real challenge for me to stick with my original plan to sit back and wait for like six hours straight. I haven't eaten anything, because I couldn't eat! I was so excited and...it's just so much fun."
The PokerStars Festival Hamburg Main Event may be her first proper tournament, but Balgün is already familiar with poker from her eSports travels.
"Poker was already a big thing at all the [e-sports] parties I went to with friends. It was always just for fun, but whenever you finished your game - Counter Strike in my case - there would always be a poker game on the side, so you always had the chance to join in. And that's what I usually did.
"I definitely watched poker tournaments on TV or big games online when something exciting was going on, like if a well-known German made a good run in a tournament. Actually, the managing director of one of the organisations I used to play Counter Strike for was and is a huge poker fan. He was actually quite good and managed to win a few tournaments. So poker was always quite close to me, but it was never something I pursued in an ambitious way."
That all changed in the build up to attendance here this week though. When you have a shot at winning thousands and thousands of dollars in just a few days by playing a game, that's enough to make anyone sit up and prepare.
"I haven't played for years, but I still have my PokerStars account," Balgün says. "So for the past few weeks I went into full "bootcamp" mode, and I actually managed to win a few tables!
"The basics of the game, like what to do when, I know, but sometimes it's like...I want to do too well. I get ahead of myself sometimes."
She had high hopes coming into Day 1A:
But unfortunately for Balgün, things didn't quite go to plan.
"I had a bad case of bad luck early on in a hand where I lost 9,000 [from a starting stack of 30,000]. I had trip jacks and my opponent hit a flush on the river. But I managed to recover; in one hand I had pocket queens.
"It's super exciting though! I've already been in the tournament for six and a half hours. The only goal I set myself was not to be the first person out, and six people from my table have already been eliminated. I'm still there! The problem is there hasn't been any good moments where I could have gone all in."
Around half an hour after returning from dinner break, Balgün's poker dream came to an end...for now. She sees herself playing more poker in the future, but for now it's back to work in the eSports world.
"Next week I have a recording session with a German/French TV station where we're going to be filming a few episodes of our second season of 'Art of Gaming', a program which puts focus on games from a different perspective. Like, why do games become more realistic, or why do we like horror games, or why do people want to play competitively. We talk to scientists and the like to find out the mechanics of what goes on in the human mind and why we like computer games so much.
"The week after I'll be visiting the bootcamp of a professional Counter Strike team here in Germany, and after that I'm heading to the German Championships of eSports in Stuttgart, which has Counter Strike, League of Legends, and FIFA."
Who knows? If an ambassador like Balgün continues to promote the game of poker in the eSports world, maybe one of those Counter Strike players could become the next poker star of the future.
Jack Stanton is a freelance contributor to the PokerStars Blog.
Photos by Manuel Kovsca.
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