PokerStars Festival Marbella: Lex Veldhuis - Twitch is my grind now
Over the past month or so the most common question Lex Veldhuis has had to field from the comfort of his own home is why he isn't currently playing poker 8,500 kilometres away in Vegas.
There's a simple answer. Twitch. "Twitch is my grind, it's going to get preference over everything," the Team PokerStars Online member explains whilst, ironically, taking a break from Twitch streaming at the PokerStars Festival Marbella. "Twitch is the most fun for me, if I had to pick right now I'd choose Twitch."
And he has picked. Vegas will have to wait, possibly forever given the Dutchman's unwavering commitment to what he describes, throughout the interview, as his community. "I'm building a Twitch platform and I feel like I have a responsibility to my audience," states Veldhuis. "They expect me to be there at certain times. I feel that when streamers say they're going to stream Monday to Friday 10-6, that's when they're supposed to be streaming. It's a commitment to your viewers. You can just be like 'I don't feel like it today, or 'I'm going to take two days off'. I don't think that's cool."
For a man who has worn many hats in the poker world, variously grinding live tournaments, mixed games and online pot-limit Omaha, Veldhuis is acutely aware of the spot he finds himself in at the moment. "I don't think I can really build a platform or grow it as well as I can if I do take time off like that (to go to Vegas). When it comes to live tournaments I feel that right now if I were to take four weeks off to play live it'd be a serious dent in my Twitch community and viewing numbers and for what?"
don't expect to see him at a live tournament any time soon
Recycling the passion
This statement of passion and intent is a theme that has run throughout his poker career. "I've never been one to do something to 50%. When I had the live tournament bug I'd play everything, when I played PLO I just grinded PLO. I've never really been satisfied with how I performed in live tournaments, but I was just approaching it like a cash game. I was very intrigued by the deep stack play I would not care about short stack play. Then I lost passion because I didn't approach it the right way and I went to mixed games and then PLO. I keep kind of invigorating my passion by finding new formats of poker."
And whilst Lex is well known for his current Twitch tournament streams it wasn't always that way. "I started streaming PLO. I was playing $2.50/$5 and I'd have a $1,500 stack and it was pretty exciting. No one was playing cash games that high on Twitch. But people would come in the chat and ask me to play the Big $22! I was really surprised. But I realised tournaments are really nice to watch. It's the whole start to victory that viewers care about. With cash games sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down. But with tournaments, you can live through somebody when you watch them win a tournament. Tournaments have more crossover to video games too"
Regular viewers of Lex's stream will know that it's not just poker he streams as video games are also a big part of his life. As well as playing a lot of Twitch he's an avid watcher too and the Dutchman can see that there's a much more natural crossover between tournaments and video games than there is with cash games. "Outside of streaming I watch about three hours of Twitch a day and I watch video games like H1Z1," he explains. There's a streamer called Pineapple. If he's in the final eight of a match then even if I have to go do stuff I can't stop watching and when he wins I feel genuine excitement so I know exactly what it's like. I think that's why Twitch is a good platform for me because I'm a Twitch viewer myself. It feels like home. I'd been watching Twitch streams for four years before I started streaming poker. I understand the community, they understand me. It feels like I'm one of them."
What's the secret?
So what's the secret of Veldhuis's successful streams? Nothing and everything it seems. "I just go with the flow and just talk and share stuff. If the audience like it they like it and if they don't I won't do it anymore. If I would have to make a show out of it, keep having to think about presenting something, portray a character or not getting mad when I want to then it becomes like acting and that would be too tiring."
There was some trial and error in the beginning though with Veldhuis realising, eventually, that less was more. "I play four tournaments at the same time. I noticed that if I played five or six tables off steam then it took too much of my time. But if I play four I can read the chat a lot and Twitch is mostly about interaction for me. I like talking to people and hearing their stories too. Everybody has a story. The fact that I might be better at poker doesn't mean anything. There's a lot of really good players in my chat too. It feels like a community so that's what I want to invest my extra time in, the community. We have a Discord chat also and I talk to my moderators a lot off screen."
For those unaware of Veldhuis's stream, one of the reasons might be because his regular hours are 10am-6pm. In other words, hours in which most people are at work. But it's what works for Veldhuis and working it is. "I figured the only way the stream was going to be successful was if it was a look into my life. I would grind PLO from 12-6 so I started streaming at that time. My girlfriend gets up at 7 am, I see her and my friends at night. It might be better for me to play at night in terms of EV but in my life, it would not fit in. During SCOOP I had some 12-13 hour streams and I really enjoyed them so I start earlier now."
grinds the morning and afternoon tournaments
Come for the poker, stay for the blowups
You'll find him on Twitch Monday-Friday 10am-6pm and it's perhaps the final stream of the week which has garnered the most attention. Known as Blowup Friday, it's...well we'll let Veldhuis explain the concept. "I saw all these challenges on Twitch and people asked me to do a $10 to $1,000 challenge," he tells the PokerStars Blog. "It's really cool that it's there but it's been done and doesn't really suit me. I'm not known as a grinder type. I can make hours but not necessarily the smartest decisions sometimes. So I thought I'd show people how to make $10 out of a $1,000! People would also come in the channel and refer to how I played in The Big Game and on ESPN all that really aggressive stuff. So on Blowup Friday, I drink beer, I get ready for the weekend, I play like I did in 2008, show you that it's still possible to play that way. It's really raw street poker you know. It's he doesn't have it, I'm all in poker. I don't think about ranges, it's he has ace-king and I'm going all-in."
To facilitate this style of poker Veldhuis does alter his schedule a touch. "I change the tournaments I play, more turbos, extra knockouts and I also lower my average buy-in because I calculated that it could cost me $20,000 a year. But, I'm actually profitable over the last three months."
It's a stream that divides his audience. "There are some people who only tune in for Blowup Friday and other regulars who don't tune in for it. There's such a significant shift in the chat on Fridays too, there's far more outrageous stuff.
As a promise for reaching 1,000 subscribers, Lex undertook Blowup Week. It was a tough life having to play poker and drink beer every day for five days straight but somehow Veldhuis soldiered on! What's more, he won two tournaments and was profitable. "You could tell that it didn't work on other days as well as it does on a Friday though," he admits.
That 1,000 subscriber milestone is just one a number of impressive moments for Veldhuis on the platform. "Winning my first tournament on Twitch was a big moment. It's at that point that I saw the potential of Twitch. Reaching certain amounts of subscribers is an amazing feeling. I set a goal of 500 and said I'd do a 24-hour stream when I reached it. That was a very memorable thing for me. I had people that were with me from the start of the stream and they were there when I quit. And there was just non-stop support. You're all really just a big group of friends."
With a little help from his mods
Some of those friends have become moderators and play a crucial role in helping out on Veldhuis's Twitch, YouTube and Discord channels. "It's pretty much people who were there from the start. They were in the channel a lot and they started picking up on my answers to standard questions like, where do you live? They would start answering in the chat and help people if they didn't know stuff. So then I asked some of them to be a moderator on my channel and it's got to the point now where you almost have interviews for moderator positions. It's kind of like running a company."
And Veldhuis couldn't do it without them. "Huge huge shout out to my mods, they're the unsung heroes. People don't understand how important they are. For instance, two of main mods are doing all my YouTube stuff whilst I'm out here. Or they'll update links for me that aren't working. You can't run a good Twitch channel without good moderators, it's impossible."
And once you understand just how much work on and off screen goes into running the Twitch channel you can see why Veldhuis needs some trusted allies to help. "In total streaming takes about 60-70 hours a week for me. I'll be laying in bed and I'm thinking about stuff I can restructure or I'm talking to my moderators, figuring out YouTube stuff or how I can adjust the microphone to be more like a studio."
With a few major goals already in the bag this year Veldhuis's goal for the rest of the year is simple. "I would be very sad if I streamed less than I do now. For me now the most important thing is to keep up with my hours. I'm one of the biggest streamers volume wise. In December I want to have the same amount of hours streamed as I do now."
We've got a feeling it's a safe bet. Don't expect to see him at a live tournament anytime soon, but if you want to watch him play tournament poker then you know where to find him.
Lex's top five Twitch tips:
1) Layout: If people click on your stream and it looks like shit they're not going to come back. They'll remember the names that they should not click anymore. Set something up that at least looks clean. Go on YouTube and watch some tutorials if you need help.
2) Watch other streams: Spend time watching some of the more established streams and talking in the chats. You'll pick up viewers this way because people will recognise your name. Become part of the community.
3) Watch non poker content: If you want to understand Twitch then it's very important to see what's going on. Like if somebody mentions Lyric and you have no idea who he is then they're just going to think, 'who's this guy? What are you doing here?'
4) Learn the language: I joke with my girlfriend that I wish I could communicate with her in Twitch emotes because then she'd know exactly how I feel!
5) Consistency: If you say you're going to be online, be there. If you have two viewers and you say you're going to stream a whole week from 12-6 then do it. Otherwise those viewers will not come back. Consistency is what people like.
Lex's Greatest hits:
Not watching the stream? You're missing out on gold like this:
Check out Lex's Twitch channel at: www.twitch.tv/lexveldhuis
Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/raszi/