If the Vine shutdown has you worried about the future of the internet star, you need look no further than Jason Somerville for consolation. He seems to be doing just fine.
Somerville’s day begins by buying into his Run It Up tournament here in New Jersey, a $340 buy-in 8-Game event, then signing a mat. Yes, a mat. Envision a mouse pad, but large enough to house an entire keyboard, and put Bruce Lee’s face on it. It is a piece of equipment for Magic: The Gathering fans. They use it as a playing surface for their cards during matches. This mat is covered with signatures from other poker players into Magic like Eric Froehlich and David Williams. Somerville is more excited about Luis Scott Vargas, a professional Magic player.
Over the course of a ten-minute chat, Somerville is approached by five different fans, all but one of which he knows by name. The one he doesn’t know is a person he has never met before. He is arguably the most popular guy in the room, even though he spends most of his time living like what he calls “a dirty basement kid.”
Funny enough, in order to live anything close to a “normal” life, Somerville has to pal around with reality TV stars like Tyson Apostol of Survivor fame. A longtime fan of the show, Somerville has befriended a number of cast members, including Apostol and Rob Mariano, both of whom are in attendance here in Atlantic City. Somerville has been helping Apostol with his game, while Apostol is teaching him how to live a more conventional life.
“I went to Utah; I spent a weekend sleeping in his beautiful guest room. It was the most normal thing I have done in my life. I went to his house, we ate Domino’s Pizza, we watched Survivor. We went to Sundance and walked around with his adorable baby girl and beautiful wife. It made me feel what it was like to be a human again.”
As for whether or not Apostol would play today in the 8-Game, Somerville wasn’t as optimistic. “If it were eight slot machine games, he could do that.”
Somerville is in attendance though, along with numerous Team PokerStars Pros like Chris Moneymaker, Jamie Staples, Kevin Martin, and Barry Greenstein. They are joined by a slew of players of all ages sporting Run It Up hoodies and shirts that read “Somerville Stud Club.” One such fan is Andy Camou who headed here from Reno to play in both Run It Up events.
That is the really remarkable part about his fan base. These aren’t just fans who live near where his events are taking place. They travel wherever he goes because, for them, the poker series is the destination, and the location is relatively inconsequential.
“Most of the time I am by myself, streaming, and I don’t see another human for eight weeks, and then we have this big event where people come from all around the world. I was just in Run It Up Reno, and we had people from Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Alaska, Hawaii come to Reno intentionally to hang out. People want to join the community and be a part of it. It is just great to see.”
Camou, a 23-year-old who lives in Long Beach, California, has never missed a live Run It Up event. He watches the stream every day, too. A poker pro himself, Camou found Somerville when he was streaming on YouTube, followed him over to Twitch, and now even streams himself from time to time after seeing how much fun Somerville was having.
Fun is a word Camou invokes quite often when talking about Somerville’s appeal. “He just makes it fun all the time,” he says. “He’s not just monotone talking about what he is doing and playing. He is always laughing and having a good time and making sure it is an enjoyable experience.”
Like most other streamers, Somerville streams with an educational bent, but the entertainment value and large community differentiate him from the pack. With a proven track record of three years of online fun, Camou knows any Run It Up trip is going to be a good time, so he refuses to miss any of them.
“It is a ton of fun because it basically feels like I have a whole bunch of different homes. Wherever Run It Up is, it feels like a home to me. I talk in the online chat room, and we constantly chat with each other every day. I met some of my best poker friends through Run It Up, and I play with them at live events.”
The online chat features a couple hundred fans like Camou. They are as much a part of the allure as Somerville himself. Feeling included in something that can feel as exclusive as the poker world fuels Somerville’s fan base. If the mat didn’t tip you off, part of his brand is about appealing to the guys that aren’t jet-setting or playing High Roller tournaments by offering them opportunities to do things like play a tournament in a niche game at a price point they can afford. While these tournaments aren’t going to be generating huge prize pools and droves of recreational players, there is still plenty of appeal.
“There is good value in the sense that when do you get a chance to play six-handed 8-Game for $300? There’s also going to be a lot of camaraderie like, ‘Oh, you got me, you silly goose,'” Somerville explains. “I think there is a fun atmosphere that extends from the stream. Listen, I am almost 30 years old, and I am shopping for retirement homes here. I’m just trying to have fun with my day, and I think 8-Game is similar like that. We are just trying to have fun, laugh, and enjoy ourselves. Win or lose, let’s just have fun.”
In Reno, more than 125 people played in his 8-Game tournament, and for the past year he has done a number of streaming sessions featuring that rotation of games instead of no-limit, which also helps to explain why more than 50 people in New Jersey chose to spend their Saturday afternoon playing mixed games.
The appeal of playing something different accounts for some of it, but it appears most of Run It Up Nation, as Somerville calls it, identify as members out of a sense of kinship. This is someone just like them. There is no talking down to the fan base, there is no calculation, there is just Somerville, wandering through the tables of his tournament talking with the players. They make inside jokes together, he asks them who they are and what they do. They commiserate over mats.
Somerville is savvy enough to understand his sincerity and genuine love for his streaming and what he does is a large part of his appeal. The fact he didn’t start big and shove it down people’s throats is a point of pride for him. He grew this from the ground up and, while he has big plans, the whole thing is remarkably uncalculated.
“It was one of those things where things just started growing. We have hundreds of thousands of fans tuning in each month. I just try to stick to the fundamentals. Am I enjoying myself? Am I creating good content? Are people enjoying themselves? If these things are happening, everything is good.”
That simple philosophy serves Somerville and fans like Camou well, and it only stands to get bigger as time goes by. He is a celebrity, but not one whose appeal lies in his scarcity and lifestyle. Like many an internet superstar, his accessibility is the appeal. The fact these guys can walk into a ballroom in New Jersey and have someone they watch daily identify them by name and be genuinely happy to see them is an experience not a lot of other poker celebs can provide. It is not so much that he is the special host of an event, it is more like he is the president of a fan club for poker. He is just here to have fun and play, just like everyone else. Therein lies the magic.
“I think if I had sat down and said, ‘How can I get hundreds of people to come hang out with me in person?’ they wouldn’t have come. It has taken us a little while to get to where we are…this was never my goal, neither was getting any kind of attention. I thought it would be a fun kind of thing for me to do, and I have enjoyed it every step of the way.”
The next step is making sure his event here is as fun as his other Run It Up stops have been. From there, Canada. As for what comes after that, he doesn’t really know, but that is the beauty of Run It Up.
Jessica Welman is a freelance contributor the PokerStars Blog