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Home / Poker / Best Broadcaster winner James Hartigan sounds off on Global Poker Awards

The voice of PokerStars, James Hartigan, was awarded the ‘Best Broadcaster’ award at the 4th Global Poker Awards (GPA), which took place in Las Vegas on Friday, March 3, 2023.

Hartigan has worked at PokerStars for 18 years and currently serves as Head of Editorial for all TV shows, live streams and podcasts, as well as co-presenting all PokerStars Live productions.

This was Hartigan’s first solo GPA nomination and second GPA win, having taken down the Best Podcast Award for Poker in the Ears in 2022 alongside his commentating partner Joe Stapleton. 

We spoke to Hartigan about his crazy 2023 so far, his experience at the GPAs, why he thinks poker award shows are ridiculous, and his goals for PokerStars broadcasts moving forward.


EVERYTHING ABOUT IT HAS BEEN SURREAL

PokerStars Blog: Hey James, congratulations on the award! It’s been a busy few months…

James Hartigan: Thank you. Yeah, I came back from EPT Paris on Monday and flew to Vegas on Wednesday, so I had one day at home. But to be honest with you, it’s more the cumulative effect of the Bahamas, then Finland, then Paris, then Vegas and now home – five time zones in four weeks. I’m really feeling it. I’m not complaining, but I kind of am.

You recently tweeted that winning the award concluded “the weirdest, most surreal, most dramatic, most exciting, most emotional, toughest and most rewarding two months of my entire life.” 

The one I left out was exhausting. I can’t go into it at this point in time but this has been a very weird two months, both personally and professionally, and the keyword for me is surreal. Everything about it has been surreal. So this adds to it, because winning a poker award is, in many ways, surreal. 

How was your experience at the Global Poker Awards?

It was really cool. I’ve never been to the Global Poker Awards before so I got to meet so many people I knew but had never met face to face before. Particularly the people I was nominated alongside, it was really nice to meet everyone I’d seen on social media but never actually met.

“I think poker award shows are ridiculous, but some awards are more ridiculous than others”

HARTIGAN’S HYPE MAN

Was it extra special having Joe [Stapleton, Hartigan’s commentating partner] and Francine [Watson, PokerStars’ Associate Director] there with you?

James Hartigan: It was, absolutely. Obviously, Joe did a lot of the hard work. Bear in mind, I have a very cynical attitude towards everything. I’d never really thought about the fact I’d never been nominated, but it also never bothered me. It was just like, oh, that’s that thing they do out in Vegas

But it genuinely got to Joe because he was like, it is absurd that for as long as you’ve been doing this and for all that you’ve achieved in this industry, you’ve still never even been nominated. He literally said a year ago, when they started the nomination process, that he was going to do everything in his power to make sure I was acknowledged.

Hartigan and Stapleton

Hartigan and Stapleton celebrate in Las Vegas

He was my PR guru, my campaign manager, and my hype man. But more than anything, what he did is bring to the attention of North America some of the great stuff going on in Europe, not just what we’re doing. 

This award isn’t necessarily for me, but for our wider production team headed by Francine who deserves as much credit as I do, or even more, for the success of our content.


We recently went behind the scenes at the PCA/PSPC to find out how PokerStars puts together its live productions.

READ: PCA/PSPC LIVE STREAM: HOW THE PRODIGIOUS PRODUCTION IS PUT TOGETHER


Do you think people realise how much work goes into it outside of the commentary on live events and online coverage?

I do think they know that a lot of hard work goes into it, as we talk about it a lot on the streams. The most rewarding thing after the event was the sheer number of messages of support that I received, notes of congratulations from fans and peers and other people in the industry, and that made it all worthwhile. 

Because as I said, if these silly awards can make people actually say they genuinely appreciate our efforts and the work that we do, then it makes it all worthwhile.

THESE SILLY AWARDS

We notice you used the word “silly” there to describe the Global Poker Awards. What’s your overall take on them?

James Hartigan: I’ve always playfully and somewhat seriously called out these awards for having a very North American bias, and to be fair to Eric Danis, he’s always accepted this as something they have to improve. 

But when you’re actually there, you realise just how big the US poker industry is, with everything from the World Poker Tour (WPT) down to the Heartland Poker Tour and the Mid-States Poker Tour. So you can kind of understand why that is the case.

Still, you’d have to double-check it because there were 27 categories, but I think Stephen Chidwick and I might have been the only European winners out of all 27, which I don’t think is truly representative.

I know that Eric agrees because I spoke to him on the Poker in the Ears podcast last year and he made a very valid point: look at the poker scene in Latin America right now, look at the poker scene in Asia. 

America is a huge part of the poker world, but they have to expand the reach a bit – particularly as they chose to no longer separate the European and American awards. I think Eric estimated that Americans should make up 50% of nominees, but at the moment it’s more like 70-80% of nominees, so they know they have work to do.

Does a poker award show really work?

In general, I think a poker award show is ridiculous, but some awards are more ridiculous than others. Take the category I won, for example. You’re comparing apples and oranges. How do you compare what I do to what Nick Schulman does, for example? 

This is one of the things I said in my acceptance speech, saying how you could improve the awards. Maybe it should be best broadcast team or partnership because it is about the yin and the yang, the play-by-play guy and the colour guy. It’s really hard to single out one person in that partnership because one can’t do the job without the other. So that would be my suggestion. But for as long as it’s a single award, I’ll take it!

Hartigan delivering his acceptance speech at the 4th Global Poker Awards

THEY ARE MY HEROES

One of your fellow nominees, awards host Jeff Platt, said he’d looked up to you for many years. Who were some people in broadcasting/journalism that you looked up to early in your career?

I’m a huge US sports fan so for me, it was the American sports commentators, people like Al Michaels, Mike Tirico, and Joe buck…those are the people I modelled myself on, albeit in a very English way. They are my heroes. 

You started work with PokerStars back in 2005 at the WSOP. What were those early days like?

I was doing audio blogging and recording interviews with players – it was an experiment that didn’t really work. But that summer in Vegas in 2005 was awesome and my memory is of all the fun stuff we did away from the Rio. We definitely had a very healthy work-life balance back then.

Did you ever imagine you’d still be working in the poker industry all these years later?

I never got into it thinking it would be a full-time career, it was always a sideline activity while I was still working in radio. It was only five years in, towards the end of that decade, that I realised I was doing more and more poker and that’s when it became a career.

Hartigan and Stapleton have been commentating partners for a decade

GOALS FOR THE FUTURE

The work never stops on PokerStars events. What are some of your goals for the PokerStars broadcasts for the rest of the year and beyond?

I think ultimately we aim for continuous improvement. We’ve had new locations – this year Paris and Cyprus – and that always brings new challenges when you go to unfamiliar venues and mount a live production. It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of complacency when you go to the same places.

But I just want our coverage to be, and I genuinely believe it is, best in class, in terms of live broadcast coverage. A show that’s not a studio show but requires the studio to be taken on location, I don’t think anyone does it better than us. So speaking for the entire production team, we just want it to be the best and most entertaining viewing experience for poker fans.

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