Brad Owen on the rise of Meetup Games

Popular YouTuber Brad Owen explains the Meetup Games he has been helping organise that are bringing huge numbers to live card rooms.

What do you attribute your popularity on YouTube to?

Brad Owen: I had always been interested in the idea of creating either a poker movie or poker television show but I had no clue how to go about it. When I first saw Andrew Neeme’s vlog about two and a half years ago it seemed like the perfect medium to share my story and it provided a creative outlet that I really needed at the time since I felt stuck playing poker. I caught that initial wave of interest that Andrew started and that was key to establish a solid foundation of viewers. People didn’t care about production value, which benefited me since I had no experience with editing software. They were just happy to have insight into an average low to midstakes cash game grinder’s daily life. They seemed to value honesty and that’s something I pride myself on with my videos. I make plenty of mistakes, some of them are quite embarrassing, and I make extra effort to show those so that I can learn from them along with the audience.

As time has gone on I’ve spent a lot of time learning to improve the production as well as my poker game. I think people have enjoyed seeing my progression as a player and as a YouTuber. I’m always looking for ways to make the content new and exciting, whether that be playing with people like Phil Hellmuth or occasionally jumping into higher stakes games that are a bit outside of my comfort zone.

There is now a lot of media attention on the Twitch streamers, but the numbers for YouTube are massive. To me it feels like something big is happening on YouTube that the traditional poker media seems to be missing, does it feel like that to you?

Brad Owen: Yes, definitely. There seems to be some hesitancy on the part of those at higher levels to offer contracts to YouTube content creators. As a result, an opportunity to market directly to a massive amount of poker players is being completely ignored. I think it’s clearer for them to see how Twitch streamers are able to bring in additional revenue – the streamers are on the sites playing and they make it very fun and entertaining to watch. People see that and may want to deposit their own money to join in on the action.

I still believe there is plenty that us, primarily live, cash game grinders with big YouTube followings can offer the major sites. Not only can we cover the live events that these companies are putting on but we can also hold events ourselves on their sites as a way of connecting with hundreds of thousands of viewers who maybe can’t make it to a live event. Adding in some online play is something that I’m definitely looking into. Every week I get numerous messages from viewers asking questions about playing online or encouraging me to do so on the YouTube channel so it’s a big priority for me to expand into that realm.

"The most fun they've had playing poker in years"

If Twitch is the channel for online MTTs, is YouTube the channel for live cash?

Brad Owen: Yeah, it has become the most informational and entertaining way to digest live low and midstakes cash game content. For a long time we had to follow people’s Instagram accounts for hand histories and chip porn. I still do that occasionally for sessions that I don’t make videos of but it’s so much more stimulating and enjoyable to watch a video of live poker action with audio analysis than looking at picture and reading lots of text.

What brought me to you was the recent numbers for some of your meet up games, for those that don’t know, what is it that you are doing?

Brad Owen: Fellow YouTuber, Andrew Neeme, and I are hosting live $1/$3 and $3/$5 games together all over the country to connect with our viewers. There’s a big emphasis on having fun and socialising with each other so we incorporate optional adult beverages, bomb pots (sometimes double-board), deuce-seven, the button game, and all sorts of other things to ensure people are enjoying themselves. After we’re done playing we typically head to a bar on property to spend some time together away from the poker tables. We make videos of the sessions and after parties so it gives people the opportunity to show up and become part of the content rather than just consume it behind their computer screens.

What is it that the meet up games are providing that is missing from a traditional poker room? 

Brad Owen: Poker is a game that is a source of entertainment for the majority of people. They want to socialise and take a break from their jobs or other everyday stresses. Traditional poker rooms are often times filled with others who are quiet, on their phones, have headphones in, etc. This environment isn’t particularly conducive to having a good time, especially if you’re not winning. Our games are as friendly and as social as they get. After almost every Meet Up Game someone will post on Twitter or Instagram saying that’s the most fun they’ve had playing poker in years. As an event host, that’s the coolest thing to see. Sure, everybody who shows up wants to win but that’s not necessarily the main focus.

There’s a special atmosphere about it. For one thing people know that there will be video documentation of that night, it will be viewed by potentially hundreds of thousands of people, and it’ll be on YouTube forever so that right away makes it unlike any other session they might play. Also, we’ve developed a great community in which we all talk back and forth in the comment sections of videos or on other social media platforms; it’s nice to meet face to face, get to know each other on a more personal level, share hand histories and bond over poker and drinks.

"We are planning a European meetup"

We see online Twitch streamers get sponsored by online poker rooms, are we about to see a golden era of live card rooms sponsoring live vloggers?

Brad Owen: There are plenty of ways that live vloggers and online poker rooms can work together and benefit each other so that’s still the ideal partnership. The issue with physical card rooms is that they usually don’t budget much for marketing. It seems that higher-ups at big properties almost completely ignore poker as a source of revenue and aren’t willing to put much time, effort, or money into attracting poker players. Also, if people in Europe, or even in other parts of the U.S. for that matter, see someone wearing an Aria patch, they have to physically show up to Las Vegas and spend money at the property before Aria can monetarily benefit from that partnership. With online rooms, people from all over the world can easily deposit money from their homes. With no locational barriers, other than the exclusion of U.S. players for some sites, I think online rooms still benefit more from sponsoring YouTube content creators than brick and mortar rooms.

Whether live or online it seems marketing focus in poker goes to tournaments and when I ask operators they always say its because cash games are hard to market. Are MUGs proving that wrong and how do we make cash games more marketable?

Brad Owen: The added benefit of marketing tournaments or a tournament series is that when people bust those tournaments they’re likely to jump into cash games anyway. I think the operators are more saying that it’s tough to make cash games special to draw in extra people. You need gimmicks, personalities, or something that will differentiate it from an ordinary everyday game. We’re certainly able to do that with our meet ups. We went to Maryland Live last week and had over 280 names on the list before they stopped taking them. Ultimately we got 22 games of $3/$5 NL. I’m sure a lot of other properties noticed and will see that if properly marketed, cash games can drive in lots of traffic. I can understand how marketing is easier in general with tournaments though. There are multiple ways to entice people with guarantees, the prestige of winning a major event, potentially winning life-changing money, boosting Hendon Mobs, etc.

Any plans for a MUG in Europe?

Brad Owen: That’ll be a major focus for us this year. The biggest issues is that we don’t have any contacts in Europe. There is certainly a lot of demand, particularly in the UK, so we’ll make it happen eventually but it’s tough to coordinate. We need more viewers to let the poker room managers out there know that they’d like us to come in. That would save us lots of effort trying to convince them to have us.

Would you play in a European Meet Up Game? Let us know in the comments:

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