The new recreational player

Barry Carter argues that the casino gambler is now making way for the gamer when it comes to profiling the typical casual poker player.

John Hesp WSOP
John Hesp

Last weekend I made a brief visit to the 888poker Live event in London and had the pleasure of meeting several well known Twitch and YouTube streamers, and in quite a contrast, the legend that is John Hesp.

A lot of my conversations were about how poker is looking towards the world of gaming and eSports for its inspiration, especially when it comes to recruiting new players. Previously new converts to poker either discovered the game via television or because they stumbled upon it via casino and/or sports betting. The typical recreational player was probably very similar to John Hesp in that regard.

I think we have to think again these days when we are profiling what a recreational player looks like in 2017. While there are many more John Hesps out there, and I am delighted to say that, I think the new ‘new player’ much more closely resembles a serious, tech savvy, gamer.

More tolerance for complexity?

American Vandal Twitch
Twitch has shown the way

Whenever I chat with Twitch streamers I always ask them to estimate how many of their viewers are completely new to poker, and they tend to say something in the region of 25%, which is not a trivial amount. I’ve spoken to a couple of prominent YouTubers who have also suggested their views come much more from non poker players than you might expect.

The main observation I take from this is that perhaps we can be a little bit more complex when selling the game to the new recreational audience. Gamers are used to complex games and making lots of fast decisions. You only need to look at how popular League of Legends is as a spectator sport. I cannot make head nor tails of what is going on in that game, yet it legitimately fills arenas for people who will pay to watch it.

Previously in poker we have tried to present the game in simple terms, with emphasis on characters and big money pots, rather than complicated decisions. This is why No Limit Hold’em, a very simple game to follow, has always made up 99% of all poker broadcasts. However, just last month Lex Veldhuis attracted 15,000 simultaneous viewers during his WCOOP PLO final table Twitch stream. No doubt many were poker fans, but many weren’t, and Lex, to his credit, was regularly and patiently explaining the rules of PLO over and over again to commentators on his stream while trying to win over $125,000. This told me that recreational players from a gaming background are much more willing to tolerate complexity than we have previously assumed newbies will in poker.

Young guys looking to make a quick buck

Daniel Negreanu Hearthstone
Poker has changed, so has the typical player

The typical recreational player is likely still a young male who sees poker as a fun way to make easy money. The difference is that previously a casino gambler who saw poker as a way to reduce variance is perhaps making way for a gamer who sees poker as a way to monetise their existing gaming chops.

It’s good news for all if we can continue to bring in new players, though I suspect the gamer types will be much better players than the casino types from the get go. It’s analogous to the ‘online satellite qualifier’ which was a stereotype that once had the professionals licking their lips but in more recent years likely made a tournament much tougher.

There is still room for the John Hesps and the folks who like to blow off steam on a weekend by playing poker instead of betting on their favourite team, and we should never forget them. In fact we should be going after any demographic that will likely be responsible gamblers. But as the game evolves so does the average casual customer, and right now that looks like the guy who is looking for a new challenge after he just completed Call of Duty.

Do you think the typical recreational player is now a gamer rather than a gambler? Share your views in the comments:

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Comments (3)

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  • anduke


    Great article! That's why power up is such a perfect addition to give some more options to the gamer types. I also think that the skill gap will still remain, cause it's the same with gaming.
  • tonypmm


    I still hope that there are enough Hesps in 2018 in order for me to earn enough money to retire. I don't care about what happens after then; if the majority of new players are gamers, I'll let it be.
  • loyalfelipe


    Hard to to decide with certain facts. So I say all new players gamer or gambler are new players. Only because there are players with years of experience that are still new players. And we all go through are waves of being down and being up, hard not to explore other options when your bankroll is low!