Monday, May 18, 2015

The Virtual Rail

Late last week I was railing a friend as he played a Spring Championship of Online Poker event on PokerStars.

He was on Twitch as well, and once I realized that I opened up his channel and heard him commenting about the heads-up match in which he was involved to a modest-sized audience of viewers, some of whom were chatting to him along the way.

Eventually someone in chat mentioned how his opponent in the heads-up match was also streaming the match on Twitch, something my friend found interesting but didn’t really give much attention. His viewers continued to discuss it, though, and eventually someone mentioned the fellow’s Twitch handle.

Soon enough I had his channel up as well, meaning I had the Stars client open and showing the match play out plus both players’ Twitch channels on which they were commenting about the hands as they went by (about five minutes behind for each, I think).

This wasn’t a couple of pros playing at the highest levels and breaking down every decision to the smallest possible minutiae, so it wasn’t quite what you might be used to hearing as far as live analysis goes. My friend was commenting on hands in a relatively low-key manner, occasionally speculating about his opponent’s thinking or intentions as a hand progressed. Occasional chat box criticisms from the other fellow also got my friend’s attention, leading him to wonder if perhaps the guy might be tilted.

The other fellow’s channel absolutely confirmed that he was indeed much more emotionally involved in the match, hurling frequent epithets at my buddy whom he’d judged some time before to be a less than skilled player. While he’d kept the chat box comments to a minimum, he was showing no restraint before his Twitch followers, and it was almost as good a show as any Hellmuthian “How does he always get there!?!” rants.

The contrast between the two players’ personalities couldn’t have been greater. The match concluded almost predictably with my friend winning -- sucking out on the last hand, actually, after getting it in a slight dog -- and noting in an understated way his good fortune to advance. Meanwhile the other fellow was angrily throwing headphones around and shouting “I’m done! I’m done!” before logging off.

It all added up to something a little out-of-the-ordinary as far as watching poker was concerned, although maybe down the road something like that won’t seem so novel. Was entertaining to be sure, and perhaps a little bit educational, although in truth it felt more voyeuristic than anything, as a lot of what falls under the heading of “social media” ultimately is -- i.e., us looking at what other people are doing.

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