While these categories can be a bit nebulous, the generally accepted age range for Gen Z-ers (or Zoomers as they’re affectionately known) is 11-26, meaning they were born between 1997 and 2012.
But how did an entire generation become interested in poker, and what does this mean for the future of poker?
Gen Z’s Growing Interest in Poker
While there are a number of factors at play, arguably the biggest contributor to Gen Z’s increasing interest in poker is the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost all countries around the world were in a state of lockdown, meaning that people were spending the majority of their days at home, looking for something new to do.
Many of the Gen Z generation were introduced to poker during this time, either finding it organically or being introduced through friends and family. As face-to-face contact was prohibited during this time, online poker played a major role in facilitating contact between friends and loved ones – even if it was virtual
Hundreds of thousands of online poker home games were started during the pandemic, giving people a connection with their family and friends during a time when connection was scarce. Many people who played in these home games had never played poker before and were being introduced to it for the first time.
While some people were only playing the game to reconnect with people they knew, a large number of people, including Gen Z-ers developed an interest in the game.
TikTok’s Role in Poker
While TikTok was launched back in 2016, it arguably didn’t reach mainstream popularity until 2019/2020 – the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary audience of TikTok’s content is the Gen Z generation, so most of the content was, and still is, focused on the general interest of that demographic of the population.
As the rise in TikTok’s popularity coincided with the rise of poker’s popularity, many Gen Z-ers would create TikTok content about poker. While TikTok technically doesn’t allow gambling content, creators would find a way around this by creating skits that involved referenced poker in one form or another.
Due to the increasing popularity of poker amongst Gen Z, the poker content was regularly viewed on TikTok, which meant that the algorithm would recommend that content to a wider audience. This further increased poker’s exposure amongst the Gen Z population, which increased its popularity amongst Gen Z, which led to an increase in poker content, and so the cycle continued.
Twitch as a Poker Hub
Another form of content that is extremely popular amongst the Gen Z population is online streaming. Rather than consuming conventional television shows, many Gen Z-ers prefer to watch live streams of likable personalities with similar interests to them. While you won’t find a television show about video games like Fortnite or Among Us, you can find thousands of hours of live streams where people play those games to an audience.
Twitch is arguably the biggest live-streaming platform in the world and started streaming poker back in 2013. Jason Sommerville was the pioneer of poker on Twitch, converting a large YouTube following into a substantial Twitch audience. Other content creators followed his lead, with Jamie Staples, Kevin Martin, and others creating substantial communities on Twitch.
In the years that followed, many mainstream poker companies started to realize the value of Twitch as a platform for their brand. Companies such as the EPT, WPT, and even WSOP hosted live streams of their biggest events on Twitch, getting tens of thousands of viewers in the process.
All of this means that Twitch is jam-packed full of poker content packaged in a way that is appealing to the Gen Z generation. Anyone who develops an interest in poker can go on Twitch and find tens of thousands of hours of content to watch and a variety of great communities to join.
A major appeal of live streams is the personality in front of the camera. While people will come to see content that they can relate to, they’ll only stay if the host of the stream appeals to their sensibilities.
This has led to the creation of what we call the “Social Media Poker Star” – someone who is well-known in the poker world for their personality rather than the quality of their play. Now, that’s not to say that Social Media Poker Stars are inherently bad at the game; far from it. Some of the biggest stars have reputations for being fearsome players, but it’s their personality that has seen them gain mainstream notoriety in the poker world.
Social Media Poker Stars can be divided into two types of players; the Expert, and the Novice.
The Expert is a player who plays the game at a high level, is extremely knowledgeable about the game, and is able to communicate their thought process in a way that’s easily understood by the mainstream audience. Someone like Lex Veldhuis could be considered the epitome of this player type; a high-stakes poker player who had some notoriety for his poker talent, but has become a household name in the poker world thanks to his informative and entertaining Twitch streams.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Novice is a player who is not known for their poker skill but for their relatable content. They represent the every-player. You can follow along with their journey to learn the game and become a better player and relate to the struggles and pitfalls they face, as you’ve faced them yourself during your poker journey.
These players are often known for creating other content but their personality has elevated them to celebrity status in the poker world. Alexandra Botez would be a great example of this type of player; a popular chess streamer who started to learn about poker, exposing the game to a new audience and creating engaging, relatable poker content.
Both types of Social Media Poker Star have their place in the ecosystem and have helped grow the game immensely through their content creation.
The popularity of poker amongst the Gen Z population can only be good for the game. Since the events of Black Friday, it’s been harder to introduce poker to a new audience, and many were fearing that we wouldn’t continue to see the influx of young talent that we did in the early 2000s. The TikTok/Twitch era of poker can help remedy that and expose a whole new generation to our incredible game!