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The Transition From Esports to Professional Poker Players

Home » The Transition From Esports to Professional Poker Players

The Transition From Esports to Professional Poker Players

Playing cards and red casino chips on a green felt table.

What does poker have in common with video games like Dota 2, Fortnite, Call of Duty, CS:GO and League of Legends? Many would answer “not a lot,” but the fact is that however different poker and video games may appear on the surface, they have a great deal in common as far as the skills it takes to compete at a professional level. That’s exactly why many esports gaming professionals have transitioned to the green felt, in some cases becoming online poker legends. 

We take a closer look at how gamers can use their poker skills. You’ll also discover some professional esports players who made the switch to pro poker.

What Do Esports Gaming and Poker Have in Common?

The reason that esports gamers can become real-life poker players is that they have a great many skills in common. Will-power and the ability to perform at their best under pressure are prerequisites, as are resilience and mental strength. Poker pros and elite esports gamers have these skills in spades.

More common ground between poker and a competitive esport such as StarCraft is that they’re both games trading in incomplete information. In poker, this is because players don’t know their opponents’ cards. In StarCraft, this is due to the fog of war. In both cases, incomplete information is a factor that requires psychology and strategy to succeed.

Constant strategic decision-making is another common factor. Both elite gamers and poker pros must constantly invent new strategies on the fly, make decisions and act accordingly. In the case of StarCraft, the best players have to perform as many as 400 actions per minute to compete, a skill that translates with ease into multi-table poker tournaments.

Needless to say, as with players from all world-class competitive disciplines, poker players and gamers alike have to be determined, dedicated and disciplined to stay ahead. The capacity to invest the time, effort and money it takes to train at the highest levels is what sets the elite apart from skilled recreational players.

Why Do Esports Gamers Switch to Poker?

A pro gaming illuminating desk, headset and keyboard.

The trend of esports gamers transitioning to poker began in the 2010s, at a time when games became massively popular among teenagers all over the world. The media started paying attention and esports tournaments began to pay prize money, typically in the region of $5,000 to $25,000. These sums were modest compared to professional poker prize pools, so pro gamers soon realized that there was much more to be made in professional poker. As a result, a number of gamers made the transition to pro poker. Today’s esports tournaments pay much more than before, but poker leads the money stakes by a long way. This is obvious when you compare the highest-earning esports and poker players.

The Top 5 Highest-Earning Esports Players

  • Johan “N0tail” Sundstein – $7.2 million (Dota 2)
  • Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf – $3.4 million (Fortnite)
  • Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen – $2 million (CS:GO)
  • Ian “C6” Porter – $1.4 million (Call of Duty)
  • Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok – $1.4 million (League of Legends)

The Top 5 Highest-Earning Poker Players

  • Bryn Kenney – $56m +
  • Justin Bonomo – $55m +
  • Daniel Negreanu – $43m +
  • Erik Seidel – $37m +
  • Dan Smith – $37m +

What Skills Do You Need To Play Pro Poker?

Poker and esports players have many skills in common (poker players could easily benefit from esports pro tips,). Still, gamers have to adapt to one specific area of expertise if they want to become professional poker players – the concept of thinking in ranges.

Beginner and average players try to put their opponent on a specific hand, often based on “gut feel.” Advanced players, on the other hand, always think in terms of the entire range of hands an opponent might have, modified by their style of play. In a specific situation, your opponent could have a flush, top pair, middle pair, bottom pair, a flush draw, a straight draw, ace-high or a complete and total bluff. In this situation, the idea isn’t to somehow identify which of these specific hands your opponent is actually holding. Rather, it’s to figure out their frequencies – the likelihood that they will act in a certain way – in that situation and then use that information to put them on a range.

To use a very broad example, tight players will have fewer starting hands in their range and looser players will have many. If you can determine which category your opponent falls into, you’ll be better positioned to make the best play. It takes a great deal of experience to achieve this level of skill. 

Professional Esports Players Turned Poker Pros

Ace playing cards and poker chips on a green felt table.

Doug “WCGRider” Polk

California native Doug Polk developed an interest in mind sports in his early youth and competed in Warcraft III at tournaments like World Cyber Games. This wasn’t enough for Polk, so he switched to poker soon after finishing high school. Starting $0.01/0.02 stakes games, Polk eventually turned his small initial deposit of $20 into $10,000. At that point, Polk committed to improving his game. In 2011, he began to focus on heads-up No-Limit Hold’em and beat opponents on all stakes. One of Polk’s biggest scalps is Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu, whom he beat for more than $1.5 million in an epic heads-up poker game that lasted several months online. Polk is also the founder of the Upswing Poker training site.

Randy “Nanonoko” Lew

One of the original esports gamers, Lew got his start with fighting games such as Tekken and Street Fighter while still at middle school in Sacramento, California. After finishing his studies in economics at UCLA, Lew decided to give poker a shot. Thanks to a phenomenal work ethic, he was able to play up to 24 PokerStars cash game tables simultaneously. He rarely played higher stakes than $2/5 but managed to grind up over $2.5 million in winnings. Lew also made $1.4 million in live tournament winnings and has achieved success as a Twitch streamer and TV poker announcer. He set a record for the most online poker hands played in a day. In January 2012, Lew made history by playing 23,493 hands over eight hours in an online game of poker at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. The record still stands.

Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier

Born in Melun, France, Grospellier was a world-famous StarCraft player under the name “ElkY.” In 2001, he moved to South Korea and took part in multiple competitions, where he beat thousands of opponents and finished first on many occasions. Grospellier started putting his gaming experience to use at the poker table in 2005 and has cashed countless times in major poker tournaments since then, including more than $14 million in live tournaments. Grospellier is also the first online poker player to reach the statuses of PokerStars Supernova and Supernova Elite by earning 100,000 player points in just two weeks and collecting 1,000,000 more points in four and a half months.

Transition to Pro Poker at BetMGM

For the chance to take your poker game to the highest levels, register at BetMGM. Our poker rooms provide the opportunity for every kind of player to improve their skills. Join cash games with stakes to suit your bankroll and participate online in daily, weekly and monthly poker tournaments with affordable buy-ins and great prizes. Play poker your way at BetMGM!

Find out why esports gaming is a training ground for poker and meet the professional esports players who have become online poker pros.