It was a Sunday not unlike every other Sunday Lex Veldhuis had spent the past seven years of his life. He settled in early, fired up his stream, and prepared for what would end up being 12 straight hours of playing poker, performing in front of his audience, and actually trying to make a living in the process.
But on this Sunday, Veldhuis–one of the top poker streamers in the world on Twitch–was about to do something that to anyone else might seem certifiably insane.
Veldhuis, the brightest light in PokerStars’ galaxy and a Twitch poker streamer with more than 300,000 followers, was about to announce to his legion of fans that he was giving up his partner status on Twitch.
To the average viewer who knows nothing of partnerships and monetization and how people like Veldhuis make a living, it might have seemed but a casual announcement. But to anyone who knows just exactly what Veldhuis was about to do, it was a white-knuckle-on-your-mouse moment.
Twelve hours later, when the stream was done and Veldhuis had announced to his world what he was going to do, he spoke to PokerOrg, and said everything he needed to say in just once sentence.
“I felt kind of strangled,” he said.
“I want to be present”
There was a time when Veldhuis streamed his poker exploits from his home in the Netherlands. Everything he did and accomplished happened in his own home. He became a poker star and then a PokerStar. He fell in love. He got married. He started a family. And then, as often happens in stories like this, everything went sideways. People who neither knew nor cared about Veldhuis changed the laws and regulations in his country. If he wanted to continue to make a living as he had been, he’d have to actually leave his home and leave his country. Just like that. It happened overnight.
So, Veldhuis did what he had to do.
He traveled to Belgium to play poker and stream, and then traveled back home to live. It was a wild and unexpected commute for one of poker’s and the internet’s biggest stars.
Every star makes sacrifices for their careers, and none of them like it. Part of the job of being a star is missing the things that give you your light–the day your child learns to ride a bike, the day the family dog dies, the day you aren’t there when your family really needs you. Sacrifice is part of the job description, and the ability to make that sacrifice requires clouding a part of one’s brain where the best choices are clear.
For Veldhuis, there came a night of clarity that would ultimately lead to what happened this weekend.
“The last few weeks of my wife’s pregnancy, our son started having a little bit of trouble sleeping,” Veldhuis said early Monday morning.
Veldhuis’ first child was struggling to go to sleep at bedtime. It was nothing more than an average parenting struggle. But it made Veldhuis think forward to a hypothetical time when he had two kids he was leaving at home with his wife while he ran off to Belgium to stream poker.
“Nights were hard. This is pretty rough. What if I’m going to be in Belgium on a night like this? I just started thinking to myself, ‘This is just not possible.’ I just can’t go to Belgium four days a week. It’s not something I want emotionally. I want to be present,” he said.
The lie of golden handcuffs
It’s not uncommon for a person to get to a spot in their lives in which they feel compelled to concede their life to the success they’ve built. It’s so common that the dilemma has earned its own cliche. People call it the golden handcuffs.
Imagine yourself in Veldhuis’ position. You have more than 300,000 followers on a major social platform. By almost any measure, you’re an over-the-top success with no chance of failure. The only thing you could do to risk your perfect life is to say, “I don’t want to do it this way anymore.”
That’s what golden handcuffs feel like.
Veldhuis had started to think about what it would be like to make content in the way he wanted to make it. He started to think about how he could do something else–maybe better–on YouTube. And he started paying closer attention to how Twitch was handling gaming content and how often pursuits like slots were getting conflated with poker.
“I think there is a big fear that poker is being lumped in with slots which has a lot of negative connotations,” he said. “It made me think: I don’t see a reason to be exclusively streaming on Twitch. I think content should be open and for everyone.”
Veldhuis forced himself to consider just how golden his golden handcuffs were, and if there was a chance he could help poker grow better and faster.
That’s how one of poker’s biggest streaming stars and one of Twitch’s biggest streaming partners decided he was going to give up one of the best deals in the poker world. He decided there was a real chance that his chosen platform for streaming wasn’t going to reach as many people as possible.
“I know that poker is not getting recommended to anybody. There is sort of a stigma on it. And it’s a stigma that poker players have been fighting their whole lives. I just didn’t really feel Twitch deserves to have a stranglehold on where you show your poker,” he said.
“I love the game”
Veldhuis’ shock-announcement this weekend will reverberate for longer than one news cycle. He has given up his subscriptions on Twitch, and he is well aware of how that will affect the community he’s built for the past seven years.
At the same time, he’s building an elaborate new home studio from which he can make content. And he still plans to go to Belgium on Sundays for huge streams. What’s more, he doesn’t plan to leave Twitch.
But as of this writing, Veldhuis has informed Twitch he no longer wants partner status with the platform. In short, he’s shaking off the golden handcuffs but not running away.
“I want more creative control. I want to be able to plan my time better. I just want freedom. This is the best way to do it,” he said. “I love the game and I want to help build it.”