Transitioning from esports to pro poker

By William Davis


Apr 30, 2022

Reading time: 3 min

As two gaming disciplines that have been welcomed into the sports community in recent years, esports and digital poker share a synergetic relationship.  

At the start of the century, when MMORPG gaming was beginning to take off, there was a large crossover in the communities forming in the world of poker and video gaming. Poker may have been fractionally less popular in the 2010s than popular gaming titles like Counter-Strike, Starcraft, and World of Warcraft, but in the 2020s it certainly began to catch up.  

A tale of two games 

The roots of both poker and esports lie in competitive gaming. Both disciplines, when played at a professional level, require focused practice and a determination to succeed. Esports players often compete in lengthy day-long sessions during tournaments, and the same goes for professional poker players (whether playing online or in real-life events).

Meanwhile, strategic thinking, the ability to multitask, and effective decision-making skills are absolutely critical when it comes to doing well on the felt, and all three are skills that success in the esports realm depends on too.  

There are also many parallels when it comes to the accessibility and the career paths open to talented players in both the world of poker and the world of esports. Both disciplines are relatively democratic, in that anyone with access to the internet can learn strategy and gameplay in poker or popular esports titles like Fortnite, regardless of their budget.  

Take the US, for example. For several years online poker was limited across the country. But with the expansion of the Pennsylvania poker map and the legalisation of the discipline in Michigan, more and more US gamers now have the opportunity to start learning how to play the game.  

Finally, it’s no secret that making it as an elite esports gamer is a lucrative career path. The same is true of the world’s top poker players. While it’s no easy task to top the leader board at either The International or the WSOP, nevertheless the opportunities to compete for eye-watering prizes are distinct realities.  

The esports pros who’ve made the move to poker 

Interestingly, there are quite a few esports players who’ve switched careers and transitioned to playing poker for a career. World of Warcraft III alone has nurtured a total of seven pro gamers who’ve moved to the poker table to date.  

Meanwhile, StarCraft tops the list for the game that was once played by the most amount of emerging poker pros, with a total of 12 former players making the switch.  

These are the three most renowned esports pros who’ve made waves in the poker world.  

Doug Polk

A keen strategist, Doug Polk has been playing mind sports since his youth and has even turned his talents to establishing a pro team in CSGO. A competitor in the World Cyber Games and a pro gamer in Warcraft 3 (using the handle T-Rider), Polk was a big success on the felt and was even considered one of the greatest No-Limit Hold’em players in 2013.  

Randy “Nanonoko” Lew

One of the OG esports gamers, Lew had his start playing fighting games including Tekken and Street Fighter. Having worked his way through the esports boom, Lew naturally transitioned to digital and real-life poker, where he became known as Nanonoko. Not only has Lew carved out one of the most impressive pro gaming careers, but he also set a record for the most online poker hands played in a day.  

Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier

As one of the best StarCraft players in the world, Grospellier learned his trade in the super-competitive Korean esports scene (the game is considered to be the country’s national sport). He’s also a major exponent of online poker, having been involved in Twitch streaming since the early days and being the first-ever person to reach Supernova Elite status on the PokerStars platform.  


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