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So I am playing in the Unibet UK Poker Tour in Brighton a few months back.
It’s Day 1A and I am playing well, building up a head of steam. I move tables and find myself to the direct right of Unibet Poker Ambassador Espen Uhlen Jørstad.
I had never met him. I knew he didn’t know who I was. But I knew him from the press release announcing his partnership with the Swedish online poker room.
He instantly made me feel at ease at the table. He talked to me about life and asked me plenty of questions. It wasn’t long before I lost concentration altogether and started playing like a total muppet because I was more interested in Espen than the game.
And then I wondered: Was he just being polite or was it a strategic ploy to learn if I knew what I was doing? I asked him, and this is what he had to say.
Espen Uhlen Jørstad: “It wasn’t strategic (laughs). I apologize if I put you off your game. I also miss out on information because I talk a lot, so it works both ways.
“It’s the same with giving away information. I might be receiving information from you, but I am also giving you information by being honest and authentic about my role with Unibet, for example.”
LD: You were very welcoming. How much of that is part of being an ambassador for Unibet?
EUJ: Not at all! I was like that before I got the role. I have always been very communicative at a poker table.
LD: Why aren’t more people talking to gain an edge?
EUJ: Poker is in decline and if everyone is going to sit there in their headphones, hoodies and glasses then the decline will continue because it makes poker less fun.
I feel many of the pros sit down and grind like it’s their job. I feel like they are missing out on a big part of making their job enjoyable.
LD: I thought you were clean cut, smartly dressed, handsome. Then I read on your blog that you were once a ‘fat slob’ addicted to World of Warcraft. How did that happen?
EUJ: I would play video games as a kid as my way of escaping reality I think. I was 14-years old, fat, unattractive, socially awkward – not the most popular kid in the school yard. At that age being accepted by the cool kids was the only thing that mattered.
I have learned that it’s common for people to find an escape when they are having troubles in life. I am happy, at least, that my escape was 15-hour shifts in the Warcraft universe rather than abusing drugs or alcohol.
You might think I am a confident speaker when you meet me in person today but there is a part of me that is still that fat, anxious, shy kid. I am constantly working on it though!
LD: I found you to be very open and confident at the poker table but less so away from the tables. Why is that?
EUJ: When I was a kid the only time I was confident was at LAN parties because my only real skill in life was video games. When I was there, I felt respected. But outside the LAN parties I wasn’t confident at all.
I guess this is somewhat relatable to poker settings today, although luckily I don’t feel my only asset in life now is my poker capabilities.
LD: How does a ‘fat anxious slob’ who is addicted to Warcraft become the confident Unibet Ambassador I see today?
EUJ: It was a tough process, for sure. A lot changed when I went into the army at 18. It forced me to be around a lot of people and socially interact with strangers.
I also lost a lot of weight (18 kilos), and that gave me some confidence. I also benefited from the structure and discipline you attain in the army.
LD: Why did you go into the army?
EUJ: It was entirely random. I wasn’t doing much at that time. I had dropped out of school; I was playing a lot of Warcraft and just being a slob.
They called me and asked me if I wanted to join. I had a feeling that it would be good for me, so I did.
LD: Who called you?
EUJ: It was some communication guy from the army. They didn’t have enough people in the air force in Northern Norway at the time, so they called to ask if I would be willing to step in.
At first I thought it was very unprofessional the way they called me. It was just like ‘Hey, can you come join the army for a year? You’ll be starting in 10 days.’
I figured it was some troll from the Internet, and my friends were telling me to forget about it, but it turned out to be a real offer. Most people in that troop were 21-22 years old because we were handling some fairly techy computer systems for aerial missiles.
We were six or so 18-year-olds that got called in as step-ins and we naturally got nicknamed ‘the kids.’
LD: Didn’t you worry about … dying?
EUJ: It was one year of service. They weren’t exactly going to send me to Afghanistan. Most likely thing to kill me up there was the biting cold.
LD: What did you do when you came out?
EUJ: I returned to being a slob. I moved to a bigger city in Norway. I started playing more poker but I wasn’t taking it very seriously. I didn’t know what I wanted out of life.
I had no sense of values. I was young, immature, and all I cared about was doing what I wanted. I had no ambition or goals.
I spent a lot of time hitting the gym, attending tanning salons, worrying about my hair, concerned about what I looked like and what people thought of me. I felt I had to be something I wasn’t.
I also still played a lot of video games and I partied a lot. I wasn’t heading in a good direction in life.
LD: Didn’t you also work in a brewery?
EUJ: Yes, it was after Black Friday. I didn’t quit poker. I kept playing – not every month – but occasionally as a side income. I found myself getting tired of playing poker.
I went from a person who read all the books, watched all the strategy videos, all of the World Series and World Poker Tour coverage every year, to someone who bum-hunted heads-up No-Limit to provide myself with extra income. I was tired of the game and didn’t care about it at that point.
I decided to go back to school. I had pressure from family. They didn’t exactly love me playing poker, partying and going nowhere. The last time I went to school my grades sucked, I was skipping classes all of the time.
World of Warcraft is one hell of a drug and I blame Blizzard for my lack of attendance in school.
I was going heavy on that for many years and my education suffered. It wasn’t right for me. I decided to do school right this time. I go hard when I want to do something. I attended all of my classes and my grades went from C’s and D’s to mainly A’s with some B’s.
I realized I enjoyed math, chemistry and microbiology. I decided to stay in school for five more years and I eventually graduated with a Masters degree in brewing science, which is basically food science with a specialization in brewing beer.
I got into beer when I was doing my Bachelors in food science. I found I was not just interested in gulping down the stuff but also the chemistry, microbiology and sensory science behind making it. There are so many things that go into making a great pint of beer.
After finishing my Masters I got a job as a process technician in a Norwegian Brewery. I learned a ton and enjoyed working there, but the idea of working for someone else didn’t appeal to me. I had an urge to create something on my own.
I worked there for a year before handing in my resignation. I booked flight tickets and flew to Budapest with my then girlfriend to start a craft beer brewing business over there. I had a partner in the project and the plan was to play poker on the side to finance the beer project.
Then a few things happened. Poker was going really well and I started enjoying the game again. Then I got offered a deal with Unibet and I couldn’t pass it up. In the end we decided to put the beer project on hold.
I left Budapest and headed to Malta to focus on poker, Twitch and the Unibet ambassadorship. That was February 2017.
LD: I know that your father had his problems with alcohol and died quite young. The last place I thought you would have ended up is in a brewery.
EUJ: Yes, my father was 42 when he passed away. He suffered a lot with drug and alcohol problems, which made it tough to maintain a healthy and ‘normal’ father-son relationship.
He was in prison for much of my childhood so I didn’t spend much time with him in my early years. We didn’t really have a real relationship until my early to late teens I would say.
He was a very bright man and always amazingly kind to me. Unfortunately, though, his addictions got the best of him and his health declined as such.
I thought about my father when I got the brewery job. History dictates that I should distance myself from, or at least be careful of that stuff.
Microbreweries and the whole craft beer culture for me is not about drinking heaps of beer and getting drunk though. It’s about the culture itself, the people, and the experience. Exploring different flavors, aromas and sensations; not buying 12 Heineken and getting pissed.
LD: Does your experience with your father make you think about how you will one day turn out when you become a parent?
EUJ: To be honest I’m not sure that I want to be a parent. I have been thinking about this a lot because I am 29 now and people my age either have a kid, are thinking about it, or they are getting married and growing up.
I just ended a relationship basically because I didn’t want all those things. If I don’t want them now, then perhaps that is not the path for me. It might sound sad and weird for people, but for me it’s not really a thing I am seeking.
LD: It doesn’t seem weird to me. Society turned their back on you when you were a kid, so I guess it makes sense not to want to conform to societal expectations.
EUJ: It seems like you’ve hit the nail on the head. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I didn’t fit in at the beginning and now I don’t want to fit in. Maybe there is a bit of ‘fuck you’ about me.
LD: Going back to the time you left to start your craft beer store in Budapest. You said your poker game improved. Why?
EUJ: I wasn’t doing anything different although I was playing more. I had the same win-rate when I was working as well; only I wasn’t playing a lot.
I started streaming on Twitch after watching video game streams for a long time: Dota 2, Hearthstone and poker streams … I loved watching Tonkaaaap, for example. I thought it looked fun and so I started to stream myself.
In the beginning I was nervous, wondering ‘what if no one liked it, what if no one bothered to tune in?’ But it didn’t take that long to get into a rhythm and people seemed to like it.
I remember seeing the viewer count growing week by week. The first month of streaming I played more poker volume than ever before because streaming was so much fun.
Streaming gave me the motivation to grind again and I had a reason to study because I didn’t want to look like a fool on the stream.
LD: For someone who suffered from social anxiety as a kid, streaming your poker on Twitch seems like an odd choice. Do you sometimes get confused as to who you are?
EUJ: Yes, every day I struggle to find myself. Before I did Twitch I didn’t do any of the social media stuff. Since I began Twitch I’ve begun doing some VLOG work for Unibet.
You can imagine how uncomfortable I will be walking around with a selfie stick. I get uncomfortable having my photo taken. It’s horrible walking around with it but I am going to dive into it headlong. I see it as an opportunity to grow, not a struggle.
I would be super happy if I could be super comfortable and confident in every social situation. That would be nice. It takes a lot of work getting there, especially when you come from a socially awkward background.
But I’m working on a lot of the things I think will lead to that goal.
LD: How much of what we see is Espen Uhlen Jorstad the person, and Espen Uhlen Jorstad the brand?
EUJ: That’s a tough one. My brand is something I will discover as I am going along. Being on Twitch and creating a VLOG … I guess I need to think about it. Right now I am into eating healthily, working out, doing yoga, meditation and all that stuff.
I am confident that the stuff you do away from the tables is going to be so important. Everyone is getting so good at the fundamentals of the game so finding small edges in other areas is paramount if you want to survive.
So if you can do meditation and get into a better mental state at the table, that’s going to be important. So that’s the line of branding I would like to take.
LD: How did the Unibet deal happen?
EUJ: I contacted Unibet myself as I was quitting my brewery job in Norway. I told them I was starting a Twitch stream and was playing 100% of my volume on Unibet.
I told them they could check out the stream and let me know if they would like to work together in the future. I never thought it would happen, but they watched it, liked it, and here we are.
You can catch Espen Uhlen Jorstad playing €2/4 & €4/8 cash games, and the occasional tournament, on his Unibet Twitch stream. Watch his first vlog below: