With more than $2 million in live earnings, multiple World Series Of Poker final tables, online poker titles, and a bustling broadcasting career, Maria Ho has been very busy throughout her time in the poker spotlight.
But now, having agreed to a new partnership with Amazon that will see her present the online retail giant’s Mobile Masters eSports events, she’ll be branching out in front of a whole new audience.
“When I was contacted by Amazon with this opportunity for their mobile eSports brand and the events they had planned throughout the year, it seemed like a no-brainer,” Ho says. “Obviously they’re an amazing brand to be a part of, but it also ties in with everything that I’ve done in the past 10 years in poker.”
Ho’s hosting duties with Amazon put her front and center during a series of invitational tournaments comprised of top players and streamers competing across Com2uS’ Summoners War, Blizzard’s Hearthstone and Super Evil Megacorp’s Vainglory. Players battle for a share of the $65K prize pool, with $25K going to the winner of the Summoners War and Vainglory events, and $15K set aside for the Hearthstone champ.
“I know what it’s like to compete on these big stages, and now eSports have become this big stage, and there’s a lot of money they’re playing for. So I like taking some of the similarities between my experience with poker, to start bridging the gap for people in the eSports world.”
Ho acts as on-screen host, interviewing players before and after matches. The first event in New Jersey (June 23-24) was a big success, and the next event takes place in Los Angeles in August.
“It was great,” she says. “I’m a bit of a recreational gamer; growing up I was always into video games. Obviously a lot of people watching are hardcore gamers, but there are also plenty of people watching who might not know the games too well, but they can understand the competition aspect of it, and I think that’s what I’m there for.
“Amazon has just given me a really good opportunity to be a part of that and the eSports world is definitely something that I’d like to get more into.”
Ho has already had plenty of experience in front of the cameras, having done strategic commentary and hosting duties for shows like Heartland Poker Tour and PokerGo’s Super High Roller Bowl. But when it comes to time away from the poker tables, Ho thinks it’ll be learning the eSports games that will prove to be her biggest poker distraction.
“That’s the funny thing; it’s not going to be hard balancing hosting with poker, but more that I want to become more knowledgable and immerse myself in the eSports world, and I think that will mean more time away from poker. But I’m actually looking forward to doing that because I’m really interested in these games. I’ll never be as good as the people that started playing these games with similar hours to those I put into poker, but I want to get more of a feel for what it’s like for these gamers so I can relate and connect to them more.”
Ho is currently in Las Vegas grinding the WSOP. She has six cashes to her name so far, including a deep run in the Marathon event. But for a player like Ho, who can play all the games and thus has fired in a large number of events, that still equates to being down on the summer.
“Unfortunately a lot of my favorite events have already passed,” she says. “Like, the $10K Dealer’s Choiceis definitely one of my favorite events outside of the Main Event. I haven’t been able to much [of the mixed-games] this year because I keep getting deep in the No Limit Hold’em events.”
The biggest No Limit Hold’em event of them all is of course the Main Event, and it’s an event that Ho has proved rather astute in. After finishing 38th back in 2007 for $237K, she has since placed 322nd (2012), 77th (2014), and 242nd (2016). What is it about this event that suits her game so well?
“I think it’s a combination of being more comfortable playing a deeper slower structure, and also knowing how to navigate big fields,” she says. “Obviously, there’s a high number of recreational players in events like the Main and the Marathon, because they really want to get their value. And I think I have a very good strategy against recreational players who aren’t very comfortable playing with a deep stack structure.”
And finally, with so much going on, will Ho have time for some online poker throughout the rest of 2017?
“I don’t play online as much as I used to,” she says. “I relocated to Vancouver back after Black Friday, but I recently moved back to LA, so that’s my home-base now. I will travel to Vancouver or to Mexico for an online poker series though.
“When the WSOP is over I have a pretty full schedule. After the LA Mobile Masters event I’ll be at Winstar, which is a casino I’m a spokesperson for, and they have a great tournament series every September called The River. From there I have a new poker show which I’ll be doing strategic commentary for, but that hasn’t been announced yet. So I’ll be filming those, and then with my partnership with Amazon we’ll actually be filming some of the eSports competitions for a TV show.
“So the rest of my year is more heavily leant on the broadcasting side of things, but that’s also why I’m really enjoying my time here in Vegas because this is probably going to be the only time I have where I can just focus on poker.”