Can chess be the next esport?
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May 22, 2020

Can chess be the next esport?

Many streamers like Joedat “Voyboy” Esfahani have taken to playing chess on Twitch, with other notable gaming personalities following suit. Although it has never been an explosive spectator sport, that may be subject to change. Chess is estimated to be one of the most popular games in the world, with chess.com reaching 600 million players. Despite the popularity and name recognition, it’s more of a household game than a widely celebrated phenomenon. However, personalities like Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura gives hope for its online future as an esports.

The 2019 FIDE Chess World Cup had an average of 14 thousand views and hit about 43 thousand peak concurrent viewers. To compare, the 2019 League of Legends World Championship had an average of 1 million views, hitting a peak concurrent viewership of nearly 4 million. While it’s nowhere near that of League of Legends, the king of esports, it’s certainly a large number that will grow.

Similarities from Chess and Esports

Chess draws similarities to other popular turn-based strategy games currently on the market. Magic: The Gathering, a classic physical card game, recently went digital with their release of MTG: Arena. Developer Wizards of the Coast recognized the potential of tapping into digital content and the customer base that follows it. The FIDE, also known as the Fédération Internationale des Échecs, is the organization that acts as the governing body for international competition. In recent years, the FIDE has been expanding its corporate sponsorships. Should the FIDE choose to explore the digital market, chess could spike in mainstream popularity.

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura has also been taking the spread of mainstream chess into his own hands. His Twitch channel recently hit 226 thousand followers, cementing him as the most followed chess channel on the platform. Hikaru has seamlessly integrated himself with internet culture, setting up show matches with well-known personalities like Félix “xQc” Lengyel and Byron “Reckful” Bernstein. His youtube channel is seeing similar numbers at 158 thousand subscribers.

Chess Between Games

It has also become a trend in the high-elo League of Legends community to play chess in the downtime between ranked matches, with Hikaru sometimes taking part. Wait times have grown increasingly long, so fitting a game or two of speed chess is no issue. It is now a good option for providing competitive esports content to otherwise stagnating streams.

Chess is a historical game with name recognition on par with soccer. Most people have at least basic knowledge of the game’s mechanics and rules. Despite all that, this game is not commanding its expected online popularity. Right now, the FIDE has a unique opportunity with chess becoming an esports. If they can capitalize on its online relevance, chess has the potential to become the next esports title.

Written by Devon Huge

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