For a game that’s about 1,500 years old, and has survived crusades and world wars, chess is doing quite well for itself these days.
Take one look at Twitch and you’ll see Chess right next to esports like Dota 2, Tekken 7, CS:GO, and Valorant.
It’s easy to attribute the game’s newfound popularity to The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix’s hit series about 1950’s chess prodigy, Beth Harmon, but that’s only partially true.
What else has contributed to the resurgence of chess in the past year?
Like most sports, the world of chess was also affected by the pandemic, and with the cancellation of live events, chess players took to playing online.
Online chess sites, such as Chess.com and lichess, saw a surge in members as the global lockdowns began in early 2020. Other than chess tournaments migrating online, well-known players also began streaming their matches – one of these being GM Hikaru.
GM Hikaru Nakamura is a chess prodigy, who became the youngest American to earn the title of Grandmaster at the age of 15. When Chess.com partnered with Twitch in 2017, GM Hikaru was one of their first streamers.
Since then, he has fully embraced this new way of playing chess and bringing it to a new audience, cultivating his streams and partnering with other popular streamers – most notably, former Overwatch pro player, Felix “xQc” Lengyel. He was even signed by Team SoloMid last year as its first chess pro.
The crossover no one expected began when GM Hikaru noticed xQc streaming chess. Hikaru then offered to become his chess coach: the Mr. Miyagi to his Daniel-san if you will.
The two have streamed their progress through the game, and in doing so, brought xQc’s legions of followers (currently at more than 7 million) to chess as well.
Unfortunately, xQc’s chess career has gotten off to a rocky start, and GM Hikaru had to endure watching his star pupil get checkmated in just six moves by YouTuber, Charles “moistcr1tikal” White Jr.
Other streamers then followed the chess trail, and GM Hikaru has started mentoring more esports athletes, including FaZe Clan’s Nate Hill, and LoL streamer Boxbox.
What’s next for chess?
Amateur tournaments have started popping up online for streamers to join, such as Twitch’s Pogchamps chess tournament, alongside professional games.
The link between esports and chess looks like it’s gaining momentum too, with Team Envy recently signing their own chess pros by picking up modern-day Beth Harmons, Alexandra and Andrea Botez.