\'The Queen\'s Gambit\' And The Pandemic Have Made Chess A Multimillion Dollar Industry, With Esports Teams And Sponsors Rushing To Snap Up The Game\'s Twitch Stars

It was dubbed the most-watched chess tournament of all time.

In February, 7.5 million people tuned in to PogChamps3, a weeklong event livestreamed on YouTube and Twitch, according to figures provided by Chess.com, the event's organizer.

But those directing the pieces were neither grandmasters - the title awarded to elite players - nor child prodigies. They were chess-mad celebrities.

Among them were the rapper Logic, YouTuber MrBeast, actor Rainn Wilson, and some of the world's top Twitch and YouTube stars.

At its peak, 375,100 people were simultaneously watching on Twitch as the Canadian gamer xQc faced down the Spanish YouTuber elrubiusOMG, according to eSports Charts.

Thomas Huber, Hikaru Nakamura are posing for a picture: From left to right: International Master Levy Rozman, Logic, Tubbo, and Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura after Logic and Tubbo's match. Chess.com/Twitter © Chess.com/Twitter From left to right: International Master Levy Rozman, Logic, Tubbo, and Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura after Logic and Tubbo's match. Chess.com/Twitter

Commentating on the drama were chess masters and streamers, many of whom had recently been signed by esports organizations for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A major player in the $1 billion esports industry

Chess is having a moment in the sun as a result of the coronavirus pandemic prompting new hobbies, the Netflix hit "The Queen's Gambit," and the accessible nature of rapid-game formats.

Amid the frenzy, esports organizations are signing chess professionals and Twitch stars to their rosters, betting the game will only continue to grow.

In the last six months, the esports team TSM signed the five-time US chess champion and streamer Hikaru Nakamura, while Counter Logic Gaming signed the grandmaster Qiyu Zhou, better known as akaNemsko. Cloud9 signed the 21-year-old grandmaster Andrew Tang, and Envy signed the streaming duo Alexandra and Andrea Botez.

Premier also signed the streamer Frank Johnson, and Noble signed grandmaster James Canty. The list goes on.

graphical user interface, application: Nakamura streaming on his Twitch channel on March 2, 2021. Twitch/GMHikaru © Twitch/GMHikaru Nakamura streaming on his Twitch channel on March 2, 2021. Twitch/GMHikaru

Big corporate sponsors have also joined the craze.

Nakamura and the international master Levy Rozman, known as GothamChess, this year signed deals with the sport-drink company G-Fuel (international master is the rank below grandmaster). Last week, McDonald's sponsored an hourlong section of Nakamura's stream and in September, Maurice Ashley, the first Black grandmaster, starred in a Hennessey cognac commercial.

The Botez duo recently partnered with Paramount, and Chessbrah, a chess-content channel, partnered with Fireball Whiskey last October.

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Chess has huge potential

Chess is a nascent addition to the esports realm, but one with huge potential, given an estimated 600 million people play, per a 2012 YouGov-Agon poll.

The esports industry is massive, and can offer a lucrative source of income. The industry generated $1 billion in revenue in 2020, with up to $113 million in prizes awarded to athletes, the International Esports Federation said.

Professional chess tournaments, backed by the International Chess Federation, have existed for decades, but esports events are new. The March 2 chess iteration of "Twitch Rivals," where streamers teamed up with chess pros to win $35,000, was one of the first.

"There aren't any dedicated leagues right now for chess, but that's something that would be pretty cool," Tang, the grandmaster signed by Cloud9, told Insider. "I heard there were talks about it, so I'd love to see that."

a young boy looking at the camera: Grandmaster Andrew Tang, of Cloud9, seen during a February 2021 stream. Cloud9/YouTube © Cloud9/YouTube Grandmaster Andrew Tang, of Cloud9, seen during a February 2021 stream. Cloud9/YouTube

Breaking into an inaccessible club

Deals like those secured by Nakamura, Tang, and the Botez duo have been a welcome cash cow for chess professionals.

"They have rapidly grown well into six-figure incomes and in many cases have done very well," Danny Rensch, chief chess officer at Chess.com, told Insider. "It's not only huge validation, it's just awesome."

Top-flight chess has long been an inaccessible club, requiring years of intense study and substantial financial means to travel the world for tournaments.

But streaming has made it easier to make a living from chess. Player ratings have become less important, while individual personalities now carry greater weight. To boot, one in four Americans said they prefer to watch video-game footage than play themselves, according to a 2021 esports survey from Reviews.org.

Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, the highest-ranked chess player of all time, has long been the game's poster boy, but the likes of Nakamura, Rozman, and the Botez duo are the faces of the revival.

"The Botez sisters are going to continue to establish themselves as staples of the entertainment community on Twitch and YouTube," Andrew Peterman, chief content officer at Envy, told Insider.

Alexandra Botez posing for the camera: Andrea and Alexandra Botez. Envy Gaming © Envy Gaming Andrea and Alexandra Botez. Envy Gaming

A multimilliondollar industry

While it's clear that esports teams and corporations see chess as a sound investment, putting a number on the value of the chess industry is near impossible.

"I have no freaking idea," said Rensch, the Chess.com, exec, when asked to hazard a guess at a figure. "It is a massive industry."

Almost all chess companies are not publicly listed and closely guard their market share. Sales of chess sets, books, and lessons sold worldwide are also immeasurable.

In an indication of the money at stake, the Play Magnus Group, the chess-entertainment company founded by Carlsen, raised $30 million after going public last October. It's now valued at $152 million.

a close up of Anya Taylor-Joy, Magnus Carlsen looking at the camera: A composite image of Anya Taylor-Joy in © Netflix/TOLGA AKMEN/AFP A composite image of Anya Taylor-Joy in "The Queen's Gambit" and Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen. Netflix/TOLGA AKMEN/AFP

'A longtime struggle'

While many streamers and sponsors clearly consider chess an esport, some of the game's traditional authorities disagree.

Boban Totovski, general secretary of the International Esports Federation, told Insider that despite the deals and tournaments, the body isn't considering classifying chess as an esport.

"Chess players are not gamers or esports athletes," he said. "Virtual cycling is not being performed by a gamer, but by an cyclist on a virtual platform. Same goes for chess."

Some grandmasters and longtime commentators also slammed the esportification of chess, considering it a trivialization of the 1,500-year old game.

"This is just terrifying," the Russian grandmaster Yan Nepomniachtchi tweeted during PogChamps3, calling it "popcorn stuff ... replacing and displacing any real chess content."

The latest drama emerged over a new joke opening played by Carlsen and Nakamura in an online game, named the "Bongcloud," where a player immediately weakens their king at the game's start.

It prompted Emil Sutovsky, the director general of the International Chess Federation, to tweet a section of its code of conduct: "The players shall take no action that will bring the game of chess into disrepute," he wrote.

Nigel Short, a British grandmaster, also called the Bongcloud "an insult to chess."

-chess24.com (@chess24com) March 15, 2021

But other prominent chess figures have welcomed the spotlight.

"Due to the complexity of our game there is a great need of entertainment and such events serve as a fun entry point to chess for everyone," Levon Aronian, an Armenian grandmaster, tweeted last month.

Tang, the 21-year-old grandmaster, praised PogChamps3 to Insider, noting that some grandmasters still turn up their noses at the newer, faster formats of chess - like bullet, rapid, and blitz - as it is.

"This has been a longtime struggle within the community," he said, "but with the popularity of online chess right now, you can't argue against it."

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/entertainment/gaming/the-queens-gambit-and-the-pandemic-have-made-chess-a-multimillion-dollar-industry-with-esports-teams-and-sponsors-rushing-to-snap-up-the-games-twitch-stars/ar-BB1eILdX

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