Viewers are flocking to games during the pandemic, entranced by a charismatic grandmaster and his lightning-fast play.
The coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders have crowned a host of unlikely winners catering to bored audiences. But watching livestreams of chess games? Could one of the world’s oldest and most cerebral games really rebrand itself as a lively enough pastime to capture the interest of the masses on Twitch?
Turns out, it already has.
Since the pandemic began, viewership of live chess games has soared. From March through August, people watched 41.2 million hours of chess on Twitch, four times as many hours as in the previous six months, according to the analytics website SullyGnome. In June, an amateur chess tournament called PogChamps was briefly the top-viewed stream on Twitch, with 63,000 people watching at once, SullyGnome said. And popular Twitch gamers like Félix Lengyel (better known to his 3.3 million followers as “xQcOW”) have also recently started streaming chess.
That collision of the chess audience and the general gamer audience has created a “giant chess bonfire,” said Marcus Graham, Twitch’s head of creator development.
Hikaru Nakamura (born December 9, 1987) is an American chess player. A chess prodigy, at age 15 years and 79 days, he became the youngest American to earn the title of Grandmaster. Nakamura is a five-time United States champion, who won the 2011 edition of Tata Steel Chess Tournament Group A and represented the United States at five Chess Olympiads, winning a team gold medal and two team bronze medals.
His peak USCF rating was 2900 in August 2015. In October 2015, he reached his peak FIDE rating of 2816, which ranked him second in the world. In May 2014, when FIDE began publishing official rapid and blitz chess ratings, Nakamura ranked number one in the world on both lists. He was surpassed by Magnus Carlsen in the second publication of the rankings.