Amateur Chess as an Online Spectator Sport (2020)

Fully online
The sweet spot
Dip a toe in
Hardly any tech
Big Tech galore
You had to be there

In 2020, as the sports industry came to a standstill, so would the world of chess. Offline, over-the-board tournaments were cancelled or paused halfway through. But chess, as a 1500 year old game, is nothing if not adaptable, and moved online swiftly. Where online chess streams had maybe a thousand viewers at most before the pandemic, that number multiplied tenfold as people were urged to stay home. Platforms like Twitch and YouTube hosted everyone, from amateurs to Grand Masters, as they played the game.

“Twitch is a platform that has made chess appealing and accessible to persons who might be fans but who don’t know where to go and watch and cheer.”

Coleen Cusack, US Chess Federation-rated player competing in the 90s

Since chess, compared to other streamed video games, is relatively slow, the players are able to narrate their thoughts and choices as they move across the digital board. This fosters a sense of community in the audience, understanding the player’s moves, and allows them to learn from their choices. In preparation for PogChamps 2020 – an online chess tournament featuring top streamers as competitors – chess Grand Master Hikaru Nakamura coached the players and streamed their sessions live, allowing all viewers to learn from his advice. 

In June 2023, the Olympics hosted the first Esport Series, which included chess tournaments. 

“It’s quite amazing. If you look at how chess was looking online prior to the pandemic, nobody really treated online high level tournaments seriously. Nobody was considering organising high level tournaments online. This is an awesome initiative. I don’t know how it’s going to expand, but it’s a great initiative.”

Arturs Neiksans, competing in the Olympic Esport Series