The World of Chess Streaming – BusinessToday
Imagine an oddly shaped but familiar square board game on your mobile screen, only this one adorned with not two but four sets of 16 pieces. Each set is carefully arranged on the four sides of the board, according to its color: red, blue, yellow and green. Next to them is a smaller rectangular box divided into four spaces with as many faces looking out from them. There’s another face hanging in a corner outside the rectangle, frantically checking to see if everything is in order.
What you see in progress is a new age game, OTT avatar of one of the world’s oldest and heaviest sports, chess, played by four players for an audience on YouTube. The four faces watching, the players, are Indian Grandmaster (GM) Vidith Gujrathi with red coins; GM Anish Giri of the Netherlands (blue pieces); FIDE Master and prolific North American YouTube chess streamer Alexandra Botez (yellow); and commentator and chess player Antonio Radic from Croatia, better known by his YouTube nickname, Agadmator, with green pieces.
Finally, there’s commentator and host, stand-up comedian Samay Raina, who kicks off the game with some savvy advice for players to make friends on the chessboard, then betray them or perish. At the start of the game, the live stream is filled with the voices of these high-pitched chess players trying to push and cajole each other to tackle other players’ pieces.
It’s not ‘serious’, in the sense that it’s not a professional tournament. But the live broadcast of chess games now attracts attendees ranging from professional GMs and female GMs to comedians, cricketers and even business personalities. The usually 64-square board – sometimes 160 squares in four-player chess – witnesses several games and tournaments broadcast live and live.
The genesis of chess streaming lies in the 2020 FIDE Online Chess Olympiad which was held after the 44th Chess Olympiad was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, says Indian GM Srinath Narayanan. “The streaming started when I saw the interest – 70,000 people watching the final. It was amazing, the passion of the people. How willing they were to help the team in any way they could. end of the Olympiad I started streaming in about a week Narayanan belongs to the growing tribe of Indian professional chess players, enthusiasts and followers who cover professional tournaments, live stream their occasional games and/or or examine and comment on chess games played on the world professional chess circuit.
As more and more chess players have become streamers, the game has benefited immensely. It began to lose its reputation as a boring, incomprehensible puzzler. And audiences are drawn to live streams and recordings because of the lively banter and chatter that usually accompanies any match between the top, highly competitive professional chess players. The thrill of watching them defeat their opponents and explaining how they do it is a heady combination.
Example: As the first pieces move on the board, GM Gujrathi offers an alliance and GM Giri accepts his offer; FIDE Master Botez steps in with the idea that not all GMs can gang up on streamers and the alliance should be broken. Host Raina suggests that Gujrathi is a veteran of the format, and all three should team up first to take him down.
A shocked Gujrathi says in disbelief that he cannot trust the alliance with Giri and makes a move to test his loyalty. In response, a little hurt, Giri lets his bishop be taken by Gujrathi to prove him wrong. Suddenly Agadmator, silent but observant, says it makes sense to go after Gujrathi since he has an extra queen converted from a pawn. As Agadmator tells it, Gujrathi confronts Giri by targeting his bishop. Giri confidently replies that he is only defending his own bishop. As the two grandmasters resolve their little mess, Botez slyly asks Agadmator if he’s interested in working as a team to take on the GMs, as she senses a crack in their alliance.
The combination of store talk and trash talk is almost irresistible. The audience is exposed to all the nuances of calculating, swapping, combining, collaborating, cooperating, making deals, breaking deals and negotiating skills available in the players arsenal, deployed by them to gain the upper hand in the game.
While there is a lot to learn for an astute student of the game, the sheer entertainment factor of the streams combined with the interest and insight of the game itself, has made chess accessible again, says Tania Sachdev, International Masters (IM) and Woman GM. . “There is this serious image attached to chess. But suddenly seeing chess players having fun made it more accessible again. People have rekindled their love for the game and I think streaming has a big part to play in that.
Srinath confirms: “I had never seen so many people interested in chess. There were a lot of people interested in chess, but people who didn’t know how to play chess but still wanted to watch, it was something new to see.
Even though chess is said to have originated somewhere in the Indian subcontinent, the roots of the game are lost in time. But that hasn’t stopped the game from cultivating a loyal fan base in the country. “Now you have people watching people play chess. They love it when you play tournaments; they are connected with you. It definitely became something that everyone enjoyed, but there was that catalyst that was needed to make it a more mainstream thing. Everyone knew chess, but people were almost afraid to play. It can be very intimidating. But now, once you get into it, people are just addicted to the game,” Sachdev puts it.
Although live broadcasting of chess games is in its infancy in India, it presents many opportunities for growth in terms of broadcasting official tournaments, sponsorship deals, coverage and review of professional matches, interaction with viewers, subscribers and the players themselves. Ashish Pherwani, Head of Media and Entertainment for EY India, says Ashish Pherwani: “Unlike broadcast which only allows content with mass appeal, streaming allows content with niche appeal to find a house and being distributed, and chess fits into that. It’s not a mass sport, it’s extremely intellectual but it has a dedicated following. Streaming chess games offers a kind of model lower cost and lower reach, but a very dedicated fan base of people watching.
Along the same lines, Sagar Shah, IM and co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, continues that although he started the company in 2017 with the intention of supporting the growth of the game in India, his business also increased significantly over time. . He adds that when they started there was no fixed income model other than ChessBase software brought an influx through which they could continue and maintain the website.
“Our sources of income are divided between the sale of products and the activities related to the media that we carry out. But from a collection point of view, we are very cautious. Our vision is to develop chess into the most popular sport in the country. The money will follow if we direct our energy towards growing the sport.
But the financial aspect of the game is not what drives the chess playing community and the public into each other’s arms. Rather, it’s the thrill of watching very serious and competitive professional chess players let loose and let off steam while engaging in a friendly joust against their peers.
For example, in the flow described above, the true color of the players’ intentions is revealed when Gujrathi takes Botez’s queen with his queen and Giri takes one of his pawns with his queen. In turn, she takes Gujrathi’s queen with her knight, and Giri and Gujrathi try to persuade Agadmator to go after Botez’s pieces, which will eliminate him from the game. Agadmator says if he does that, he will have to fighting alone with two GMs, which doesn’t seem like such a good idea. The alliance between the GMs comes to an abrupt end as Agadmator refuses to checkmate the King of Gujrathi, giving Gujrathi the opportunity to take the Queen of Giri.
The live stream continues like this for another hour with lots of pushes and parries of pieces forward to attack or backed up to defend, and as the game ends with Giri eliminated first, followed by Botez, all players agree that a rematch is in order as they were unfamiliar with the format. And it begins again.
Meanwhile, to satisfy your chess streaming craving, go watch the 44th Chess Olympiad taking place in Mamallapuram, Chennai. India have fielded 30 players in six teams, and streaming platforms are buzzing with the live stream, news and information from the tournament.