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Chess: Will the mega-trend on Twitch become the next big eSports?


The biggest Netflix show of 2020 was called The Queen’s Gambit: Chess the Extreme. With a protagonist who idolizes the sport so that her demons are defeated, is addicted to alcohol and has sex parties. Chess the way you don’t know chess. And it is precisely this entertainment factor that is making chess a mega-trend on Twitch with 41 million hours watched. A good reason to invest millions in new stars like Alexandra and Andrea Botez for the first eSports organizations.

The sun is beating down in Austin, Texas. A room in a villa is darkened, because nothing should disturb concentration when armies are facing each other. Peasants are sacrificed, riders put into position – oh no, the lady is in danger. The hand goes to the clock – Tik-Tak, Tik-Tak. Click. A valiant knight sacrifices himself for his queen, the oar turns, the troops push over the flank and the enemy right in the back. Checkmate.

Chess is the trend hit of 2020 on Twitch. In the months between March and December alone, Twitch enthusiasts watched 41 million hours of chess. Yes, that’s right, the most intellectually demanding sport in the world is currently preparing to attack Fortnite and Call of Duty Warzone. This is due, among other things, to The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix’s gigantic hit show about a fanatical chess player, which conquered the world of streaming in 2020. But also because stars form who play unusually – Hikaru Nakamura has the mechanics of this game anchored so well in his head that he is able to chat with his 500,000 fans on Twitch while beating his opponents without big to look at the monitor. He also likes to play blindfolded against his fans just by feeling. Chess, in earlier times the sport of the nobility and the aristocracy, has always been a good way to expose one’s counterpart. Historians today believe that the game was invented in northern India – as a strategy training course for growing kings who should learn early on how to lead an army.

“The wide, straight movements of the tower represent the horse-drawn chariot from which archers showered their opponents with arrows. The maneuverability and the possible surprise effect of the cavalry is captured by the peculiar move of the knight. The bishop, whose move style has changed in today’s chess, stands for the power of fighting elephants, ”explains the Munich Chess Academy on its official website. And chess is still big business today: Nakamura won $ 280,000 in online tournaments in 2020 alone. Large eSports organizations are just starting to invest substantially in chess: Envy Gaming has signed Andrea and Alexandra Botez, two of the best chess players in the world. Alexandra holds the master’s title in FIDE, the Fédération Internationale des Échecs, the International Chess Federation. And Andrea won her first world championship medal for the Canadian team at the age of 15 – today, at 25, she teaches Game of Thrones star Hafthor “The Mountain” Bjornsson how to play strategically fast. Because on Twitch, Blitz-Chess is mainly played, a faster variant of classic chess in which duels can sometimes last five hours. In Blitz Chess, everyone has only a few minutes to react, time is running against us – only 20 seconds left, the move has to be made. This leads to a greater willingness to take risks. And risk is entertainment

In general, this is probably one of the reasons for the rise of the Botez sisters on Twitch, who have grown from 70,000 subscribers in March 2020 to 500,000 in just three months: They not only play damn good chess, but also explain the magic behind it strategically most challenging board game on earth. And have a lot of fun doing it.

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The Botez Gambit: Chess was the trend in 2020: 41 million hours watched on Twitch. Now Team Envy has signed the first stars - Alexandra and Andrea Botez.

Enlarge

The Botez Gambit: Chess was the trend in 2020: 41 million hours watched on Twitch. Now Team Envy has signed the first stars – Alexandra and Andrea Botez.

© Team Envy

Garry Kasparov is a likeable guy who now teaches how to play chess at MasterClass. But not the type for Twitch. Andrea and Alexandra Botez, who play chess in a completely new way – for the fun of joy, with loud music in the background, are completely different. The two dance while they play. They make chess cool & trendy, belong to the new generation that brings the sport out of the cold of its tournaments. Celebration mood instead of Queen’s Gambit, one could say, because the Netflix series treats chess in an almost ghostly way. Beth Hammon’s brain thinks in chess pieces, even at night she sees shadows as pieces that she moves with her fingers. It’s a show, always walking the fine line between genius and madness. The Botez sisters, on the other hand, look like they could walk the catwalk at Heidi Klum’s American Idol, the US version of Germany’s Next Top Model. Or act as actresses in the next Netflix season. The Queen’s Gambit has brought chess into the mainstream, and viewers on Twitch and Youtube are exploding accordingly. A trend that eSports organizations have recognized – TSM has just bought Hikaru Nakamura, probably the best blitz chess player in the world, for a high six-figure annual salary and Team Envy has signed these two ladies. And also stages them in their marketing trailers like Beth Hammon: 60ies style, the same atmosphere, similar outfits and hairstyles. The same camera angles, the same cuts. Shooting star Anya Taylor-Joy has triggered a mega-hype and Netflix has already booked the second season after 62 million people watched the first season in just 28 days.

One of the biggest openings Netflix has ever celebrated. The show shows how huge chess is outside of the US, for example in India, UK, Germany, Argentina, Israel and South America. After all, the whole world is stuck at home right now looking for well-written shows. The Queen’s Gambit always does the opposite of what we expect – chess is considered elitist, never before has anyone associated it with a main character who lives so obsessively – alcohol, drugs, sex orgies: it’s like Emily transferred to Paris to Moscow into the world of chess. And that’s what defines Alexandra and Andrea: They understand how to put on a show on Twitch. They don’t just play chess, they organize real chess parties – good vibes only. “We started the channel together and are still working together because we need this energy that we radiate from each other,” explains Alexandra Botez in the first video for Team Envy. Another advantage: One can concentrate on the game, the other talk about music or films, for example. It’s a good mix – sometimes they train as hard as Grand Master Magnus Carlsen. Sometimes they talk about their love life and look at each other’s Tinder feed or invite other Youtubers to play chess.

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The two are born entertainers, but were surprised by their success: “We have been streaming chess for a long time, suddenly it was a mega-trend, we were one of the biggest channels and so the whole thing exploded overnight,” they recall. The fact that both of them are highly educated doesn’t have to be mentioned because of the hobby, Alexandra was the youngest president of the chess team at the elite Stanford University. She worked with her sister on a social media startup and stepped on Instagram – since 2019 they have been tinkering with their career, which with so many people took time to get going. When the pandemic began in spring 2020 and the first lockdowns came, the two of them had around 70,000 fans after two years of streaming. Then three months later, 500,000. Her growth was mainly accelerated by the fact that Pokimane showed herself to be a big chess fan in her show – the likeable Canadian with Moroccan roots is considered one of the biggest social media stars because she has 6.42 million fans not only on YouTube , but also entertains five million people on Twitch. The three became friends, so they grow together and do a lot of shows together.

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And what about the eSports question? Will chess be the next great esports?

TSM's Hikaru Nakamura won $ 280,000 in online tournaments in 2020. You could also say: chess is already eSports, we just haven't realized it yet.

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TSM’s Hikaru Nakamura won $ 280,000 in online tournaments in 2020. You could also say: chess is already eSports, we just haven’t realized it yet.

© TSM

“We see Team Envy not just as a gaming organization, but really as a media and entertainment company that plays in the same attention economy as Netflix, TV and sports,” said Andrew Peterman, Envy’s Chief Content Officer, in an interview with colleagues at Dexerto, “Chess has increasingly moved from offline to online so it was easy to see what role it could play in the future. The tension, excitement, devotion, passion of all these competitions, interactions and games are truly amazing – It all feels very much like eSports and I think it suits us very well. But first and foremost we signed Andrea and Alexandra because we like their style incredibly well. “In fact, the two would certainly be purely from the skill level as eSports athletes, but then would have to invest a lot more time in secret training and could probably be a smaller financial asset for the team, because big money is now utage earned with content, merchandise and licensing – there is already a chess bot for sale, for example, which was developed based on the skills of Alexandra from the world’s leading platform chess.com.

And Hikaru Nakamura has won $ 280,000 in online tournaments in 2020 wearing the TSM jersey. Seems like chess was an electronic sport and therefore eSports long before we even noticed it.

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