Chess and eSports?
Chess. E-Sports. What are these two things, really, and why are they mentioned together?
First of all, you may ask, what is chess? Seeing as you're on chess.com, I'll assume you already know. Hopefully.
But what is E-Sports? Is it...sport? According to the definitive guide to the universe (cough, Wikipedia), E-Sports can be termed as the "Form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of the players and teams as well as the output of the eSports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces". Hmm. The subject is a topic of fierce debate in some circles, but in a purely legal sense, eSports athletes can obtain athlete visas to compete in foreign countries. Both chess players and eSports athletes often have clubs, similar to soccer, and compete for large prize pools across many countries and borders. Whatever your opinion, these are both clearly extremely competitive endeavors. In countries like Russia and South Korea respectively, chess players and E-Sports players are household names.
The most popular E-Sport today is League of Legends. League of Legends is known as a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game, allowing players all over the world to connect to each other and wage war using different characters, strategies, and eventually break the opponent's base. Whatever the cost may be, the ultimate goal is to capture the enemy team's base.
Both chess and League of Legends feature extremely intricate strategies, rapid decision-making, and long term deep thinking of current goals and future objectives. Furthermore, they're both remarkably similar in that players can make incredible, jaw-dropping plays that enthrall fans and go down in history. These players elevate the game and bring it to a whole new level.
Charismatic individuals such as the immortal Magician from Riga, Mikhail Tal, and the Unkillable Demon King, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, have both elevated their respective sports and established a new artistic and competitive flair for their fans to enjoy.
Chess. E-Sports. Why mention them together?
Chess has recently been enjoying a surge of public interest in the last few decades. This effect can be traced all the way back to the most historic and dramatic chess match of all time. This, of course, was the 1972 title bout between American Bobby Fischer and Soviet Boris Spassky. This match provoked an enormous chess boom amongst the mysticism of the Iron Curtain and the political undertones the match took. People liked winners, and the media liked winners even more. Fischer was on the cover of news in countries all over the world, and so was chess. In the United States, US Chess Federation membership multiplied almost overnight and suddenly everyone wanted to be cool and play chess.
In modern times, more than 600 million people worldwide play chess. Technology has gone a long way since 1972, and meanwhile chess hasn't stood still. Kasparov fiddled with programs like ChessBase since the 80's, chess computers and Deep Blue smashed onto the scene in the 90's, and today, even zealous chess parents bring along their iPads to follow the latest tournaments and cheer on their tech savvy children. Nonetheless, organizers and promoters, as well as chess players, do complain about viewership and promoting the game. FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has been trying for years to insert the royal game into the Olympics. Viewership of even elite tournaments pale in comparison to the spectacle of the World Championship match. Chess sites are frequently trying out new marketing strategies, AGON is on a quest to find the perfect event format, and speculations abound.
And all the while, chess players are finding new interpretations to apply technology to chess. Notwithstanding the infamous Boris Ivanov, many chess players are finding ways to promote themselves and the game in a positive way thanks to technology. The ChessBrah channel on twitch.tv reflects this phenomenon, allowing viewers to watch in real time as Grandmasters stream their games, thoughts, and occasional humor. Other channels on Twitch also feature instructive content as well as interactive streaming of games, such as chess420.
League of Legends, on the other hand, is a completely different ballpark. On another planet. In another universe. Streamers on twitch.tv regularly accrue tens of thousands of viewers on any given hour. And in the competitive scene, regular season games receive millions of views. Compare this to chess, where the casual chess fan barely hears about the Grand Chess Tour, and if he is on the enthusiastic side, perhaps scrolls through the games in a few minutes. Commentary featuring esteemed grandmasters such as Peter Svidler and Jan Gustaffson are practically scorned, with perhaps only a few hundred views at best.
At this point, the chess enthusiast (you) may feel slightly offended. Sure, I don't pay that much attention to run-of-the-mill tournaments. I just go to TWIC, update my database once in a while, and call it a day. You argue, the World Championship is the real deal! Millions of people around the globe watch and hold in baited breaths. Let's take a closer look.
In the last global contest, between challenger GM Viswnathan Anand and champion GM Magnus Carlsen, a little over 10 million unique visitors went to the official site. Over a million people regularly watched the game, with two million tuning in to the last game of the match. The prize fund for the event was 1 million euros.
In the last global contest for League of Legends, the finals between the teams SK Telecom T1 and the Koo Tigers were watched by 36 million globally. Over the course of the event, over 360 million live hours of eSports action were watched all over the world. Over 334 million unique people tuned in over the course of the competition. The average fan didn't just tune in to listen to two minutes like you would do on the radio: the average viewing time for any given session was well over an hour. And of course, the finals of the event racked up more than 36 million views. To keep this in perspective, the 2016 NBA final game entertained 'only' 19 million people. ESPN has caught onto the hype train and is entertaining prospects of buying television rights from eSports. That's right. Even the television may not be immune for long.
So what does this mean? In just a few years, a company by the name of Riot Games has created a game that has dwarfed chess viewership. It has singlehandedly created a mass media market and features professional players at the highest levels of the game winning lucrative prize money. On the other hand, the upcoming 2016 World Chess Championship between GM Magnus Carlsen and challenger GM Sergey Karjakin is under the disturbing, dark cloud of AGON. Seemingly since its inception, FIDE has been the object of mockery and derision. Chess has an uncertain future. Magnus Carlsen is making headway in Norway, but globally chess still appears to be lagging behind many other sports. Professional infrastructure is not only lacking but nonexistant. Cheating catastrophes are often the main feature of news outlets that discuss chess, if any discussion takes place at all.
Here at chess.com, we surely enjoy this great game. And a game such as League of Legends also deserves its place as entertainment. Because, at the end of the day, no game is for the player. It's not for the player, his friends, or the tournament organizer. At the end of the day, we remember as fans. We remember the great plays of giants: Kasparov, Fischer, Karpov, Capablanca, Korchnoi, and so many countless more. We remember Faker, Doublelift, DanDy, imp, MadLife, Bjergsen, and their associated partners in crime. They live on through the game and this is how we remember them. We take a step back. We enjoy. We laugh. It's fun, isn't it?
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