Nakamura Signs With TSM: Online Chess Is Esports
Nakamura welcomed by TSM. Image courtesy TSM.

Nakamura Signs With TSM: Online Chess Is Esports

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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63 | Chess Event Coverage

TSM, a professional esports organization that fields players in esports such as League of Legends, Hearthstone, and Fortnite, has signed GM Hikaru Nakamura. The deal makes Nakamura the first professional chess player to have signed with an esports organization.

The news was announced on TSM and Nakamura's social media channels on Thursday. Nakamura recently participated in a video shoot that resulted in the following promo video:

Nakamura's sponsorship deal with TSM is a new milestone for chess. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our sport shifted towards online play, and platforms such as Chess.com saw a big influx of new members. Meanwhile, chess streaming grew just as fast, catalyzed by events like Pogchamps where popular esports streamers join the world of chess.

Meanwhile, the question remained: Is online chess itself an esport? TSM has now answered this with a firm "yes", which means the centuries-old board game is now being embraced by the billion-dollar esports industry.

Number-one esports consultant Rod Breslau agrees chess is an esport now.

"Signing with TSM, which is one of the biggest esports organizations in North America, shows the tremendous growth of the game of chess and the resurgence of its popularity," Nakamura told Chess.com. "For me personally, it also shows that the current chess boom is here to stay and that there will be many opportunities to promote the game going forward."

"Chess has remained popular on Twitch, and when we looked into it further, Hikaru is the reason why. Hikaru is able to engage with the Twitch community in an authentic way, and his mission of expanding chess's audience really resonates with TSM," Leena Xu, TSM's President of esports, told Chess.com.

"He is a great competitor, and his growth on Twitch is very similar to how TSM first started. Early on we really grew our following by creating content around teaching fans about the games that we love. And when it comes to chess as an esport, we're starting to see a lot of chess tournaments moving online (due to COVID). I think this move will help the community grow, especially with a younger audience. All around, this signing is a win-win situation for everyone."

Chess has remained popular on Twitch (...) Hikaru is the reason why.
— Leena Xu, TSM President of esports

Technically speaking, Nakamura is not the first chess player to sign up with an esport organization. WGM Qiyu Zhou (akaNemsko) just beat him to it, reaching an agreement with Counterlogic Gaming only a week ago.

"More signings of chess streamers are expected to come," said Chess.com's Director of Business Development, Nick Barton. "I can't talk about them yet but they are major teams."

Interestingly, shortly after the deal between TSM and Nakamura was announced, two different esports organizations contacted World Champion Magnus Carlsen on Twitter: Cloud9 and FNATIC.

TSM is one of the biggest brands in the world of esports, which is expected to grow to $1.1 billion in 2020, a year-on-year growth of +15.7 percent up from $950.6 million in 2019 according to Newzoo's market report.

Financial details about Nakamura's deal with TSM haven't been revealed but both sides are expected to profit in different ways. While the American grandmaster is likely to receive a grant, he could for instance be providing specialized content for TSM that gives possibilities for advertisement revenue splits and other opportunities.

Generally speaking, the Nakamura/TSM deal should lead to online chess growing even further. More esports fans are likely to show an interest in chess, and vice versa.

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