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Carlsen vs Karjakin Broadcast To Incorporate Virtual Reality

Carlsen vs Karjakin Broadcast To Incorporate Virtual Reality

Chess fandom will undergo a renaissance beginning with November's World Championship Match according to Agon Limited Director Ilya Merenzon. At a press conference today at the Chess Olympiad in Baku, he announced a new corporate sponsor and different viewing packages for the online viewer.

The largest innovation? Virtual reality and 360-degree viewing will be available, but the match will use a "freemium" model. Power features like these will come with a fee.

"We're actual reinventing the game," Merenzon said. "We're happy to be bringing it to the U.S. In that country, people are used to pay-per-view." He mentioned sports like boxing, golf, and horse racing which use this model.

"The world chess championship in New York will be the first in any sport to be broadcast in 360-degree virtual reality."

The match is scheduled to take place November 11-30, 2016 in South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan.

(Left to right) FIDE CEO Geoffrey Borg, EG Capital Advisors representative Michael Stanton, and Agon Limited Director Ilya Merenzon.

The cost will be $15 for the entire 12-game match. This works out to $1.25 per game, but Merenzon told Chess.com that fans will not be able to pay to view a single game.

The fee enables a viewer to watch in virtual reality or watch a 360-degree landscape of the action, with the ability to control camera angles, even from a smart phone. Multiple languages will be offered, as well as a dashboard with live chat and the functionality to only read "expert" comments.

"It's going to change the way that all future chess events will be broadcast," he said. "I don't think anyone will be able to go back ... Magnus Carlsen has supported this approach."

Fans can get more for a larger fee. For $45, you get all the premium features for the 2016 world championship, and for the entire ensuing cycle, including Grand Prix events, the world blitz and rapid championship in 2017, and the next world championship match in 2018. Bump up to $99 and you'll receive a gift box with memorabilia including a (cardboard) virtual reality "headset."

All of this is available for purchase now at the official web site.

The dashboard that will be available to premium users. | image courtesy official match site.

Merenzon supported this monetization by citing statistics regarding the number of paid users to the top five chess sites and the number of casual users. 

You may also choose the free version which merely relays the moves. Merenzon confirmed that the moves will be relayed real-time without any delay.

He said that they are choosing to work with "strategic partners" and specifically mentioned Chess.com as a key player. Chess.com does not have any official agreement with Agon Limited at this time.

Merenzon said this partnership will include the ability for sites like Chess.com to embed a widget for "people can stay in the ecosystem they are used to."

He also mentioned working with national organizations, like the U.S. Chess Federation. A source within the U.S. Chess Federation confirmed to Chess.com that there is no established arrangement there either.

The multi-function board will allow you to share moves that you guess to social networks. | image courtesy official match site.

The press conference opened with the announcement of EG Capital Group as a corporate sponsor. Previously, PhosAgro came aboard. Merenzon said that they are still a sponsor too.

Michael Stanton of GE Capital Advisors said his firm is a wealth-management company that works with more than $3 billion in assets.

"We think chess might be the most popular downloaded game," he said, noting also the parallel importance of "managing risk" in his industry and in the game of chess.

Stanton also noted the coincidence that the "last time the world championship was in New York was in 1990," the same year that GMs Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin were born. He apparently didn't know about or disqualified PCA combatants GMs Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand who competed atop the World Trade Center in 1995.

Agon Limited's sample of what the viewer will see at home.

Although the focus today was on revamping the online experience, Merenzon also added a few details for those that wish to travel to the championship in person. Tickets will be $50 per day, and there will also be a "VIP" experience, for which he said, "demand is far better than we expected."

Players will play in a glass "fish bowl," and fans will not be seated in theater-style rows. Instead the viewing area will resemble a lounge. Spectators can chat, drink coffee, and mingle, and apparently, even use their phones.

"We're a Pokemon Go-friendly championship," Merenzon said.

Still, it's clear that the lion's share of the financial plan is based on selling online packages.

"It's pretty amazing," Merenzon said. "You don't need to go to New York to be at the championship with the players. You can be in the mind of the grandmaster."

When asked, Merenzon confirmed that both Carlsen and Karjakin will receive a portion of the revenue if this venture is successful. However, no amounts or guarantees are in their contracts. Currently, their prize fund is near the FIDE-minimum of $1 million Euros.

FIDE CEO Geoffrey Borg said that both players have already signed their contract for the match.

"Players are happy with the conditions," Borg said.

Merenzon said he was reluctant to make promises with the players for this initial venture.

"We have no idea how big it will be," he said. "I think it's quite fair that players are getting the prize fund dependent on how much money the match makes. It gives them an incentive to promote the match and to promote themselves."

Merenzon also told Chess.com that court cases involving three web sites are still ongoing. Agon Limited is seeking damages in the amount of $300,000 from each site for relaying moves from this year's Candidates' Tournament, violating what Agon Limited says is a legal prohibition.

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