Team SoloMid Enters Into Chess, Signs Hikaru Nakamura
Chess? In my esports? Apparently so, according to Team SoloMid, as they’ve announced the signing of Hikaru Nakamura, five time United States chess champion, Chess Olympiad gold medal winner, and the youngest American ever to earn the title of Grandmaster.
He’s become one of the most watched Chess streamers in the world and has headlined chess tournaments on Twitch such as Pogchamps 1 and 2. This is part of a larger initiative by Chess.com to reach younger people and get people involved in the game.
For Team SoloMid, this is perhaps one of their most off the wall signings ever. They’ve been involved in many esports titles over the years, including League of Legends, CSGO, and more – but they’ve very rarely ventured into what could also be considered a physical sport that’s played in person. They could very well spark the next gold rush in esports as folks attempt to sign big chess personalities to Twitch.
Team SoloMid Hopes to Ride the Chess Popularity Explosion
Team SoloMid’s strategy, as ever, seems to be to ride whatever the biggest hype train is at the time. Most times, that’s a team game like Valorant and very esports focused. But chess seems to hit some of the most popular elements of Twitch. It’s low-paced, like Hearthstone was, and gives the streamer time to really let his audience get to know him. Chess also takes advantage of something gamers have become familiar with through the Auto-chess, Dota Underlords, and Teamfight Tactics‘s explosion – gridbased strategy.
As the father of those latter three games and having been played for thousands of years, Chess stands as one of the most strategically deep games on the planet. And that’s something that Twitch viewers have come to appreciate.
“Exploding in popularity from his online chess collaborations with streamers like xQc and xChocoBars, Hikaru Nakamura’s following has grown to over 500,000 followers to help propel the game of chess to new streaming heights,” Team SoloMid said in a release. “As a player, commentator, coach, and mentor, Hikaru hopes to help more people become fans of chess, and fall in love with the game he loves so much.”
Chess has had easily its best year ever in 2020. After spending the last three years in relative obscurity, the combination of the rise of auto-chess as well as the tournaments being run by Chess.com on Twitch have helped it retain averages of over 5k on any given day in viewership. During months when Pogchamps is running, the average has shot up to over 10,000 and with plans for even further expansion, that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
When Pogchamps 1 and 2 were announced, the official Chess.com magazine even did a feature on the Twitch streamers leading the chess revolution, which featured folks such as xQc, MoistCr1tikal, and the more traditional streamers like Nakamura.
What’s in an Esport, Really?
When I first heard about this move, my first instinct was to react skeptically. After all, Team SoloMid is one of the most respected brands in esports, and to get into chess kind of seemed like they were diluting their brand and taking the approach of just getting into whatever’s popular.
But upon further reflection, I got to thinking – what defines an esport, really? Is it just the fact that it’s played on a computer for competition? Or is there more to it than that?
Chess, by its very nature and definition, is an insanely deep and strategic game. It needs to be practiced. There’s a metagame. There are great plays and hype moments, even in such a slow paced game. There’s rules to make it more exciting for viewers (Blitz rules, we see you). There’s big personalities, like Nakamura, xQc, and others who all play the game. The only thing separating chess from other esports is that it didn’t start as a piece of software, but then, neither did games like Magic the Gathering, which is increasingly being marketed and played like an esports title.
My skepticism also raises an interesting question – where do we as esports fans get to question whether something is an esport? It just reeks of gatekeeping the same way that sports fans rankle whenever esports titles are brought up as sports. Chess is competitive, it’s got the prize backing now, and there are eyeballs to be had.