Chess row opens up as competitive gamers call for board game to be distanced from esports

Currently esports do not have a governing body or overarching regulatory meaning little can be done to prevent chess from marketing itself as an esport.

Online versions of the board game have benefited from a surge of interest during lockdown with thousands of viewers tuning in to matches being played out on streaming platform Twitch.

Nakamura, one of the star names using the platform, has almost 500,000 followers. However, Twitch does not classify chess as an esport, instead placing it in the same category as board and card games.  

But chess officials say a growing attraction to esport audiences can help attract younger players to take up the board game.

David Llada from The Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE)- the international governing body of chess organisations – claimed chess should be viewed as the “father of all esports”.

“Chess is a sport, officially recognized as such by the IOC. It requires skill, technique, reflexes. All this is still there when you play it online. If you consider FIFA and Formula 1 Virtual an e-sport, definitely the same applies to chess,” he said.

Mr Llada added: “Chess has actually been always in the frontline of innovation and closely connected to every breakthrough technology.”

“Every major advance in computer science has been somehow connected to chess: from the first supercomputers to personal PCs, smartphones, artificial intelligence.

“You can be sure that as soon as we have a quantum computer, one of the first tasks that it will be given would be to “solve” the game of chess.”

Sebastian Kuhnert, CEO of chess24.com, said the huge financial rewards on offer to chess players meant the game was now able to compete with top online games.

He added: “Millions of people play every day on chess platforms like chess24 and since Covid-19 elite tournaments like the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour have sprung up online and been hugely successful.

“We have our stars and we have huge prize money at stake, so this is a great opportunity for online chess to enter the world of esports and compete for the attention of children and adults with the other big online games.

“The difference with online chess, of course, is that it comes from traditional over the board chess which has a long and established history and culture all of its own.

“The game itself is 1,500 years old and we have recorded games going back centuries and a World Championship that started in 1886. Now that provenance is establishing itself online too.”  

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