Chess is a true internet sport. People have been playing online for decades. In the last five years the possibilities in online chess training and entertainment have become endless. Whereas in the past airing a live broadcast required expensive technology, the gamer video platform Twitch has made it accessible for everyone to bring a broadcast even from their bedroom.
During the lockdown viewing hours of chess on Twitch have spiked. The chart ends in April on about the former record level reached during the world championship in 2018. In May the viewership numbers have unprecedented levels and are significantly higher.
When the Candidates Tournament was canceled halfway through and I entered the new reality, I realized that my whole life depended on open borders, non-stop traveling and working at over-the-board tournaments. I was forced to stay at home without any assignments or social life. Then I realized that Twitch also had something for me.
A lot of chess is happening on Twitch these days: Tournaments are broadcast, we see new streamers every day, and the audience is growing rapidly. But Twitch is not very accessible to new viewers. There is nothing like a TV guide that tells you what chess is going on and where to watch amazing chess content. The major chess websites are connected to a playing server and they tend to cover mainly their own events. You may see someone tweet that Magnus is winning ten times in a row at bullet against Firouzja on Lichess, Or you find a post on Reddit that Grischuk is streaming Titled Tuesday.
That gave me an idea. During my second week in lockdown, I started to create a website about online chess events and the Twitch chess community. It took me roughly ten days to build POGchess.com. It combines an up-to-date calendar of upcoming events with the best current video clips and an overview of active chess streamers.
You may wonder what POG means. POG is an emote (that is how emoticons are called on Twitch) that expresses a mix of excitement and surprise. I associate this emotion with the restrained attitude of many chess players when they play over the board. As a chess photographer I was constantly looking for that emotion. But during the recent Magnus Carlsen Invitational or the Online Nations Cup players didn't hold back as when they sit opposite to an opponent or in a crowded tournament hall. We saw fist pumps, or players swearing to themselves and shaking their heads.
Twitch also offers inspiring stories for those who are starting out in chess. For example there is GoldDustTori who started to stream chess while she barely knew the rules, and she has since progressed to 1500 rating level. Or there are the chess lessons that Hikaru Nakamura has been giving to the hugely popular Twitch personality xQc that were streamed by both of them.
POGchess has started out as a fun project. I really enjoyed the creative freedom while creating the website. Now that it is there I have to find unique content and promote it to build up a viewership. I hope to find other Twitch enthusiasts who would like to write reports, hint me to the best Twitch clips (short fragments from the live shows) or help me find the most exciting games of a week. I hope that POGchess makes it easier for me and for other chess fans to enjoy the endless possibilities of Twitch.
Webinar “Streaming Chess: What you need to know“ with Fiona Steil-Antoni on 28 May (Thu), 14.00–15.30 CEST, €10