Debate

What chess can learn from E-sport

03 Dec 2020

Is chess an E-sport? That is missing the real question. Chess has the same tools and opportunities available – and it should use them to attract players and sponsors, pleads Paul Meyer-Dunker.

E-athletes in action
E-athletes in action (photo: ESBD / Manneck)

E-sport is organised differently than we are used to in chess with its clubs and federations. When it comes to E-sport, you will hardly find a club around the corner. A mass, sportslike structure is only just emerging.

The money aspect is different as well. Good E-athletes earn money even when they compete lower than in the pro division. Instead of clubs there are “organisations”. They pay their players for playing successfully, providing training, and being visible, for instance on Twitch.

There are many different organisations, established ones like TSM that has recently signed Hikaru Nakamura, the most visible chess personality on Twitch, or completely new ones who are trying to establish themselves. The German E-Sport Association has around hundred member organizations, and there are many more that are not yet affiliated there.

E-sport events are spectator events.
E-sport events are spectator events. (photo: ESBD / Manneck)

E-sport organisations generate revenue mainly via sponsorship. Let’s take G2 ESPORTS, one of the largest European organizations: It has a wide range of sponsors that are close to E-sport such as companies that sell gaming gear and monitors, but also companies like BMW, Phillips, and Pringles.

Chess has the same opportunities as E-sport does. Let’s use them! In chess, more people should understand that we can learn and copy a lot from E-sport. Especially when it comes to marketing and how Twitch is used as a platform. Why are so few chess tournaments marketed in a professional way? Why do so few federations have an “official” channel on Twitch? Why do they not attempt to target young people who are into games?

A few months ago I joined the board of the Berlin Chess Federation. We are replacing the canceled Blitz Championship with the Berlin online Blitz Championship. The qualifications and the final tournament will be streamed on Twitch. We brought Steve Berger on board, who is an established chess streamer. We hope that there will soon be a joint Twitch channel of the national and the regional federations in Germany, that can stream such events. If done well, such a channel will generate revenue.

The PRO Chess League is the pioneer e-sport event in chess. Shown is the moment when the Armenian Eagles won the 2018 final in San Francisco.
The PRO Chess League is the pioneer e-sport event in chess. Shown is the moment when the Armenian Eagles won the 2018 final in San Francisco. (photo: Eric Rosen / St. Louis Chess Club)

Chess.com was getting it right long before Covid-19 struck. Their PRO Chess League showed how chess looks and works as an E-sport. A team that has been doing well in the PRO Chess League is the “Germany Bears” with players from Berlin. They have been ignored so far by the federations in Germany. In Berlin at least, I intend to change that. The Pro Chess League is an exciting format, a lot of people watch it, we shouldn’t ignore our team there.

When it comes to acquiring sponsors, E-sport is certainly an example chess should follow. E-sport came out of nowhere and was immediately able to raise significant sponsorship funds at all levels. My Berlin club for example has just received a significant sum from a Berlin housing association. We mainly use it to equip our clubhouse with computers. The housing association acts as a partner of the club. With 150 members we are not even a huge club.

Is online chess an E-sport? I don’t care about such definitions. For sure the two are not mutually exclusive, there shouldn’t be a dividing line.

Why shouldn’t chess clubs and federations be able to do the same? Unlike chess, E-sport relied on raising funds from the get-go. There was hardly any income from membership fees like in chess, no patrons in whose lap one could feel safe. Money had to be found – and it was found. If E-sport can do it, why shouldn’t chess? Every regional football league has more sponsors than any chess organisation, let alone a chess club.

It takes a huge rethink in chess to change this. Some chess players dismiss E-sport as not being a sport, or they think that talking with E-sport could harm chess. The acceptance of E-sport varies from country to country. Take Denmark. They have one of the best Counterstrike teams, playing for the organisation “Astralis”. Even the Danish Prime Minister comes to the GAME House and plays Counterstrike there. I couldn’t imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting a gaming house.

The gap can be overcome. Several German sport clubs have established E-sport sections, even though they may risk losing their non-profit status, since E-sport is not recognised as a sport. By offering E-sport these clubs can attract young members. In E-sport sections of traditional sport clubs we see a lively mix of people who are new to the club because of E-sport and those who have already been with the club and want to try something new. In my opinion, chess clubs are not ideal. E-sport requires a young age structure, which not many chess clubs have.

Paul Meyer-Dunker is Vice President of the Berlin Chess Federation and League of Legends player for the cowana Academy.
Paul Meyer-Dunker is Vice President of the Berlin Chess Federation and League of Legends player for the cowana Academy. (photo: private)

Is online chess an E-sport? I don’t care about such definitions. For sure the two are not mutually exclusive, there shouldn’t be a dividing line. Chess is too present online for that.

As told to Conrad Schormann

Saturday 5 December, 17–18 GMT at ChessTech 2020

Is Chess an Esport? Round Table with Greg Shahade (PRO Chess League), Arne Horvej (Champions Chess Tour), Paul Meyer-Dunker, hosted by Conrad Schormann (ChessTech).