The trophy that Magnus Carlsen gets for winning the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour is a digital one. An exact digital copy is currently on auction. „Who will win the auction is the biggest chess fan in the world“, says anchor woman Kaja Snare in the promotional video. The trophy is only one of many digital collector items that the Champions Chess Tour, a Play Magnus Group company, has put up on sale. It cooperates with the Danish communications agency MUST Group and the trading platform OpenSea.
The technical term is NFT, non-fungible token, a unique digital file that is stored in the blockchain with an encryption that proves who is the file’s owner. Non-fungible means that it is not interchangeable like a cryptocurrency. NFT’s started a few years ago with art collectibles and personalized video game items. The NFT trade skyrocketed this spring when NBA Top Shots became a hype.
NBA Top Shots has been created by the Canadian firm Dapper Labs to sell unique moments from basketball games to affluent fans. One dunk by LeBron James commemorated as an NFT carried $208,000. Many NBA professionals have themselves invested during the hype. At one point all issued NBA Top Shots had an evaluation of $2 billion. By now this has come down to $500 million.
NFTs have also entered baseball, american football and ice hockey. But is there a demand in chess, where there is no tradition of trading cards and collectors prefer chess sets and books?
NFTs have also entered big in baseball, american football and ice hockey. They can be seen as a modern, digital version of trading cards. Baseball cards have been around since the late 19th century, millions of Americans have collected them. Trading cards in international football started with the Panini brothers in Italy in the 1960s. The same companies have jumped upon the NFT bandwagon. European football leagues and fan magnets like Lionel Messi also cash in on the new trend. Platforms that drive the hype like Dapper Labs and Sorare are evaluated to be worth billions.
But is there a demand in chess, where there is no tradition of trading cards and collectors prefer chess sets and books? Creating revenues from NFTs seems like a logical step for the Champions Chess Tour after raising sponsorships from cryptocurrency companies. But cryptocurrencies require enormous computing power, and the same is true for NFTs. Adherents of a sport based on thinking ahead will probably shun them for their negative climate impact.