IT is an ancient board game requiring strategy and patience that, at first thought, doesn’t spring to mind as a gripping format for TV. But during lockdown, chess fans have been tuning into live streaming games in their millions.



Twitch is a live streaming video app and a subsidiary of Amazon since 2014, when the e-commerce and tech giant purchased it for $970 million. The platform began in 2011 and focuses primarily on live streaming video games, such as Fortnite and Call of Duty, and esports.



They are basically multiplayer video game events and competitions, usually between professional players, individually or as teams. 


And chess is one of them?

It is one of the most popular. On Twitch, time spent watching chess has surged by more than 500% since 2016, according to data from the firm that covers up to the start of this year, but lockdown has seen this rocket further.


So it’s just a game of chess played live?

That’s it. The two-player strategy board game, thought to have its roots in Asia more than 1,500 years ago, is played by millions worldwide and now these fans - as well as newcomers - to the game, are finding themselves gripped by the tension of the matches.


It’s pulling in millions of viewers?

During lockdown around the world, the board game has become a Twitch sensation, with official data showing the hours of chess watched on Twitch have nearly doubled during each month of 2020, with the number topping more than 8 million hours watched for May.


Why the surge?

It’s thought to be down to a combination of popular streamers and big-name champions playing online, including five time US chess champion, Hikaru Nakamura, the youngest ever American to take the grandmaster title, aged just 15 years and 79 days, in 2003. He streamed games for 60 days in a row during lockdown, until finally taking a day off last month, before returning to action.


He’s still a leading player?

Hikaru, 32, is still among the top 20 chess players in the world, but during lockdown, has turned his focus from playing in real-time to full-time streaming and commentating on chess on Twitch, with one recent match seeing him pit his wits against Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, the strongman and actor who played The Mountain on Game of Thrones.


Its star still rises?

In a statement, a spokesman for StreamElements, which provides a streaming platform for live streamers, said: “Twitch has a long history of chess players, but it wasn’t until 2017 when they partnered with that they most prominently embraced the game of kings. Since then the game has enjoyed moderate growth, yet nothing compares with the rise it experienced in recent months.”


It’s a whole new world for the ancient game?

Nakamura, who has risen the stakes by playing some games blindfolded, said he wants to bring what has been viewed as an elitist game to the attention of the masses.

He said: “It’s getting big exposure in a way that I don’t think has happened in a very long time”.