In the past year, Hikaru Nakamura has soared in popularity on the game live broadcast platform Twitch, becoming a rising star in the live broadcast industry.
His live content is not popular games such as League of Legends, Fortnite or Minecraft, but chess, a game with a history of over a thousand years. Chess itself has no commercial foothold: its gameplay rules do not belong to any company or individual, and the possibility of commercialization has long been studied. To some extent, you can say that it is an “open source project”.
But under the catalysis of a series of complicated factors, chess is getting a new lease of life. On the online chess platform Chess.com, there are more than 400,000 chess players playing online at the same time every day. This number can be ranked third on the Steam popular game list, surpassing PUBG, GTA5, Rainbow Six and other games, second only to games such as PUBG, GTA5, and Rainbow Six. Dota2 and CS:GO.
Nakamura is the “primary point” of all this. He was once the youngest “Chess Master” in American history and currently ranks 20th in the world in chess power. More importantly, he led the trend of live chess. Under his leadership, chess has become a popular live broadcast category on Twitch.
A few weeks ago, during the online tournament PogChamps, chess became the most watched game on Twitch.
Chess genius, live broadcast ghost
Nakamura is one of the pinnacle figures in the American chess world.
He is a Japanese-American born in 1987 and came to the United States with his family when he was 2 years old. He is considered a half-born American. He started playing chess at the age of 7, and at the age of 15, he won the highest title in the chess field, “Grand Master”, breaking the record of “Youngest Grand Master”.
Nakamura has won the U.S. Chess Championship five times. At his peak, his chess power ranking score reached a maximum of 2816, ranking second in the world. At the 2016 Chess Olympiad, he helped the US team win a gold medal. Until now, his chess power is still ranked 20th in the world.
But now, Hikaru Nakamura is no longer just a “professional chess player”, he has another identity, Twitch star anchor.
In 2017, Hikaru Nakamura started to try live chess on Twitch. In the early days, his focus was not on live broadcasts. Occasionally, a live broadcast was opened and the audience was only a few hundred people. But he came up with a series of live broadcast methods with “program effects”, such as “playing fast chess”, which defeats the opponent in a very short period of time; “playing blind chess”, blindfolded, and just relying on the action reported by the opponent Remember every hand change on the board; “Handicap”, defeats the opponent when one or more key pieces are missing.
In March last year, the new crown epidemic began to raging in the United States, and various offline chess games and activities were suspended. Nakamura began to increase the frequency and duration of his live broadcast. Soon, he began to generate positive feedback with the audience. The average number of viewers in the live broadcast room soared from 2,000 to 20,000, and the number of subscribers also increased wildly. By the summer, he had 400,000 subscribers.
Hikaru Nakamura is indeed a “live broadcast ghost.” He is good at fast chess and his tactical style is very aggressive. He ranks among the top in the world in many fast chess events. Those fast chess games that end in a few minutes are obviously more suitable for live broadcast than ordinary chess games of a few hours. Moreover, most professional chess players tend to be introverted, and even if the live broadcast is on, they often just silently focus on their game. In contrast, Hikaru Nakamura not only has excellent chess skills, but also has a cheerful and likable personality.
During the live broadcast, he will browse the discussions related to him on Reddit, watch the video of ghost animals on YouTube at the request of fans, and interact with the barrage. He knows how to run his own “live-broadcast person setting,” and will rank American fast-food restaurants with other anchors, sparking frantic discussions on barrage. He is also often addicted to the “3D Pinball” game that comes with Windows XP, taking time to eat a salad in a key game. These have become “stalks” about him.
Nakamura’s personal charm also attracted the attention of other anchors. In April of last year, Hikaru Nakamura collaborated with the retired Overwatch professional player, the star anchor xQc who ranked 4th in the number of Twitch subscriptions, and gave the latter a chess lesson. This became an important turning point for Hikaru Nakamura to gain great attention. After that, he began to cooperate with more celebrity game anchors to live broadcast, conduct some pedagogical games, or guide them in the games. Catalyzed by these cooperative live broadcasts, Hikaru Nakamura became famous.
Such a live broadcast of teaching made Nakamura gradually become a “father-like” role, which evoked the memory of many viewers learning chess in their childhood. “Nostalgia” happens to be an important part of the Twitch community culture. Hikaru Nakamura’s success is due to his keen sense of Internet trends and “stalks” on the one hand, and on the other hand, he hits a certain collective emotion of nostalgia for the past.
“He proved that no matter how boring a game, as long as you find the right person to play it, this thing can become popular on Twitch.” Twitch anchor Destiny commented on Nakamura Hikaru.
Currently, Hikaru Nakamura has 1.1 million subscribers on Twitch, which is comparable to official League of Legends tournament channels such as LCS and LCK.
A bigger game
Hikaru Nakamura’s live chess game was not a whim. Behind him, someone was playing a bigger game.
Back in 2017, the “behind-the-scenes player” that prompted Hikaru Nakamura to start a live broadcast on Twitch was an online chess platform called Chess.com. Nakamura himself joked that the company’s “Chief Chess Officer” (Chief Chess Officer), Daniel Rensch, locked him in a small room and told him that if he wanted to get a sponsorship contract, he had to start a live broadcast.
Chess.com also provided a lot of help during the live broadcast of Hikaru Nakamura. In 2018, the company organized and established a small team to help Nakamura solve some technical problems in live broadcast and improve quality.
This company was founded in 2007, and it didn’t get started early. At that time, chess was already a somewhat “old” project. The digitalization and AI engine of chess games are not new concepts. As early as 1997, the “Deep Blue” supercomputer developed by IBM specifically for chess analysis had already defeated Kasparov, the world chess champion at the time. Announced the “computational power crushing” of AI on people.
To some extent, the relatively low popularity of chess has provided Chess.com with an excellent development opportunity. At that time, people generally believed that chess had little commercial value potential, and it was difficult for online chess platforms to make their own technical thresholds.
In 2005, founder Erik Allebest bought the domain name chess.com without much effort. With a more memorable domain name, Chess.com was officially launched in 2007 and soon became a mainstream online chess platform. After that, it took over another chess website, chesspark, whose founding team believed that there was a lack of business opportunities in the chess field and abandoned the company to become a search engine.
In the ten years from 2007 to 2017, Chess.com has become the most mainstream online chess platform, attracting 20 million registered players and dominating this “niche area.” But it is not reconciled to this, the company has greater ambitions.
Picture of Chess.com is already the most mainstream chess platform in the world｜Chess.com
In 2018, Chess.com acquired Komodo, a chess AI engine, which was considered the most advanced AI algorithm engine at the time. Around the algorithm engine, Chess.com has developed a series of auxiliary functions, such as “replay analysis”, so that chess players can discover their mistakes and missed opportunities during the replay process. They also developed a “chess endgame puzzle solving” game, so that novice chess players can become familiar with some basic tactics and formulas in chess games during the decryption process.
Using the AI engine, Chess.com engineers have also developed dozens of “AI opponents with different personalities.” They collected game data of many chess legends, and based on these data, they built an AI with the style of these legendary chess players. Some of these AIs will also make adaptive adjustments to subsequent moves based on the player’s position, simulating a “comparable opponent” as much as possible, rather than simply crushing the player.
The purpose of all this is to lower the learning threshold of chess, and use rich functions and AI tools to help more people who are interested in chess learn chess and hone their skills.
Finally, Chess.com has to find a way to let more people know about chess. It aimed at “live streaming.” This concept may not be new in the Internet industry, but it is definitely a brand new medium form for chess with a thousand years of history.
In 2018, Chess.com and Twitch established a cooperative relationship and began sponsoring and encouraging chess players to live on Twitch to play chess, including Hikaru Nakamura. Nick Barton, vice president of business development at Chess.com, said in an interview, “Considering the audience size and market potential of the chess project, we aimed at the “waist traffic” in the live broadcast field, hoping to gain growth.”
Feedback came quickly. Two years later, Hikaru Nakamura became a star anchor, signed with TSM, a well-known American e-sports team, and his fans exceeded 1 million. Chess live streaming is becoming a new trend. In January of this year, Twitch users watched 18.3 million hours of live chess streaming in one month, which is equivalent to the length of viewing time in 2019. In addition, the popularity of live broadcast has also been successfully transformed into the user growth of Chess.com. Since 2017, the number of registered players on Chess.com has tripled from 20 million to more than 57 million.
Live streaming is not just a good move for Chess.com, it is also a good thing for Twitch. Most video games have clear copyright ownership and belong to a few large companies. This means that game companies theoretically have the right to cut off the live broadcast of their own games on Twitch. This will not happen at present, but if the live broadcast cake gets bigger and bigger and the game company wants to join the game itself, the situation is hard to say. After all, something similar has happened to Netflix. As an “open source game”, chess has a much lower risk of similar situations. Moreover, the diversification of live content is what Twitch wants to see.
In 2020, during the epidemic, Twitch and Chess.com jointly hosted the first PogChamps online chess tournament. It was not the top chess masters who participated in the competition, but the star anchors on Twitch, with Hikaru Nakamura as the guide and commentator. The game received a huge welcome and broke various ratings records.
Soon, the second and third PogChamps were quickly organized, and the popularity continued to rise.
New ways of playing old games
Along with the heat, Hikaru Nakamura and Chess.com also caused some controversy.
Chess has a certain “elite attribute” since ancient times, and people at the bottom and marginalized are excluded from this community. Netflix’s recent hot drama “Abandoned Soldiers on the Rear Wing” tells the story of the female genius Beth Harmon who emerged in the chess world in the 1950s and 1960s and eventually defeated the Soviet chess world champion. In that era, female chess players were very rare.
Therefore, Hikaru Nakamura’s practice of playing chess with the “rookie” on live broadcast is regarded by some people as an expression of flattery. They believe that Hikaru Nakamura wasted a lot of time playing chess with the Internet celebrity anchors and playing some entertaining “hands” instead of focusing on honing his own chess skills for the sake of traffic and fame. This practice will make chess more Come and become more secular and entertaining.
Including the PogChamps competition held by Chess.com, because there are few real master players with top chess skills, some professional chess media editors regard it as a kind of “show”. This kind of competition is only for the purpose of entertaining the public and gaining traffic, but cannot bring the players’ chess skills to a higher peak through the competition. Some veteran figures in the chess field also commented on Twitter, comparing PogChamps to a popcorn movie.
In fact, the ultimate goal of chess has long changed. In 1997, “Deep Blue” defeated Kasparov. Since that day, AI has represented the pinnacle of humanity in the dimension of “chess power”. As a chess player, no matter how hard you hone your chess skills, it is almost impossible to beat AI. Just like in 2017, after AlphaGo defeated Ke Jie, no Go player ever beat it.
These ancient games that condense human wisdom must embrace new “games.”
With the help of the traffic brought by live broadcast and the increasingly sophisticated chess gameplay, Chess.com has nearly 60 million registered players and nearly 500,000 simultaneous online players every day, which is comparable to many mainstream online games. In addition to advertising, Chess.com is also exploring a “subscription” business model, packaging some advanced analysis functions into “upgrade packages” that require subscriptions and selling them to users.
Chess used to be a very elitist community, and the value of a chess player was completely defined by “ranking points.” But now, the career path of chess players has become wider, and the benefits of live broadcast can support more chess players to stay in the professional field. This community is integrating into Twitch and becoming a complex cultural organism.
Nakamura also believes that media platforms such as Twitch and YouTube are vital to the continued development of chess. In response to the elitist atmosphere of the chess community, he said that just because he is stronger than others, it does not mean that he is smarter and better than others.
In a live broadcast, Hikaru Nakamura recalled that in 2005, after winning the National Championship for the first time, he played fast chess with the audience in the hotel lobby until two or three in the morning. “I have always wanted to bring chess to the public,” said Nakamura. He hopes that he can use Twitch to become an ambassador for chess. “I play chess with other anchors. On the one hand, I hope they can feel happy from playing chess. On the other hand, I also hope that they can find some clever moves. This is my ultimate goal.”
A barrage responded to him, saying that he had never played chess before, because his favorite game anchor played chess with Mitsu Nakamura, which aroused his interest in chess.
Source: Geek Park