Chess as an eSport? Theories and trends suggest there’s a case to be made

In the last few weeks, the world of eSports has gone through a major upheaval. One of the top chess players in the world has not just joined hands with an eSports organisation, but also claimed that chess is an eSport.

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura towards the end of August 2020 joined Team SoloMid (TSM). Born to an American mother and Japanese father, Nakamura is currently ranked number 18 by FIDE (International Chess Federation); at his peak, he was ranked number 2.

He began playing chess at the age of 7 and was coached by his Sri Lankan stepfather Sunil Weeramantry, a FIDE Master and chess author. Nakamura is one of the most creative players of his generation, known to be a firm believer of improvising on the board. Nakamura also has an impressive social media presence, with 170,000 plus Twitter followers and a Twitch channel where he live streams his games. Nakamura has over 500,000 followers on his Twitch channel.

TSM is a well-established eSports organisation based in North America. They currently have players rosters in League of Legends, Apex Legends, Valorant, Hearthstone, Super Smash Bros, Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, PUBG Mobile, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Magic: The Gathering Arena, and now Chess.

In a similar incident, another major North American eSports organisation, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), has also decided to enter the world of chess. They have brought onboard Qiyu Zhou. Zhou holds the titles of FIDE Master (FM) and Woman Grandmaster (WG), and also runs her own twitch channel under the name of ‘akaNemsko’. Unlike with Nakamura, Zhou has been signed on as a streamer.

The question raised by the recent turn of events is whether chess is actually an eSport, and have we all along only been under the illusion of it being a sport? The best way to approach such a question is to understand the difference between eSports and sports. defines eSports as competitive tournaments of video games, especially among professional gamers. Sports is widely defined as an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.

Based on just these definitions, chess is not even considered to be a sport. The International Olympic Committee, however, considers chess to be a sport. One of the reasons used to support the argument is the fact that playing chess puts a person through great amounts of mental exertion, and this exertion also manifests itself physically. Other than this, chess is a game that requires practice to develop skills and is of a competitive nature.

Looking at the reasons given behind declaring chess a sport and using the same lens, eSports can be considered a sub-category within sports. Most professionals in the world of eSports are seen looking visibly drained by the end of a game. Most major eSports tournaments have short breaks between rounds to help mitigate the exhaustion experienced by the players. The only real difference that can be pointed out is that eSports are played on an electronic system of some kind.

Earlier in the year, while most activities were on a standstill due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, chess tournaments, much like eSports tournaments, were still being conducted. India hosted the first-ever Indian League (ICL). This tournament was held in an online format and brought together the top 50 players from across the country.

Given the nature of how chess tournaments are now possible to hold in an online format with the use of an ‘electronic system,’ it is, in essence, no different from an eSport. The chess tournaments held in an offline format could be considered the same as a LAN event type of tournament for other eSports.

Given how chess has broken boundaries between traditional sports and eSports to become the first game to be a part of both worlds, heading into the future, more sports that are able to find a new way to be played with the use of new technology may do the same.

This will further blur the line that separates sports from eSports. Some of the sports already showing the signs of reaching this point are golf with the eGolf tour and the various card-based sports, such as poker that have online tournaments being played on a regular basis.

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