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Chess Streaming Proves its Staying Power with the Candidates Tournament 2024

In a world of flashy 4K Ultra graphics and seemingly limitless open worlds, board games may seem a little quaint. But chess continues to engross viewers precisely because of its relative simplicity. The near-perfectly balanced gameplay lends itself to commentary, getting even the amateur viewer invested in the mind games and stratagems of the players.

The Candidates Tournament 2024 is one of the biggest events on the chess calendar, with the winner earning the right to contend for the title of World Champion. Gukesh Dommaraju, a 17-year-old Indian player, took down his opponents to claim victory in the Candidates Tournament. The chess world is entering a new era with long-reigning champion Magnus Carlsen stepping back and fresh faces entering the competitive field. As the dynamics shift, new metas evolve and viewers flock to the action.

In light of these recent changes and the Candidates Tournament 2024, we’re looking at the performance of chess on live-streaming and the success of other “traditional” games such as board games, card games, and their video game adaptations.

The Candidates Tournament 2024 Proves Chess is Alive and Well on Streaming

The Candidates Tournament 2024 was a smash success, bringing in 3.9M hours watched with a peak viewership of 215K. Most viewers tuned in through official channels like Chess (on Twitch) and chess24, with just 1.8% of viewership coming from co-streaming. Typically, a lower co-streaming percentage suggests the audience is more interested in the game itself than the personalities behind the game. This is a big point of difference compared to esports like Rainbow Six Siege in which co-streaming made up a large proportion of viewership.

Female Streamers Feature Prominently the Top Chess Channels

Although the official chess channels have the highest viewership, there are many bright personalities in the streaming arena providing their own coverage of the game. GMHikaru is by far the most popular chess streamer, with 7.9M hours watched across his Twitch and Kick channels in the last year. This is a massive 6M more hours watched than the second highest streamer, AnnaCramling.

Anna does represent another trend among popular chess streamers, however: A high number of them are women. Anna herself is a Women’s FIDE Master, an incredibly accomplished player of the game at the top of her field. The channel BotezLive also features two chess-playing sisters, Alexandra and Andrea, who featured as the #6 most watched female streamers for March.

The Transmedia Boost of Queen’s Gambit on Chess Viewership

The reason for the popularity of female chess streamers most likely stems back to the popular series Queen’s Gambit. In the quarter following the release of Queen’s Gambit on the 23rd of October 2020, chess viewership skyrocketed to an all-time quarterly peak of 56.7M hours watched. This effect was something of a perfect storm: The COVID pandemic raised chess viewership (as it did for most games on streaming), rising from the single-digit millions before 2020 to tens of millions. 

Off the back of this pandemic-era bump, Queen’s Gambit solidified the interest in chess for curious newcomers to the scene. Since 2021, chess viewership has remained in the tens of millions for four years straight. The personal drama of the show created a gateway for casual fans to relate to chess, later becoming engrossed in the pride and intelligence of players. Since then, the annual Candidates Tournament has consistently brought in viewers resulting in higher hours watched for Q1 in subsequent years.

Traditional Board and Card Games Finding Success On Streaming

Chess isn’t the only traditional game drawing fans on streaming, but it is the most popular. Compared to poker, chess had 26M more hours watched over the past year. Beyond chess and poker, the numbers drop significantly down to 5.7M and 5.1M for Codenames and Monopoly Plus, respectively. In fairness, these other games tend to perform better on Let’s Play channels rather than live-streaming where they can be edited down for highlights. Go has never quite caught on in streaming, but it holds a special place in streaming history for paving the way for competitive games broadcasting in South Korea.

Although board and card games used to be considered outdated forms of entertainment, public opinion is swinging back around. Board games have had a renaissance outside of live-streaming, with board game bars popping up in urban centers. Card games also enjoy popularity when verging into Gambling content, such as poker. The overwhelming success of the recently released Balatro, a rogue-like featuring traditional playing cards, demonstrates the newfound acceptance of these older aesthetics.

The enduring popularity of traditional games on streaming shows an appreciation by audiences for classic games alongside hyped-up new video game releases. As Gukesh primes himself for the championship match with current world champion Ding Liren later this year, the chess fanbase will be watching. Stream Hatchet will also be watching to see if new stars emerge on the chess scene, stirring up excitement among fans.

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