Chess is becoming more popular. Lichess now has 15 million users as of September 2022. Chess.com’s active player base has grown from 8 million (October 2020) to 17 million (April 2022). From 2020 to 2022, eBay inquiries for chess sets increased 250%, and e-book sales increased 200%.
Chess has more of a bleak standing in the world of popularity, it’s not really the relatable type. Only a limited number of people are able to develop an interest in this hobby.
But that appears to be changing lately (for some reason) which I will talk about here. Is chess becoming more popular? If so, why?
Here I am going to discuss the entire timeline of how this sudden chess wave has come to be. This is important to me after all since well, I love chess so much I even have a website about it, let’s start.
Has chess always been a popular activity?
Personally, chess is very popular from where I came from (Philippines) but does that apply to the general population? has chess always been popular?
Chess is more popular than other similar board games like checkers and go, but cannot be compared to other popular non-board game activities like basketball, soccer, baseball, etc.
Chess is one of the most popular board games but is just not good enough to be compared to other activities. The exclusive nature of chess tournaments after all does not seem feasible for spectators.
People who enjoy watching chess are likely to be good players themselves, further limiting the access to the crowd. This means that the amount of people who can be entertained by this is extremely selected.
Most individuals who watch tournaments are likely to have no idea what is going on, making it an inclusive competition. People would rather watch other sports that are much viewer-friendly and relatable.
Adding to this, chess has a stereotypical reputation of being boring and is something played by nerds. Such a stigma further deviates anyone who is interested in starting.
You aren’t exactly the cool guy if someone learned that you like playing chess. There’s this image that people who are into this are anti-social (like the one being bullied a lot) which is not the likable type.
But that appears to be changing a lot, almost every corner I turn into has a theme of chess in it (it isn’t used to be the case).
Does YouTube contribute to the upcoming popularity of chess?
YouTubers such as Agadmator, Hikaru Nakamura, KingFischer, etc. have helped tremendously in promoting content to bring new chess players into the population.
Youtube is such a great platform to advocate things in different niches, including chess. Agadmator (a popular chess enthusiast YouTube channel) contributed a lot for even making me create this website.
I am not really good at chess nor I was trying to be, but his youtube channel was able to pick my interest. Now here I am creating chess content left and right for people who do Google searches.
The thing with chess is there’s no real community that would incentivize being involved. The amount of face and personality that has been associated with Youtube has definitely helped with the boost.
There exists a lot of youtube chess tutorials and showings as I am writing this (which are not available back then). The popularity of chess can be reflected in the large subscribership of Agadmator (chess channel) which is almost a million now.
The size of this crowd (1 million) is unheard of for a topic such as chess, definitely something that I wouldn’t imagine years before. But it is achievable now due to the fame that this game has seen throughout the event.
Update: As of today even Mr.Beast (a very famous influencer) is starting to get into that chess game. He is a sensational name for pretty much every household in the U.S. and his collaboration would certainly make chess more popular than it already is (his fanbase alone is larger than all of chess community combined).
Did modern grandmasters help chess to become more popular?
Modern grandmasters such as Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen have helped make chess popular due to their collaboration and content. Currently, other professionals do the same, like with Anish Giri’s Youtube channel.
Hikaru Nakamura (top grandmaster) streamed like crazy on twitch and youtube which made a lot of people curious about chess. Take note that this is during the time where this game is considered boring and not that interesting.
Hikaru Nakamura then started collaborating with famous twitch streamers (xqc,voyboy, etc.) where they introduced chess to a new audience. The result was a blowout, everyone likes the commentary of gm Hikaru and wants more of it.
Everybody from different range of interest (from other streamers) are now taking notice of this royal game.The twitch collaboration is so successful that they made an official tournament (Pogchamps) on chess.com
Meanwhile, individuals who are not that familiar with the serious nature of chess started watching tournaments online. This new stream of viewers that is clueless on chess etiquette, started commenting trolls on tournament games (on chess 24).
This sparks a lot of controversies about whether the introduction to a new audience is really beneficial to chess. Professional players who are used to traditional ethics could not take the seemingly rude attitude of the new players.
This sort of rude display is further exemplified in the nature of the Pogchamp tournament. The beginner essence of twitch streamers involved made a lot of grandmasters criticize their showing.
Grandmaster Ben Finegold for example has expressed a very rude statement on Hikaru Nakamura, the progenitor of this event.
Terms like chess elitism have been thrown around calling emotions from the community. The drama that these events caused has definitely raised a lot of attention that made chess popular.
Countless blog posts and youtube videos documenting the drama have been published over the course of time. Serious discussions have emerged where new players are actively participating in the community.
Ironically, this gatekeeping image that proliferated in the society has counterintuitively made staying like a protest. That if you want to fight for the cause then you will stay and not leave the camaraderie.
I know that people hate drama but I can’t deny its contribution to the amount of “eyes” it brought to the community.
People during this time look for other top player content creators (Just like Hikaru) that they can engage with. As the community of these individuals grows so is the popularity of their videos that push it to new audiences.
One of these individuals is Magnus Carlsen (the world champion), his channel has seen significant growth at this time. People are in awe of the amount of humor and personality the world champion has delivered to the viewers.
The over-achieving prodigy has finally been seeing the attention that he deserves. There’s a ton of players who like Carlsen now (although a lot favors him back then too, just not as much as today).
Other top grandmasters like those of Anish Giri have already started their own tribe where they add content. This further promoted the game of chess from people who are already within the community, seeing it as a sign of consistent growth.
Is the general media promoting chess leading to its popularity?
The famous Netflix adaptation of the novel Queen’s Gambit has inspired new people to play chess. With over 6 million household views and a label as best-selling in the New York Times, it definitely made chess popular.
This Netflix adaptation (Queen’s Gambit) from a novel by Walter Teves rode the frenzy and awakened a new crowd
Take note that this is already the time where GM Hikaru and other famous YouTubers made the game more relatable. I consider this as the nail in the coffin that will ensure chess’s popularity for years to come.
This media introduced a new player base that may be interested in chess (those who watch Netflix). This group of people is likely to be different than the ones brought by top grandmasters giving some diversity.
Over 6 million households have watched the adaptation since its conception, which is a lot of people. And those who have watched it have a positive reaction to the nature of the movie.
Countless blog posts from around the internet have been created demonstrating the “Netflix effect” that this has caused. Essentially it is how people have changed their standards with this game and now thinking of giving it a shot.
In fact, even the original novel “Queen’s Gambit” has been the best-selling in new york times 37 years after its creation. I just want you to imagine how awesome that was, it only becomes popular after 37 years and it’s immediately a new york best selling.
I’ve seen google news left and right talking about how this alone has catapulted chess to its popularity, which is not true. I am here since the beginning and the amount of popularity chess has gained is a consecutive effort from different events.
Adding to this, online platforms such as chess.com have helped to provide a convenient way for people to play chess. Back then nobody wants to try out chess since they have to be present physically, unlike now where you can play in the comfort of your home.
More people have been following tournament games than ever before. The time for chess upbringing has really come to the surface.
Is there any evidence that chess is becoming more popular?
Players on chess.com have increased 5 times its expected growth for over a decade, inquiries for chess sets have topped at 250% than normal, and searches such as how to play chess have skyrocketed, which are all evidence that chess is popular.
Chess.com in particular is a good indicator of the general health the community is taking. And its number of players has achieved 5× its regular growth than normal which is something expected for over a decade.
It appears that no one really anticipated this kind of spur and the expectancy was very slow than what has become. This in itself is enough evidence that chess has become more popular than ever.
Consequently, inquiries for chess sets have increased as much as 250 percent on eBay, pushed by people who are looking to get into the game. The economy of chess products has reached its highest as people are starting to get into their line.
The purchases are crazy right now more than any other part of history including the year of Bobby Fischer (who also made chess popular). Google searches on topics such as “how to play chess” have reached an all-time high in the last nine years.
And how do I know this? well, I own this blog and I have done some google searches where I’ve got to witness this.
Numerous blog post has been created since the initial start of the wave (even this website has contributed to it). Various chess forums from over a decade ago have been revived that is hungry for answers.
Not to mention a lot of youtube channels have experienced a spur of subscribers in the last few months. Even those who have been struggling in the initial stages of the wave are now getting on their feet.
So many individuals (even those that don’t have much knowledge of it) have entered this niche because of its potential profitability. Sales for chess books/e-books, clocks, and chess services have been in money moving forward.
There are new audiences that are hungry for information and there are those who can provide it, the industry is booming beyond expectation. I have made an article (will open in a new tab) before discussing the peril (monetary) of being a chess grandmaster, this opportunity is really helpful.
Everybody wants to play chess and that is always a good thing for the economy of the masters.
Do you think chess will keep its popularity?
The growth that chess experienced is definitely something that will not come again for years, it is very special. It is doubtful though if this will keep for long, the wave can turn again and it can be tossed on the side.
But what I do know is I enjoyed this event and will definitely share it with future players. It is something memorable that is worthy of being discussed throughout the ages.
I do not have a complete answer if chess will stay popular for long, but I really hope so. That really just depends on me and you, sleep well and play chess.