Hikaru Nakamura is a five-time United States chess champion and world-ranked chess player who has recently become quite popular on Twitch.
Earlier this month, Hikaru shared that he was the top English language stream on May 17. On a platform like Twitch, where the most popular games are action-oriented multiplayer titles such as Fortnite, Valorant, and League of Legends, topping the charts while playing chess is quite the feat.
But what got Hikaru attention from the streaming community wasn’t just this impressive accomplishment. It was actually the drama his popularity started within the chess community. Led by outrage from Norwegian chess grandmaster and current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, Chess24 spoke up about how Hikaru hosting their tournament was allegedly bad for chess.
According to Chess24, organizing the tournament was a “large undertaking” for them and they had asked participants to share the official stream or restrict their streaming to after each day of the competition.
“Hikaru did communicate proactively with us, and while he is within his rights, it is undermining us as teh organizer and affects our ability to popularize teh sport in a commercially sustainable way,” Chess24 said in a statement.
Hikaru then shared a screenshot to his followers, expressing that he believed that hosting their tournament did the exact opposite for the sport, and was actually helpful.
“If I choose to host a channel on my stream, that broadens the audeince and gives other streamers a chance to have more viewers and become more well known. That’s good for chess,” Nakamura argued. “That whole notion is insane. I’m not gonna say much more.”
The streaming community seemed to take Hikaru’s side, stating that people new to chess would be more likely to pick it up or become active viewers by watching a popular streamer’s channel. They also critisized Chess24’s stream as being “inaccessible” due to the more advanced commentary. Others admitted that they weren’t even aware that the competition was happening until they saw Hikaru hosting it on his channel.
This situation also led to a deeper criticism of the chess community at large, with many people feeling that they are “elitists” and “gatekeepers” who don’t want inexperienced viewers or players watching the tournaments. This all came to Hikaru’s attention when the chess community started expressing frustration over former Overwatch pro and popular streamer Felix “xQc” Lengyel playing chess on Twitch.
Because of xQc’s popularity, his chess stream almost immediately took the number one spot in Twitch’s chess category. This frustrated some professional chess players, who felt they were being outshined and having views taken away by someone who isn’t very good at the game in comparison. Some also took aim at xQc’s behavior while streaming, feeling that he was “immature” and “loud.”
While it does take a lot of practice, intelligence, and skill to become one of the 1,500 existing chess grandmasters in the world, Hikaru couldn’t help but speak out about the salty reaction to xQc’s participation in the game. He once again took the stance that the chess world needs to understand that there’s nothing wrong with popular streamers sharing chess with their fans, essentially bringing new people into the scene.
“If I look at xQc, the reaction is the classic chess world saying he’s so bad at the game so it’s a waste of time to watch. He’s no good, so he’s nobody. That’s absolute rubbish obviously,” Hikaru said. “Not even going into his streaming, we all know xQc was a grand master at Overwatch. If you put me playing Overwatch for I don’t care how long, or Magnus playing Overwatch, we’d be total noobs. That’s just a fact. The chess world just needs to get with the times.”
Hikaru continued to stand up for xQc and other popular streamers on Twitter, voicing his joy over chess getting “new fans” involved in the game.
Shoutout to the big streamers who’ve discovered chess. Some do it once or twice, some every single stream. Some are casual visitors to our game, some are becoming obsessed. Streamers like @xQc @BoxBox @voyboy @Papaplatte @Yassuo @nymnion Chess thanks you for all the new fans.
— Hikaru Nakamura (@GMHikaru) May 21, 2020
The Chess family growing and seeing so many new players and old ones igniting their passion for the game is amazing. Thank you Mr. Hikaru for representing Chess so well and helping us all improve 😎🤝
— Joedat (@Voyboy) May 22, 2020