If you have been paying attention to twitch streams lately, you may be aware of a new 2020 craziness sweeping the internet, chess. “How does an ancient game like chess dominate the high-tech world of twitch streaming” you may ask. This was the work of one man, Hikaru Nakamura. Nakamura is a celebrated chess grandmaster, who has brought his game to a new generation of gamers by making it into a meme.
Chess Is the New Fortnite
Chess is the new Fortnite. Not in the size of the player base, Chess dominates in this area with 605 million yearly players. Rather, Chess is the new Fortnite due to its ease of memeabilty and low barrier of entry. Chess is cross-platform, and multiplayer. You can play on your phone, on the nintendo switch, on your computer, anywhere. There is rank match making (chess elo) and mmr. And even better than fornite you can play it IRL! 😉 If Chess is the new Fortnite, Chess.com is the new Epic Games. And Hikaru is the new Ninja. Or should we say old Ninja. It’s this interesting phenomenon of one of the oldest games turning into one of the newest eSports.
The idea of a chess grandmaster coaching a well-known overwatch twitch streamer is an interesting and shareable piece of content. Add in a growing cast of streamers who pick up chess from a wide variety of backgrounds, if you have a passing interest in these people, Pogchamps Chess.com Tournament feels like an Avengers movie.
In March is when Hikaru Nakamura started his campaign, With a major push in the form of coaching Xqc the initial explosion of interest was turned into Frenzy in which the viewing of chess has grown six times over since March. Injecting life into a game that medieval kings played by exposing it to the zoomers on the internet.
With no chess until May at the earliest, I might as well stream some more! pic.twitter.com/WpYZkzMGLt
— Hikaru Nakamura (@GMHikaru) March 17, 2020
All it took was a meme-spewing GM to open the eyes of smartphone-addicted gamers to the wonders of chess. This act has subsequently turned Hikaru Nakamura into an internet superstar. Not all were happy about this news as Hikaru Nakamura drew the ire of many chess professionals that thought he was sulling the game of chess with his antics. Is this one case of Coronavirus paranoia that is sweeping younger people into chess? Here’s the video below that started it all.
How did Nakamura, chess grandmaster worth “$45 million (citation needed 😉 )”, find himself in the mists of the world of fast-paced video game action on twitch? Let’s take a closer look at the formation of this newfound persona as the traveling teacher bringing chess to the salvage land of twitch.
In March is when Nakamura first started to explode, under the username of GMHikaru, an average of 2,000 people tuned in to watch Nakamura play chess. As quarantine continued his luck went up, that number jumped to 18,000 in average viewers. Now his fanbase has grown to 366,000 on twitch and has become the most watch streamer in multiple instances.
The genius chess plays and genuine skill that Nakamura uses in his videos has attracted the notice of some of the most popular streamers on Twitch, He has been coaching them in the ways of the oldest indie game. Chess has been bolstering its stability, and Nakamura’s in the twitch community. As a category, chess’s popularity has grown six times over since March.
Reaching unbelievable heights that I never thought were possible on @twitch. – #1 English Language streamer today. They say when you get to the top you thank everyone and this is a shout out to every follower, sub, donor, the mods who work endlessly and @chesscom. pic.twitter.com/8kbUOfq1AK
— Hikaru Nakamura (@GMHikaru) May 18, 2020
Hikaru and Influencer Marketing
Just how did Hikaru do it? How did he gain so many followers in such a small amount of time and bring chess into the mainstream? The answer lies in a marketing principle called influencer marketing. Hikaru has an interesting bargaining chip. Being a grandmaster in chess, people will take notice when Hikaru hits them up. Hikaru Nakamura had a way to connect with streamers with a base. As seen in this chart of GMHikaru’s SocialBlade rose dramatically after he decided to stream more in march.
At a fundamental level, influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing that uses endorsements and product mentions from influencers–individuals who have a dedicated social following and are viewed as experts within their niche. Influencer marketing works because of the high amount of trust that influencers or just plain visibility have built up with their following, and recommendations from them serve as a form of social proof to your brand’s potential customers.
In the case of chess, Hikaru is using his GM-ship with streamers as a mutual way to develop easy entertaining content for both sides, while gaining access to each other’s viewer base and publicity. This is an applicable strategy that you can use to grow your own twitch channel. Partner with a fellow streamer on the same size scale and then repeat the process. Snowball it so-to-speak. In this article, we will be looking at Hikaru Nakamura and his revolving cast of characters has used influencer marketing or other tactics to advance themselves in the chess sphere.
Enter Felix “xQc” Lengyel. A former Overwatch pro, he became enamored with the world of chess after hearing about Hikaru Nakamura’s streams. After some negotiations with the grandmaster himself, Felix found himself on a stream being coached by Nakamura.
On a now-legendary clip now immortalized on YouTube, The former overwatch pro met a great challenge in the form of chess. Like most people, Felix Lengyel learned chess as a child but had no advanced strategies. In a twitch stream, xQc was given a crash course in advanced chess strategies. Twitch chat exploded as the stream was focused on the mistakes of Felix in his matches against Hikaru Nakamura. Because Chess is such a widely understood game, it enabled twitch chat to backseat game and feel like they are participating in the game itself. It made Chess the perfect and incredibly interactive game to stream on twitch.
One aspect that was amazing to watch was seeing the difference between a master and a layman in their craft. The destruction was raining down on Felix, Nakamura translated his chess strategy into plain English for the audience to realize how he was destroying the Overwatch Pro.
This encounter is what sets Hikaru up in the world of twitch and subsequently lets other streamers into his wings. Hikaru’s streaming persona is a mixture of a friend and a proud dad. Cheering when his students figure out a complex move on their own.
This trend line has exploded after connecting with Hikaru and bringing xQC up to a high point in his social media career. In June However, xQc popularity dropped as the rate of return of the initial push from Hikaru waned. The trend line looks as though it will return back to the steady growth that XQc enjoyed before chess. Yet it’s not just the pure numbers that decide. XQc has spread his name to much more expansive places because of this and members of the twitch public have greater recognition for him than before Hikaru and pogchamps.
One of the members of the chess community that was outspoken against Hikaru’s new meme movement is Mr. Ben “negative talent” Fingold. Even though he apologized later for his comments against gamers like BoxBox and XQc, negative talent has made its way into my lexicon. When he is not positioning troops in the middle east on behalf of the US Government, Ben Finegold is on social media. Even he had his audience grow in the past few months, despite the negative press.
I want to apologize for insulting @BoxBox and @xQc … I don’t really know them… and normally, I meet someone at least once before the barrage of insults goes forth. The truth hurts! If either of them wants to play chess (on or off stream, doesn’t matter…) I’m game.
— Ben Finegold (@ben_finegold) May 26, 2020
Feingold is an example of why the age-old adage “all publicity is good publicity” within moments of the drama Ben Finegold’s followers on twitch exploded in comparison to how it was before. You would think that someone who was against streamers playing chess would not be on a streaming platform such as Twitch and would be on MySpace or something else entirely. Ben Finegold is doing fine on twitch and has taken root.
It’s obvious. Look at her she’s everything a successful streamer needs. Funny, outgoing, and other key factors that attract the Twitch crowd. She is also a well-established chess player and one of the older channels in the twitch chess world. All she needed was a bit of more life in her game for her star to truly shine on the internet. Watch below to see her lose her queen 101 times for no advantage:
Now with her famed gambit out of the way, below is her growth chart for her twitch channel. After taking advantage of the rise of chess on twitch, Botez has enjoyed a nice steady sustainable growth on twitch. The future looks bright for Alexandra Botez as her growth looks long-lasting. This is because her content fits the demographic of twitch well and the constant connection with other influencers keeps a steady stream of new viewers into her channel.
One of the bigger names on this list moistcr1tikal, has over 5.6 million subscribers on youtube for his commentary and gameplay videos. Moistcr1tikal is actually a great chess player, one of the best in the losers brackets that have emerged. Jaw-dropping moments such as beating XQc in 6 moves have cemented him as a fan favorite. That Twitch clip along garnered 1.8 million views.
Congrats to @Voyboy and @MoistCr1TiKaL on winning #pogchamps!
Catch all the finals highlights, trash talk, clips, and tweets in our report! https://t.co/8Fcta0hXTF pic.twitter.com/gvGT42ht0I
— Chess.com (@chesscom) June 20, 2020
Even his well-established youtube channel has been positively affected by the new chess wave. Seeing the greatest growth on his channel he has ever seen. This is because of influencer marketing. With moistcr1tikal’s content being for a wide audience rather than a limited esports view, moistcr1tikal has a higher chance of converting a drive-by viewer into a lifelong fan. You should not be tied down to only engaging with influencers that fit your niche. Other influences may have an audience overlap without even being about the same subject.
Now for one of the older influencers in the chess space, Gotham chess has been streaming his chess matches since 2018. Gotham has been waiting a long time for this lightning to strike. Being one of the most well-known pre-Hikaru streamers on the Twitch platform, it was perfect timing. Gotham chess is International Master, chess coach, and a streamer and commentator.
Do not let the graph fool you, Gotham chess is growing. His huge spikes in 2019 are examples of unsustainable growth brought about by being attached to tournaments that were hosted on his channel. His well-established presence in this untapped market allowed him the capital to connect with Hikaru and many of the other influencers on to propel him forward into becoming a chess household name. He is growing at a small but steady pace.
Albert “Boxbox” Zheng
Albert “Boxbox” Zheng is another streamer who was coached under Hikaru in his escapades into the world of twitch streaming. Albert was rated in Chess in played in a few small tournaments when he was very young. So naturally, Albert “Boxbox” Zheng picked up on the game a bit faster then xQc.
Been streaming a ton of chess the last week and –
1) LOVE the game
2) I'm enjoying learning
3) all the chess streamers and GM's stopping by are so cool
4) extremely surprised by how toxic chess viewers are (cont.)
It's so close to being the perfect side game to stream
— BoxBox (@BoxBox) May 15, 2020
Yet the venture into chess has not been a success for him even though he enjoyed it. A look at the graphs below is a quick way to tell the failed bid.
Boxbox has had no noticeable effect in his career after his interactions with Hikaru. Boxbox has joked that while he had tremendous fun, this endeavor has cost him more money in the long run rather than growing at the same rate as others. Only receiving a small bump in his following in comparison to the number of followers he usually gets. BoxBox was too big to benefit as much as the smaller channels from this venture. This is a lesson in how to approach influencer marketing opportunities. If your brand is a certain size, the level that influencers may be able to help you company may be tiny. It may have been better for boxbox to use this as one-off content rather than a whole new section of streams or you can eat the cost and just have fun because you are already so big.
“YouTube has the algorithm which everyone hates and despises but it’s phenomenally well done. It is the most successful algorithm to finding stuff that you will watch right in like of anything I know.
Twitch’s [algorithm] is terrible which is just numbers based. [It’s based] on numbers you get so like if you’re not in the first page, you’re not gonna get discovered”
Now for the black horse of the chess world, Ludwig. Ludwig is unique in his marketing strategy, gaining popularity through a handful of tricks that did not fit the mold that is stated above in other case studies. Ludwig used other platforms to find new viewers and exploded in popularity in this way. Ludwig is not an Esports pro (Maybe a semipro at melee)and he did not team up with other content makers for an easy poplsursty boost like Hikaru. Ludwig uses other platforms to increase his viewers like a marketing funnel.
First Twitch is very hard to gain views on, if you are not in the top 1% of the game you are out of luck. This is unlike youtube. Look ar the quote at the beginning of this section this is Ludwig’s plan. Ludwig is known for his YouTube. Mizkif raves about Ludwig’s marketing here on the Devin Nash podcast.
“Mizkif: “Ludwig you here buddy?”
Devin Nash: “What? Who’s that?”
Mizkif: *Laughs* “Ludwig is the guy that gives me the ideas for my Youtube. He feeds me the ideas and I do them.”
Devin Nash: “Is that actually true?”
Mizkif: “Pretty much at this point, yeah.”
Devin Nash: “Your Youtube content is top tier, the only problem is, there is not more of it”.
– Mizkif https://youtu.be/Dxch5h5udbU?t=29“
Ludwig used Youtube as a funnel to bring users from youtube to the twitch platform. Youtube has a great recommendation algorithm that will show your content to new viewers, as a result, many new users find Ludwig though youtube and then binge-watch his videos then watch his Twitch.
Do you remember the last time you were recommended a video on youtube and you fell into a huge spiral where you couldn’t watch anything besides the channel you were recommended? This happens to thousands of people every day. In fact, for most large YouTube channels, 80%-90% of their video views are from new audiences that click on the video thumbnail from the recommendation sidebar next to each video. This is largely different from Twitch, where only the most popular streamers are shown up top and garner the majority of new views.
If you look at both of these charts you can see a correlation. When Ludwig gains viewers on his youtube his twitch gains a bump in views. Take June 29th for example. 576,587 views were added to his count on youtube, more than any other previous day on the chart, This is also the day after he released his most popular video that week as shown below. Lesser bumps later in the week can be correlated to other videos as well that he released.
This video was used by the algorithm to recommend his channel to thousands of users and many of them took the bait. Leading to a jump of 71,825 viewers in comparison to his previous day of 45,999 viewers.
How to use this to grow your twitch channel
Chess is a game that always had a place on the internet, this is a moment that was long coming. A game with as much history and a 300 hundred-year-old meta was going to find its new place in this generation someday. All it took was one meme lord and a whole lot of 12-year-olds. Now, what is the key to all of this? What is the marketing tool that you can take from this to boost your channel? Get your name out there. Go do something with others, if you do not have a following, what’s the worst that can happen?
If you can brand yourself as an easy way to make content for those larger, do it. This is what made Hikaru so widespread on both twitch and youtube. If you don’t mind the heat, you could start beef with another bigger streamer then you, like what Ben Finegold did to promote his channel. Turning to alternate forms of content like Youtube may help you like Ludwig.