Could chess become the next Valorant? Los Angeles e-sports organization Team SoloMid (TSM) just signed its first chess player, five-time U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura.
Nakamura is most well-known for becoming the youngest-ever chess grandmaster at age 15. He took the title from chess legend Bobby Fischer, breaking his previous record by three months. He specializes in speed chess and is currently the No. 1-ranked player in the world for blitz chess.
Most recently, he became a Twitch sensation as the game’s popularity surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nakamura is the most popular chess streamer on the platform, with over 517,000 followers. He’s used his platform to teach other e-sports players and streamers, such as xChocoBars, how to play the game.
When asked for comment, Walter Wang, TSM’s head of operations, explained that the increased visibility on Twitch and interest from popular streamers played into the decision.
“At first, we thought it was just a phase — but chess has remained popular on the platform, and when we looked into it further, Hikaru is one of the biggest reasons why you are seeing chess popularized on Twitch,” Wand said. “I think it’s great that Hikaru is able to engage with the Twitch community in an authentic way, and his mission of expanding chess’s audience really resonates with TSM and myself in particular.”
TSM announced the signing with a video reveal where Nakamura explains why he’s joining the e-sports organization.
“One thing I really want to do is, whoever I represent, try to bring home titles, bring home trophies. And I feel that my best opportunities to do that will be at TSM,” he said.
The signing is significant for the future of digital chess as it continues to gain serious interest from the e-sports community. Per TwitchTracker, chess is currently the 28th most-watched game on Twitch, ahead of titles like FIFA 20 and Destiny 2.
It’s hard to say if other e-sports teams will follow suit, as no other chess streamer has as big a following as Nakamura. Longtime TSM rival Cloud 9 responded to the news by simply tweeting “Hey” at Magnus Carlsen, the highest-ranked chess player in the world.