Chess, as we all know, has been around for centuries. Over time, chess has grown to be a popular pastime with a prominent and professional competitive side followed by millions. Naturally, as the game grew and grew, a question was asked – is chess a sport? Does chess fit in with the other well-known sport games due to its extremely high skill ceiling and tremendously organized professional scene? Or does the limited physicality of it mean that it could never be defined as a sport? The debate goes on, as it has been for decades. But, recently a new and interesting side of chess and its digitalization has brought up one more question. Is chess an esport?
This is, of course, an interesting question. Could an ancient board game be labeled an esport? Aren’t all esports new and fancy digital triple-A games polished to perfection?
Not necessarily. For chess to be considered an esport, I wager, we have two questions to answer. First of all – is the digitalized version of chess, which is played both casually across several free websites, such as Chess.com and Lichess.org, and professionally by the best players in the world in various online tournaments, a video game? Frankly, it seems obvious that it is – after we are talking about a game of chess played on an electronic device, most often a computer, where the players interact with a mouse or any such input device. Of course, one could also ponder whether the digital version of chess is indeed the same game as the traditional and physical version. For me, the answer is a crystal clear yes. After all, the rules, pieces, and the board are same – even if they are not physical in the digital version. The only difference lies in the physicality of the two versions. Instead of using their hands to move pieces players are now supposed to use them to interact with the mouse. That is hardly enough of a difference to warrant a separation of the versions.
Secondly, we would have to consider what esport actually is. Is it general playing of video games? Then chess is an esport. Is it professional play of video games? Chess is an esport. Is it professional, competitive, and organized play of video games? Chess is an esport. For example, the Opera Euro Rapid tournament was played between February 6th and February 14th this year. The players played online from the comfort of their homes, battling it out for tens of thousands of dollars. In the finals we saw Wesley So win against Magnus Carlsen. Do the names ring a bell? Well, if not, Carlsen happens to be the reigning world chess champion and So is a grandmaster in his own right. The best players of chess were playing online. And it is not the first nor the last time either, especially during a pandemic.
It seems fair to say, then, that chess is an esport. Perhaps the most important aspect of chess finding its way to the esport family is that chess has now made sure that board and card games are capable of doing so. After all, Magic: The Gathering has famously done the same previously with its video game version from 2018.
Maybe, just maybe, when we inevitably start searching for the next big esport in the future we will take a glance at the various board and card games?
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