Celebrities, TikTok, and a Cat Bot Are Crashing Chess.com

On trend for 2023 is one of the oldest games in the world played on a 17 year old website: Chess.com. The site, where people can take classes, solve puzzles, and compete against computers or other players, broke its own record on December 31 with 7 million active members in a single day. Last Friday, that number rose to 10 million. The craze overloads the site’s servers.

Progress shows no signs of slowing down. Spurred by renewed interest in the game thanks to a recent scandal and TikTok trends, traffic has “nearly doubled” since early December, according to the Chess.com blog. All but five days in January set new sitewide records for active users. And the Chess.com app has risen to the popular Games section of Apple’s App Store.

It’s a bigger boom than it was when the Covid-19 pandemic pushed people into their homes and onto their screens. And it’s more hype than when The Queen’s Gambit lured observers to seize their towers. “Honestly, that sucks,” Chess.com said in a post Monday night. “It’s never been a more exciting time for chess fans, but that’s also why having service outages is so frustrating.”

The site, loved by novices, amateurs and pro players alike, is teeming with a new cohort of chess enthusiasts fueled by a sudden push to make chess cool, a viral cheating saga and a barrage of short videos that make the game digestible for everyone.

“December and January was a terrifyingly big time in terms of chess analysis,” says Levy Rozman, a chess master who creates content on Twitch and YouTube as GothamChess. “It’s basically taking all of the past year’s growth and it’s going to be in a month.”

Unlike during the pandemic or The Queen’s Gambit, there is no single factor driving the chess intrigue. However, interest began to rise when the game made headlines in the fall of 2022 when world champion Magnus Carlsen accused his opponent Hans Moke Niemann of cheating. A Chess.com review found that Niemann may have cheated more than 100 times in online games. This revelation accompanied an extremely bizarre theory about how Niemann might have used a sex toy to give him clues as to the best moves in combat. Soon after, people outside of the traditional chess world got involved as well.

Then, in November, football greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi broke the internet when they each published a photo of the two competing at chess as part of an advertising campaign for Louis Vuitton. In December, more than 10 million people watched a ChessBase India video on YouTube showing Carlsen playing at the World Blitz Chess Championship.

Rozman began posting shorter videos on TikTok and YouTube that same month and says he’s seen his subscriber base grow by hundreds of thousands of users. #ChessTok on TikTok has more than 2 billion views. These shorter clips, coupled with the powerful algorithms on the video-sharing platform, could attract new viewers who wouldn’t have watched a 30-minute chess explanation. “It seems like we’re demystifying chess,” says Rozman. “And there’s a lot more attraction. It’s not this dreary, elitist game.”

https://www.wired.com/story/chess-dot-com-tiktok-mittens-scandal/ Celebrities, TikTok, and a Cat Bot Are Crashing Chess.com

Zack Zwiezen

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