Since the beginning of time, the world’s greatest intellectuals have wrestled with the critical debate over whether or not chess should be considered a sport. In truth, the label itself doesn’t matter. What does matter is the funding, national support and widespread popularity that sports enjoy. Dictionary definitions notwithstanding, I would like to see grandmaster Wesley So, reigning U.S. Chess champion, reach a level of notoriety where he can appear in car insurance advertisements alongside Peyton Manning and Shaquille O’Neal.
This is why organizations such as FIDE have continued to fight for chess to be included in the Olympics, including a recently rejected bid for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Advocates hope that by appearing alongside mainstream sports, chess will be able to grow sponsors, fans and players. Unfortunately, these attempts have largely been unsuccessful so far, but in the meantime, chess is beginning to find a comfortable home elsewhere.
For the first time, professional esports (electronic sports) teams have taken an interest in adding chess players to their existing teams of world-class players from competitive video games. In 2020, Hikaru Nakamura, Qiyu Zhou and Andrew Tang made history as the first chess players signed to esports teams. Thus far, these players remain fairly lonely as the only chess players on each of their respective teams, but it’s clear that they’ll soon be joined online by many of their chess-playing peers. This comes at the same