A top ten chess grandmaster has compared the act of watching esports to the act of watching chess. In an interview with Chess24, Alexander Grischuk said that despite his best efforts, he once watched the championship for Dota 2 and “didn’t understand a thing.”
“Instead I got an idea of how it is for people to watch chess,” he said, “of course, the computer can tell you who has a winning position, but it’s only really interesting for a few thousand people, who have a certain level of knowledge and skills.” In short, Grischuk was saying, the game is only really interesting if you understand how the game is being played.
The answer was provided in response to a question about the importance of fans and spectators in chess matches. Grischuk said that he understands why chess isn’t that important to people or broadly popular and appealing, and doesn’t find it upsetting. He credits the experience of trying to watch Dota 2’s championship with a certain peace about the unpopularity of chess.
“Once I was free and decided to watch the World Championship of the computer game Dota,” he said. “I specially downloaded a coaching video. I talked for half an hour with Nepomniachtchi, because at one time he played Dota semi-professionally. I turned on the broadcast, chose the commentary for beginners and… for the three hours that the final lasted I still didn’t understand a thing.”
Grischuk is famous in the chess community for his bluntness and honesty, commonly telling the media when he thinks he or his opponents played poorly. Last year he told people who found the chess endgame dull to stop watching chess.
Nepomniachtchi is Ian Nepomniachtchi, the world #4 rated chess player who once played Dota as a semiprofessional, winning a Kiev regional tournament in 2011. Nepomniachtchi has since provided stats commentary on a Russian stream of The International, Dota 2’s world championship. Nepomniachtchi is also a fan of Hearthstone, and got fellow Russian chess grandmaster Peter Svidler, world rank #27, into the Blizzard card game.
Besides Neponmniachtchi, several other modern famous chess grandmasters are at least passingly interested in Dota. Wesley So, world rank #9, is from the Philippines, where Dota is hugely popular, and has said on stream the he has played some Dota 2. World champion Magnus Carlsen, considered by some the greatest chess player of all time, is said to enjoy Dota 2 as well. Carlsen was once caught on film by a fan eating lunch with famous Dota 2 player Clement “Puppey” Ivanov after a chance airport encounter.
Speaking of Carlsen, chess has been increasingly visible in the gaming world over the last year as top players took to Twitch for tournaments and everyday practice. We even got to see Carlsen and another great player of our day try out the infamously stupid Double Bongcloud opening.