How Global Chess League aspires to fast-forward growth of the game in India

“Fan experience is at the heart of everything at the Global Chess League. With each initiative we have tried to make the experience wholesome for the fans. Whether it was the Metaverse platform for GCL or bringing in a commentary panel of chess experts and social influencers who could break down the chess for the general public, we have always believed in keeping fans at the centre of action. Even on-ground, we had various events to ensure the fans – who are coming to watch the players – are going back with happy memories of watching the stars in action and even meeting them in person. This will remain to be one of the focal points of the Global Chess League in the future and we will strive to make the fan experience even better.” Sameer Pathak, CEO of the Global Chess League.

The League, which will see the final being played on Sunday, has successfully captured fan imagination. Mixed gender teams, a unique points system, 6 teams of 6 players each and truly global in nature – the League has a lot going for it. While it is too early to comment on its longevity, it is perhaps right to say that the start has exceeded expectations. Not only does it have the world’s best chess players playing in it, some of the matches have indeed been fascinating and will be talked about for days after the league ends.

“The Carlsen versus Anand endgame was as good as it gets. It shows how seriously the players have taken the league and how competitive it is,” said Jonathan Manley, Editor at Kingpin.

“For us, it is an opportunity to contribute to the growth story of Indian sport. And I can assure you it is the start of many more forays into sport. We were the sixth highest bidder for WPL teams during the auction and had lost out by just 20 crores,” said Anubhav Gupta, Chief Strategy Officer, APL Apollo Tubes, which owns the SG Alpine Warriors Team.

The owner Sanjay Gupta, who is a passionate chess player himself, concurs. “For two years now, chess has been an integral part of our company’s vision. We have encouraged our employees to play and it was natural that we would want to be a part of the Global Chess League.”

To its credit, the League has pulled together two of the biggest brands in global chess in Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen, leading the SG Alpine Warriors is upbeat about the League’s prospects, “It is the IPL equivalent for chess. Franchise teams, which include men and women from various nationalities, an exciting format, different points system, the league has indeed added to the sport. It is a good start and it is to be seen how the competition evolves in the future. But, yes, you can say it is the IPL moment for Chess, with more people watching and a new buzz around the sport.”

Also Read: The IPL Moment for Chess and Embracing the New Generation of Indian Talent: Magus Carlsen Exclusive

He also has some interesting words about his Indian teammates who are part of the SG Alpine Warriors Team: Gukesh, Pragnanandhaa and Arjun Erigasi. “We played some games in training and it was exciting. Each one of them are very exciting players and have a lot of talent. It says a lot about the future of the sport in India. It is now my turn to learn from them. The important thing is each has a very different style of play and when you train and play with them, you get to learn a number new things. That’s what has been the highlight for me. In sport, there is always the quest to learn and get better and that’s what has happened here while training with my teammates,” he points out.

Anand, who at 53 has shown glimpses of genius and is able to compete with opponents half his age, has added much to the brand value of the league. “To see him play with such intensity is fascinating. None of us expected him to do so well and it is a huge plus for the league,” argues Manley.

So can the league make money and add to the overall appeal of the sport? Can it expand the fan base and add to the boom the sport is currently seeing? The early signs are positive and the fact that the games are being telecast has added to the appeal.

“It is essential you make the sport telecast friendly. Consumption will either be on television or on the mobile, and formats which can be consumed in these devices will help engage fans better,” says a noted brand expert who did not want to be named.

“Sports other than cricket, need corporate support. The more people play sport, the better it is for India. And we as corporates have a key role to play. If we can add to the growing culture of sport in the country, we will consider it a job well done. So our decision to invest in the SG Alpine Warriors as part of the GCL was a well-calculated plan. And we are delighted with the outcome,” notes Gupta.

As the league comes to a close on Sunday, it has three things going for it. First, the competitiveness, which meant that the finalists weren’t decided till the very last day. Second, the mixed gender teams with equal opportunities for women players will go a long way to breaking down the stereotype that chess continues to be a male-dominated sport. When equality of opportunity is a global catchline, chess as a sport will do well to draw on this aspect from the league. Finally, it has come at a time when the world is trying to leave the memories of Covid behind with a renewed sense of purpose. Chess provides for both, online and offline, and when you add new fans supporting particular franchise teams, it helps fashion a new kind of identity.

To go back to Carlsen one final time, “It has been a very good start. It will now be on us to consolidate the gains going forward and enrich the sport in the long run.”


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