TSM moves into chess, signs GM Hikaru Nakamura


Team SoloMid

See? We told you chess was an esport. Team SoloMid clearly agrees. Yesterday, TSM announced that it has signed Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura.

Signed him to do what, exactly, is anyone’s guess. This is unknown territory for the U.S.-based esports organization, which has never before included a chess player on its roster. In announcing the signing, here’s what TSM had to say: “As a player, commentator, coach, and mentor, Hikaru hopes to help more people become fans of chess, and fall in love with the game he loves so much.”

A healthy following

Nakamura has a healthy online following. The 32-year-old Grandmaster’s Twitch channel has 517,000 followers, for instance. His YouTube channel has 352,000 subscribers, with the most popular video having garnered 1.2 million views to date.

Maybe those number don’t put him in quite the same league as, say, Ninja, Shroud, or Dr. Disrespect. What Nakamura brings to the table is a rarity in esports: respect and renown offline, among people to whom Ninja, Shroud, and Dr. Disrespect might as well be Larry, Moe, and Curly.

Career highlights

Some background, for the uninitiated.

Nakamura was born in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, Japan, to an American mother and a Japanese father. His family moved to the United States when he was two years old, and his parents divorced a year later.

This is where fate steps in. Nakamura’s mother met and married a Sri Lankan man who just happened to be FIDE Master and chess author Sunil Weeramantry. Under his stepdad’s tutelage, Nakamura took up chess at the age of seven. As it turns out, he was pretty good:

  • he became the youngest player to defeat an International Master in a U.S. Chess Federation-rated game (at 10 years, 0 months)
  • youngest to defeat a Grandmaster in a USCF-rated game (at 10 years, 117 days
  • youngest International Master (at 13 years, 2 months)
  • he was the youngest American to earn the title of Grandmaster (at 15 years, 79 days old)
  •  five-time United States champion
  • five-time Chess Olympiad competitor, winning a team gold medal and two team bronze medals

The competition?

Will other major esports organizations now start offering contracts to the world’s top chess players? That remains to be seen. When word of TSM’s deal with Nakamura hit the web, Cloud9 did reach out to Magnus Carlsen.

Carlsen is the Norwegian chess grandmaster who is the current World Chess Champion, World Rapid Chess Champion, and World Blitz Chess Champion. He is widely considered one of the best chess players. Like, ever.

Most likely in jest, Cloud9 tweeted a simple “Hey” to Carlsen, who responded in kind:

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I have done a lot of different things over the course of my life and professional career. I have interviewed Oscar and Grammy winners and written cover stories for glossy newsstand magazines. I have played guitar in a rock band on national TV and run an independent music label for which I wrote all of the PR and marketing materials. In my spare time, I sweated out a novel about a world where raccoons are kings and dragons are real.

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